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Renovator’s Disease affects the seriously home-inspired
This winter is the first in many that I haven’t had a major renovation project underway. Our current home, Sea Cove Cottage, which I’ve written about in this column, is at last complete. My wife, Evy, and I are almost done downsizing. We wanted to live in one small, well-designed, and perfectly renovated house. We just have to downsize our stuff, a lot of which is in storage up the road. So my spare time is suddenly truly “spare,” and my free time is actually “free.” What a concept! My beloved tools lie quietly on their shelves in my storeroom and work trailer, their power cords coiled up like the tails of sleeping cats.
All of this inactivity had me thinking for several weeks that I might actually be cured of #Renovator’s Disease—the inability to stop fixing up your house long after it makes economic sense to do so—and I was pretty pleased with myself. Then some older friends invited us over to their 1800’s home for a drink.
Their house is lovely and quirky, but suffers from some benign neglect. The plumbing and electrical need upgrading or replacement; the furnace failed last year and hasn’t been replaced; and the kitchen and bathrooms are all nearing the end of their service life. The yard and garden, too, could use a vigorous application of chainsaw and spade. But the house has that funky, old-pair-of-jeans comfort, and the haphazard arrangement of rooms added on over time has an organically pleasing flow. As Evy and I strolled through the home, the fire in the fireplace crackled, and the ancient chimney (another warning light!) let just enough smoke into the room to give it atmosphere. The early evening sunlight slanted through the windows and made the whitecaps sparkle out in the distant harbor. The tall grass in the fields had turned a mellow gold, before the first snow.
And then our host said, “I suppose you’d want to tear it down.”
“No, no, never!” I blurted out. “I’d renovate it! Oh, I might redo the kitchen and baths, and do some clearing out in the yard, but it’s a wonderful house!”
And then it struck me what was might be going on: our friends have owned this home for decades and they love it dearly. But they’re getting on in years and are preparing to turn the house over to its next set of stewards. Their daughter lives out West, and there’s no one else in the family to take it over. I don’t think it was premeditated, but were they testing me? Would I tear it down? Never. That’s what they wanted to find out.
It is said that houses find people rather than the other way around. That sounds a bit “woo-woo,” but after all these years of working on old houses I’m thinking it might be true. What happened that evening was totally unexpected and the magic of it is still with me. It was as if the house itself was looking for its next caretaker—someone blissfully, unapologetically, afflicted with Renovator’s Disease.