Turn on your TV and you often see men and women who look like movie stars happily smashing down wood and concrete walls with sledgehammers. They claim to be schooled architects with a good handle on the home decorating business.
If you have ever lived in a house improved by these wizards, you know that when a supporting wall is removed it will only be a matter of time before an upstairs bedroom floor sags. It becomes difficult to sleep because you roll down to the person on the lower side of the bed. No one knows how many of us owe our very existence to the fact that our parents lived in a crooked old Maine house.
But back to the frothing home decorators who attack walls and create new living areas in their own image. Aren’t you able to arrange your beds and shelves to suit yourself? Can a home decorator be compared with a financial adviser? Ready, willing and able to lighten the purses of those with too much money and too lazy to think?
You might also want to ask yourself why, if Frank Lloyd Wright was really all that great, there are no solar panels on any of his buildings.
It was fairly recently – around 1926 – that our home underwent cosmetic and structural “improvements.” As a result, drop a pill on our kitchen floor and it rolls into the dining room. Our downstairs floors could double as a training ground for mountain bikes.
Our place was framed up on May 11, 1811. We know this because on that day Hezekiah Prince, a neighbor, mentioned in his diary that he was there. This probably makes it the oldest house in St. George of which we have a record of the actual day that the walls were lifted up and fitted into their mortared joints.
Like many Maine houses of its time, it originally had a huge central fireplace that sucked the heat out of three rooms. The mantle is still in the north room. It is a thing of beauty, a joy to behold and dry kindling to your basic home improvement buff. In the 1850s the fireplace was torn out and left behind when the house was lifted from its foundation and moved back away from the shore of Cutler Cove. It made sense to move the house, as everyone knows that it is much colder and often foggy next to the saltwater. The move, however, presented a structural problem. The floors were supported by the massive fireplace foundation, and when the house was moved, the granite base was replaced by a pathetic forest of fir posts. Haphazard at best.
The foundation beneath our house is 9 inches higher on the north end. Why would anyone move a house onto a foundation that is 9 inches higher on one end? You should know that the house was put on that foundation by men who had captained huge sailing vessels since they were 19. Some might have had difficulty walking on a flat, unmoving surface. They also realized that a properly constructed deck has a curved surface so water will quickly drain out through the scuppers.
Any real estate agent will tell you that the first thing a prospective buyer says about any house is that things will be fine and dandy when two or three walls are removed. These people will tell you that they need “living space.”
Luckily, in 1970 this house came completely furnished so there was no need to map out our living space. Somewhere between 1836 and 1909 somebody had found time to figure out where to put the kitchen table and the Lincoln caned sewing rocker.
Rocking chairs are a depository for sweaters and unread periodicals so they must be handy. And even for one schooled in interior decoration, how many options are there for placing a dining room table and a sideboard? Unless you live in a bomb shelter, there are windows on two or more sides and three or four doors.
“Hands off” also applies to the surrounding lawn and pastures. Don’t mess with them. Never fill in a ditch on your farm until you have lived on that farm long enough to find out why that ditch is there. It is pretty certain that 150 years ago, even rugged Maine men didn’t run about with shovels digging trenches just to have something to do.
Even as today, Maine men don’t write a newspaper column unless they are on deadline and absolutely have to.