The 130-year-old folk farmhouse was fabulous — if you're into museums. The owner, we'll call him Stewart, had done a faithful job of keeping the vintage home true to its time — an era when Grover Cleveland was president and neither Coca-Cola nor cars had been invented.
The furniture looked — and in many cases was — as old as the house. While I'm all for honoring the past, such historical adherence doesn't help sell a house, which Stewart had been trying to do for years.
To his credit, he acknowledged that his way wasn't working.
Times like these call for an intervention and some fresh eyes. Stewart, who had moved out some time ago, conceded.
I moved into the historic home this past weekend.
“He's a stickler for keeping with the period,” said the owner of the home staging company that puts people like me in positions like this. “He really liked the place this way.”
Complacency can hurt
I get that change is hard.
Trust me. This is my third house in one year. Move like I do, and there's no time for rigor mortis to set in.
Attachments to possessions give way to honest, ruthless appraisals. Complacency in home decor (I like it the way it is) dissolves in the face of today's real estate market.
If I've learned anything in life, it's that irrational rationalization only gets you so far.
As a newcomer, I could see past the outdated furniture to the character of the architecture, the rich wood walls and moldings, the angled storybook ceilings, and the old-fashioned wraparound porch. I could see potential through the antiquated decor.
“Time to bust this time capsule,” I tell the home staging manager.
“Just put what you don't want in the garage,” she instructs.
“What if I hurt his feelings?”
“He hired us for our opinion. Just do what looks good.”
I put the family homestead on fast forward, taking it through 12 decades of time travel in the space of two days, an act some would call sacrilege.
Apart from an old rocker, a small desk, and a couple rugs, I stuffed most of the original furniture into the garage — a post-automobile addition.
As I moved old pieces out, and replaced them with transitional and contemporary pieces, brighter art and fresher rugs, I felt the strings to the past — a time when the Wright brothers hadn't yet left the ground — breaking. Soon the family home was up with the times.
Mix it up
I call Amy Hughes, features editor for This Old House magazine, for moral support. “Just because you live in an old house, doesn't mean you have to live in a bygone era,” she says. “I grew up in a Victorian house, which my mom slavishly kept furnished in the period.”
She still remembers those uncomfortable Victorian sofas stuffed with hay and horsehair. “They don't come close to the comfort of today's sofas,” she says.
“I don't want a hay-horse-hair sofa any more than I want a whalebone corset,” I tell her.
“That's why I believe in mixing vintage with new,” says Hughes, also the author of This Old House Salvage-Style Projects (Oxmoor House 2011).
Put new in the old
Putting new decor in an old space looks and feels better.
What's more, if you want to attract today's buyer, a timeless look is simply necessary. Here's how Hughes says to do it well:
Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press). Contact her through www.marni