It helps when you and your old house are absolute undeniable soulmates, but even if you’re in a more traditional relationship with your older home, you’ll recognize some of these old house perks!
About the Episode:
I’ve talked about the challenges of old house living. But there are some serious perks to having an older home! You’re certainly never bored. There’s always something to fix, build, refinish, refurbish, reupholster or decorate. And with defined rooms, you can also live in a crayon box (if that’s what you’re into!).
In this episode, you’ll hear:
- Why closed concept creates quieter spaces (and the party flow is fine, if you’re also an introvert like me)
- How lots of corners make moments for CHAIRS
- Why light and lamps are better in an old room in an old house
And so much more!
Follow me on Instagram @FarmhouseVernacular!
Hello and welcome to the Vernacular Life Podcast, where we talk about anything and everything that goes on in our turn of the century vernacular home. I’m your host, Paige, as usual. And today we’re going to talk about something a little bit perky. If you’ll forgive the terrible pun. And by that, I mean, some of the perks of living in an old house.
Because you hear a lot of people who don’t want to live in an old house, just because of how much of a headache they are. I’m not going to pretend that they’re all sunshine and roses. We’ve been renovating this house for four years now and have definitely run into our share of insanity, I guess, in terms of what we’ve had to deal with in this house.
And I’m sure every house, whether you’re building new or whether you’re renovating something old, it all has its difficulties and its challenges. But I want to talk today specifically about some of the perks of living in an old house. And some of these, you might have thought of, some of these you might never have considered, and I think we’re going to have a lot of this episode. So here we go.
The first perk, and I think this is honestly the perk that draws most people to old houses of all kinds is that you pretty much get instant character. I mean, there is just something charming about an old house. And I think what exactly is charming is different for every person who goes after old houses. Some people fall in love with the floors, some people fall in love with the exterior, sometimes the porches, maybe the windows, maybe the stained glass, but it’s definitely true that old houses have a lot more character than new builds.
And when I say old houses, of course, for me personally, I’m thinking of mostly, 1910 and earlier, but really I think there was still a serious amount of character in houses as late as the 1960s and 1970s. Some of those houses that really have kept that mid-century modern vibe and there’s a lot of people that really, really like it.
So some of the things that I think give old houses more character than new houses is that they were built with the exterior in mind. The way that a lot of houses are built these days, you can almost have this like Santa Claus wishlist of everything that you want that goes into them. So you can have a huge master bathroom, and then you can add on a closet, and you can add on a second closet, and you can have a game room. Just due to the nature of how things are built these days, you can almost have anything you want in the house.
The difficulty is that this kind of warps the exterior of the house, because if you want a vaulted ceiling in some part of your house, all of a sudden that roof line’s going to go up, or if you want to add extra windows here, you can add extra windows, but old houses, there was really a lot of thought given to the way the exterior looks. And a lot of times you kind of deal with weird rooms or lack of storage space inside because of the way that exterior looks.
And I guess this is a little contradictory for me, because I very much am a function over form type person, but I also think that function can be fulfilled by form. And I think that’s what old houses do really, really well is they were just built at a slower pace. There was more time and more thought given into every single decision. And so, they just had a little bit more ability to figure out what would not only serve a function but would also look really good in these old houses.
Truthfully modern houses leave me kind of cold, and I’m not sitting over here hating on everyone else’s houses just because they’re not mine, but we did live in a 2016 built builder grade home for about two years before we moved to this house, and before that I lived in a 1980s built apartment. And before that, I lived in a 2005 built apartment. So I have some familiarity with kind of generic new builds. And maybe it’s just because this house is my soulmate, and he and I have a great time together and great conversations, but I had such a hard time trying to feel inspired by those places. They had so little natural personality that I couldn’t really figure out how to work with it, if that makes sense.
So if you’re looking for a house that has personality, that has something to say, definitely looking in an older house, 1970s and earlier, you’re going to have a house with a point of view. And I was actually talking about this with one of my friends once that I find it a lot easier to work within a house that has a strong opinion, than I do to work with a house that doesn’t have any opinion.
