If you could learn a trade — say carpentry, electrical work, roofing, landscaping, plumbing, flooring, drywall — you name it — what skill(s) would you love to have in your back pocket?
Ummmmm . . . all of them? If I could start my life’s work from the beginning again, I would restore small, old houses.
Our city is full of small houses built in the 1920s and 30s. I love these houses. I appreciate the compact design, the efficient layout and use of space, the solid building materials that were used, and the architectural detail, simple though it may be. Most of all, I love the feel, smell, and energy of an old house. The house is lived in, broken in, and loved. Families have moved in and out. Babies were born in old houses, and the elderly have passed away. You can feel the impression left on the house by the people who inhabited it. They don’t haunt the place exactly, but they change the house with their lives.
I am fascinated with small houses. I live in a fairly small house myself – 795 square feet. I like to think that small houses represent a time when we weren’t so preoccupied with accumulating stuff. A time when simplicity ruled, and people were satisfied with what they had. People could look at their small house, and think, “I have enough. I am okay.” Now, small houses are considered starter homes. It is expected that within a few years, you’ll trade up. Buy a bigger place. Fill it with more stuff. And when that place becomes full, you trade up again. To a newer neighbourhood, a newer house with a bigger garage to store your stuff.
I’ll keep my small house, and be mortgage free in seven years, while everyone else is paying off their mortgages well into their 60s and 70s. For me, a small house is enough. I won’t mortgage my life for more house.
Bu back to the original topic – I would like to be skilled in all the above mentioned trades. Because the small houses that I like are also old houses, and old houses are awesome and awful creatures all at the same time. While they are usually sturdily built, they require maintenance, and sometimes, a full-blown reno to drag them into the 21st century. Not necessarily style-wise (it breaks my heart to see the character renovated out of an old house), but function-wise.
For example, the bathroom in my small, old house. Not really functional by the time we got here. It was falling apart. I could have used all those skills while renovating the bathroom. When my house was built in 1929, it did not have running water, and therefore no indoor plumbing. (Don’t ask me where the outhouse was; I don’t even want to think about it. Perhaps that’s why I have an awesome garden?) Plumbing was installed in 1948, according to the date printed on the bottom of the cast iron tub that Will had to smash to pieces to remove because when it came time to get the tub out, it wouldn’t fit through the door. They had built the bathroom around the bloody tub. Renovating that bathroom was my first attempt at drywall (guess what? I suck). Also my first attempt at plumbing, replacing a subfloor, leveling the subfloor, and putting in a tub and shower surround.
I’ve picked up a few more skills over the years. I can easily replace light fixtures and light switches and electrical outlets now. Plumbing still eludes me (it makes no sense!) I can use all the power tools without supervision. Just a few months ago, I learned to use the table saw without shaking in my boots. That came in handy when I was installing our new (to us) hardwood floor. I so wish I could learn to drywall properly (why has no one figured out a better way to make walls? And no, wallboard doesn’t count).
If I had these magical trade skills, I would buy cheap, small old houses, and restore them to their former glory, and then sell them to people who would love and appreciate them. A neglected old house makes me sad, especially when I think that it used to have people who loved it. I would become a small house saviour, a small house champion, and perhaps maybe, a lifestyle guru (“Think small!” would be my mantra).
Have a great weekend!