On the long drive to California last month, I read architect Russell Versaci’s Creating a New Old House: Yesterday’s Character for Today’s Home.
Versaci’s main point is this: You don’t have to buy a historic home to achieve the character and craftsmanship so common in older homes. While I’m obviously an advocate for buying and loving old homes, this book and its message rang true for me. It is possible—with considerable planning and budgetary allotments—to attain real character in new construction, character so convincing that passersby can’t tell the home is new construction. Couple that character with the modern conveniences of a new home, and you’ve got a winning combination.
I love this idea, and I agree with Versaci that buying historic is not right for everyone. If you don’t have the money or aren’t willing to dump a truckload of cash on maintaining or remodeling an old house, don’t buy one. If you aren’t willing to research the right way to do updates, don’t buy one. And if you don’t care about sympathetic renovations and are okay with slapping obvious additions onto an old house, don’t buy one.
For those who choose to build, the key to making a new house look old is all in the details. Versaci suggests that by working with the right construction team, homeowners can be guided to select features that match the period they’re channeling. But his tips are also relevant for people like me who are fixing up old homes and want to incorporate features that look original but aren’t.
The book, published in 2003, is filled with photos of new homes across the U.S. that beautifully represent a specific historic style. Because I’m partial to houses you might find in Louisiana or the South Carolina Lowcountry, my favorites were the French Creole cottage and French Colonial plantation house, but other styles include Midwestern Greek Revival, Pennsylvania Dutch farmhouse, Colonial Revival shingle style, and Cape Cod cottage.
In a nutshell, this book is a good read for historic-home snobs and for those planning to build. If everyone built with craftsmanship—not just cost—in mind, we’d end up with more sustainable communities, not a bunch of cookie-cutter, cheaply built neighborhoods that will be tomorrow’s slums.