And if we’re being honest, the same is probably for… And if we’re being honest, the same is probably true for people, but I just find it a lot easier to kind of work with what the house wants than try to impose my will on a totally blank slate.
So other than the instant character, which comes in the form of, I guess we didn’t even really talk about that. What is the character in the house? Well, it’s the trim, it’s the windows, it’s the interesting room shapes. It’s the kind of weird quirky closets. It’s beautiful staircases, it’s wood floors. It’s so many details and craftsmanship pieces that just don’t happen in modern houses. And one of those, I think this is the second perk of living in an old house is closed concept.
Now this is really more of a 1930s and earlier thing. Once we get into the fifties, and sixties, and seventies, they started to experiment with a little bit more of an open concept, but what do we mean by closed concept? Well, that just means that every room is defined and I don’t mean defined by an area rug. I mean, defined by walls and a doorway.
And I love closed concept. I love it. The last house we were in, it was openish concept like the dining room kind of flowed into the living room, kind of flowed into the kitchen, and it was so hard to figure out where to put furniture and to figure out where to paint different colors on the walls, because nothing was separate. Nothing was delineated of like, this is where this room stops. And so, I really like closed concept in old houses for a couple reasons.
One is that it gives me a defined space to paint a color. And as we all know, I can’t get enough of ridiculously dramatic paint colors, but I find it much easier to put those dark paint colors, those bold paint colors in this house because the house accepts it. The house says, okay, this is the green room. Got it. This is the yellow kitchen. Got it. This is the teal dining room. Got it.
When I had to paint the open concept house, I had to pick like corners. And I was like, well, I guess we’re just going to paint to this corner and then that’s going to be the separation. And I just, I find it really hard for decor.
Now, if you’re a person who loves everything to be kind of monochromatic and neutral, then open concept is really great, because you can kind of maintain the same feeling throughout the entire space. You can kind of get furniture that all goes together and accents that all go together, and then you don’t really change moods as you move through your house. And some people find that very calming and very grounding, and for that, it’s like open concept, you’re not going to beat it.
I like each of my rooms to have a personality. I like to go into a room and feel something. Like I’m sitting in the study right now, and it’s this rich olivey green color are on the walls, and all the furniture is like warm brown and there’s golds. And it just feels very cozy, and like we’re going to have tea and read a book and it’s going to be so nice. And I like that little narrative in my head.
I like going into the kitchen and it feels very… Rustic is the wrong word, but it feels very country and very homey, and then I go into the dining room and it’s just high drama everywhere. I love having those different moods as I move through my house. So from my decorating style and my taste, it’s a lot easier to achieve those different moods if I have the rooms totally separate.
Now also, just because old houses are closed concept doesn’t necessarily mean that they are not good for entertaining. This is another one of the things that I just love about old houses because this kind of forethought, you just don’t see it anymore. So lot of these old houses and these large kind of manner houses or houses that were clearly of a higher status, they would separate some of their parlors with pocket doors, and pocket doors can be half the width of a wall, three quarters the width of a wall.
And if you open them completely, it basically turns those two rooms into one. So that was kind of how they got around the entertaining issue, because that is one thing about closed concept is if you have a lot of people over a lot, you’re going to end up with a lot of pockets of people, as opposed to open concept where everybody can kind of just mingle out together and it’s not a big deal.
I’m a fairly introverted, so this is really a non-issue. But the last thing that I love about closed concept is that it gives me corners. When we moved here, the wall between the dining room and the kitchen was actually gone. And they had this huge, horrible monstrosity of a fireplace in between the two rooms and then an opening on each side. And that basically robbed me of four corners, two in the kitchen and two in the dining room.
And I just realized I love putting chairs in corners or tables in corners, and it just makes it a lot easier for the traffic flow if everybody was directed to one side of the chimney versus the other. So I love corners because they make great little moments for all of the chairs that I bring home. And I keep saying I’m going to stop bringing home chairs, but it hasn’t happened yet. So closed concept facilitates my chair habit.
Now, something that you might not think about in terms of a benefit of closed concept, and I’m actually making this an entire separate perk of old houses is that they are actually quieter. Now, you could be sitting here saying Paige, they have single pane windows. What do you mean they’re quieter? I don’t mean quieter from a window pane, exterior noise to interior standpoint. That’s not what I mean. I mean, that houses were set up so that different areas of the house wouldn’t kind of bleed over into others. So let’s use an example for that. This house has a front parlor and the parlor is what we actually turned into our master bedroom, but originally that was the parlor.
The parlor was separated from the rest of the house by the central hallway. So you could walk in the front door and then you go directly into the parlor. And in that central hallway, each of the rooms, the dining room and the study both had doors on them. So you could close those rooms. You could close those two doors and then the dining room, kitchen and study were all connected. You could walk through all of those rooms.
So what this means is that if you had company come over or you had the pastor stop by after church or something like that, they could come into the house and go directly into the master bedroom or the parlor and then the rest of the family, in the kitchen and any of the children and anything like that, they could be in those other three rooms undisturbed. So naturally because you have this room that’s buffering between the parlor and the rest of the house, you’re going to have it be a little bit quieter.
Now with larger houses, they went to an even greater extreme with this. There was this fabulous Victorian house of a family friend of ours growing up. It was a huge thing, three stories, brick, just absolutely fantastic. And they had a back staircase to the third floor. And what was so interesting about that third floor is that it could be completely closed off from the rest of the house by means of this back staircase.
So you could close off a couple doors and then this staircase and the whole third floor, or the whole servants area, was not accessible by the main part of the house. And part of the reason they did this was for heat, but it also kind of dampened the sound from all of that hustle and bustle of the back of the house, the working parts of the house from the public spaces, the entertaining spaces.
Now we have also learned that this house, because you have that closed concept, because there are all these walls in between rooms, cross floor communication is a little bit challenging. If I’m standing in the kitchen by the stove. And Brandon is on the other side of the house, in the master bedroom or the parlor, and we shout to each other, sometimes you can’t hear.
Sometimes we’ll just call each other on our phones instead, because it is so noise dead. And it was like that before we really started renovating and then put a lot of insulation in our interior walls because the interior walls are open to the crawl space.
So we wanted to block that air. And then once we put that insulation in, I mean, you can’t hear anything across the house and while it is kind of annoying, I guess if you’re trying to communicate, I find the, that quietness and that sound deadening way better when you compare it to kind of those vaulted great rooms where the sound travels all the way up, and then it gets to the bedrooms upstairs. That is just a nightmare to me.
There’s a blog about this called McMansion Hell, and I will make sure that it’s linked in the show notes. It’s a really good blog. It’s a really funny blog. It talks about kind of some of the architectural blunders of McMansions. But one thing that I learned from that blog was about sound travel and about how older houses kind of did it, not really accidentally, but just sort of the way they were designed, led to a quieter experience.
And then in about the 1940s and fifties, when we start to see these ranch style houses, you start to see a really deliberate attempt to keep the bedrooms and the private spaces away from the main living areas. So you’ll see the cluster of bedrooms is like down a hall behind a door from the living room. And I just thought that was really, really interesting that people started to kind of move rooms around to make sure that everything was quiet.
Even if the cross floor communication can be kind of challenging at times, I would much, much rather have a nice quiet house compared to how loud these open concept and vaulted ceiling room homes. If it’s your thing, more power to you. It’s not my thing. I like my quiet house.
Now, another perk, and I think one of the best perks of old houses is something that I didn’t really think about until we lived in our suburban house. Now, this suburban house, it was cute. It was about 1800 square feet. It was four bedrooms. I don’t know why we thought we needed four bedrooms, but I took one of them as a sewing room. So it was totally fine. It was four bedrooms, kind of had a garage on the lower right half of the first floor.
And then on the left of the first floor, there was a dining room and behind it was a living and then kind of like an L behind that was the kitchen. And the lot was something like 0.13 acres, or a typical suburban lot. Very, very small. Neighbors on both sides. And this house did have a lot of windows. It had five windows across the front, upstairs, and about the same on the back. But the problem was there were no windows on the sides, and being a modern build you completely understand why they did it, right? Your neighbors are right there. You don’t want to be looking into your neighbor’s bathroom while you’re in your laundry room or anything like that.
But the problem was is that then we really only had light from two directions and the house just always felt really dark. It always felt dark to me, no matter what time of day, what time of year, it was just a dark house. Older houses, as far as I can tell, didn’t really have to follow the same constraints, unless you’re talking about something like a row house or a town home. Most of these older houses, you have windows on all four sides. And what I love about that is that it means you can exist during the day with absolutely no additional light sources, none.
So this house, we obviously have windows on all four sides. And when this house was originally built, it was not electrified. There was no electricity, I think until probably about the late thirties, judging on some of the electrical that we’ve pulled out. But most of the time, it doesn’t matter. The dining room is probably the darkest room that we have in this house, but mostly that’s because of this horrible porch overhang thing that’s off the kitchen that will eventually come down one day.
Otherwise this house gets light all times of day. Now you might have to move rooms depending on which one is lighter, which one is darker, but because you have windows on all sides of the house, you get the benefit of that natural light.
And this was actually a huge reason that I kept the pantry window, that I kept the original window in the pantry, because as much as it would’ve been nice to have additional wall space, additional storage, that window was how they saw. That was what they used to see in their pantry when this house was built, because there was no electricity.
And it’s a nice window, it’s facing a good direction, so the pantry is lit up all the time. Now, maybe that’s not the best choice for food preservation, but it is a great choice in terms of practicality if you’re going to use that space to store food. Because these older houses weren’t quite as concerned, they weren’t necessarily built so close together. And even the ones that were built close together, but not touching, they had these windows on all sides.
There was another family friend that we had who lived in this big brick house in a city and it was on a very small lot, and the neighbors were right next to them, but there were still windows on either side. And a lot of these houses I’ve seen have interior shutters. So they might shutter the bottom pane of glass, but then you still have the upper pane that’s bringing in all of that natural light. And I love natural light.
I hate overhead lights. I hate artificial lighting. I’m the queen of lamps because I just can’t stand having overhead lights on. Actually at my last corporate job, I ended up having an office to myself and the first thing I went and did was I went to Walmart and I bought a four pack of lamps.
And I put lamps all over the office and I would not turn on the overhead light unless I absolutely had to. And everybody thought I was insane, but I’m like, you don’t understand. I need soft ambience in my working spaces.
And now, I exist most of the day without any artificial lights on. I love having all the natural light and I think that’s such a great, amazing, wonderful perk about these old houses is that you can utilize all four sides of the house for windows.
Now, the next perk, I don’t know if it’s a universal old house perk, and we touched on it a little bit earlier, but for me in particular, I find it so much easier to pick colors in these old houses. And even in other people’s old houses that I’ve seen, it just seems like it’s a lot easier for them to take really weird, and obscure, and dramatic, and dark colors, and have them look fabulous. Black ceilings or olive green walls or terracotta or any of these really strange, dramatic colors. I just find it so much easier to pick colors in old houses.
And the last house we lived in, I think the darkest color that that house would let me put in it was kind of like a medium denim blue and it fought me every step of the way when it came to putting that color in. And I was like, you don’t understand. I want drama. I want navy. And I want black. And I want all of these deep rich colors. The house just wasn’t having it. And I thought maybe it was just this house because of how much I love this house and how we kind of work together on the design.
But I don’t think so. I’ve seen other people do wonderful and amazing things with these old houses and the old houses just soak up the drama. It’s like there was an element of these older houses that was here for the presence. It was here for being somewhat impressive, even down to something like this farmhouse. This is a house in the middle of land that had cows, not particularly fancy. He spent a little bit of money making a nice staircase and a little bit of money on the nice trim. But for the most part, this was a very unassuming house. And even still, it handles drama and presence so much better than these modern houses do, I think.
And I also think that part of the reason and that these houses do well with dark colors is because they tend to have a lot of trim, and they tend to have a lot of trim around the windows. And what that does is essentially break up the wall of color. So I’m sitting in the study right now and each one of these walls has either a doorway or a window in it.
And that means that there’s never more than about eight feet of continuous wall space before there’s either a corner or there’s a piece of door trim or there’s a window. And because I paint all of my trim white, that really allows that color to be broken up. It doesn’t feel quite so overwhelming.
When I was painting the last house, all of the windows had just drywall returns, which means that there was just like a drywall corner that went right up to the window and there was really no trim around the window other than the window sill. And that meant that the wall color had to run right up to the window. And the windows were not very big to begin with. The windows and old houses tend to be much larger, on a much grander scale.
So they take a up a lot more of the wall, but in this new build, there was no trim, the windows were not very big, and there weren’t very many of them. So you physically had more wall space that you had to take up with that wall color. And I think that made it really, really overwhelming to put those dark colors on the walls, because it was just so much of the room.
Whereas in an old house, doesn’t really work that way. And that’s how it works in this house. That’s how it works in the house I grew up in, which was built in 1924. It is similar to this house in that it has closed concept rooms, white trim. And again, it handles bold colors just really, really well.
And I’ve seen countless people on Instagram and YouTube who have these old houses and they just love the dark colors. The dark colors look so good. So I think that’s a really good perk of an old house is that you have a little bit more freedom and a little bit of an easier time picking more dramatic room colors than you do in a modern house.
Now, the last perk is either going to be a perk or a curse, depending on your point of view. And that is that you are never bored in an old house. And I keep talking about this suburban house, which I don’t regret that we moved there, but it was a lot more challenging than I think we anticipated it being.
Because there was nothing to do. The yard was fine. The house was fine. We didn’t have enough room to do any kind of animals. We didn’t have enough room to do like a serious garage or anything like that. And so living there, I kind of started to understand why people left their houses every weekend to go to sports games and go camping and all of these things, because there was nothing to do.
Now I threw myself head first into sewing because like nothing else to occupy my time, so we might as well sew all the things. But when we got here, it’s like, yes our to-do list is never ending. Yes there are so many projects that we will be busy for literal years, keeping this place up. But I find it such a rewarding kind of work because not only are you improving your home, but you’re making something beautiful again. And I like having something to do.
Now, of course, there’s a scale. You don’t need to be busy making sure that your roof doesn’t cave in every weekend. But I love that about living in this house and living in an old house and living in the country is that you’re never bored. If you feel like you need to go do something physical, I guarantee there’s a tree that needs to be cut up. If you want to make something look a little bit nicer, I’m sure we can clean out the barn or something like that.
And both me and Brandon, my husband, really thrive on having kind of something to do, and not something to do that’s like meaningless. Not that hiking or sporting events is meaningless, but it doesn’t give me that satisfaction of like, I’m making something better. And I really feel like that with this house.
Like when we moved here, he was very sad. He was kind of reserved. He didn’t really want to talk to anybody, and now walking through, it’s just like, there’s life in this house again, and there’s laughter and there’s fun and there’s love. And there’s family and there’s all of this stuff back in this house.
And that makes me feel really good. Like if you’re going to spend your time doing something, why not this? And if it doesn’t resonate with you, I understand, it’s not for everybody, but I really like the amount of responsibility and the amount of work that comes with an old house. And so in my book, that’s a perk.
So I’m going to assume that if you are listening to this podcast, you already love old houses, or you live in an old house, or you want to live in a new house that looks old, or you’d like antiques, or you’re already here for things that are kind of from a different time. But if you’re kind of on the fence and you’re not sure if you want an old house, I’m just going to tell you there’s a lot of perks and a lot of fun that goes along with owning an old house. So that’s pretty much our show for today. I am so happy you are here hanging out with me and I really appreciate it.
Thank you so much for listening and I will see you next time. Bye.