My Old House Online

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I saw Paul Stewart's newest discussion, and it emboldened me to raise the following.


So, here's the problem: we own a 1865-ish victorian farmhouse which is great, except for the parlor. It has, like many other houses of the day, a front parlor which we've filled with the requisite victorian or victorian-influenced furniture, pseudo-ancestral portraits, a piano, etc. The problem is that no-one ever uses the bloody room. The furniture isn't really all that comfortable, and the room is, in its current configuration, rather forbidding.

 

We're in the 21st Century, and normally don't have people dropping over for tea and chat. The room doesn't really get used, except by my kids when they practice the piano, or when we have a large party and the guests spill over from the living room into the parlor. So we have this huge room which does nothing except suck up heat in the winter and look pretty. I like a room that looks pretty, but I'd prefer a room which actually had people in it on a regular basis.

 

I recognize that the general line of thought on this forum is the closer to original use and look the better, but that position doesn't help those of us who don't want to live in the past, but who actually have families and desire to live in houses which can be used, instead of encased in some historical amber, preserving the past but not allowing for functional use. I do have to say that this house has been the subject of so much remodeling, re-remodeling, carving up, de-carving, etc., that it would be nigh on impossible to recreate its original layout and trim. What we're working with is a recreation of the original parlor, with what I suspect is a fair amount of modification as to footprint, door location and the like.

 

My spouse and I have discussed putting in some furniture which is slightly more modern and more comfortable to use, and some floor lamps, so that it can be used to relax and read. But we're slightly at sea. I'm sure this problem has faced by others before, and so I ask for your thoughts and experience. All suggestions welcome, regardless of how heretical. How have you used your parlor? What do you have in it?

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BRILLIANT!!! - I like your approach - it has to work for you and your family.  I also have been most impressed with the other discussions on this topic and want to thank everyone for taking the time to share their thoughts.

 As far as the extra distance to the dining room...... you can pick up a tea cart or serving cart (rather inexpensively these days) and "parade" your offerings all at once before your guests.

Have FUN with it and cover the dishes with a cloth or silver dome (rollseyes) and "open" them one at a time and present them to your guests.  I recall a time when the sliver domes covered hotdogs and buns.

They were the best damn hotdogs and buns we ever had!

Good Job Richard and Wife – can’t wait to see a pic.

15 kids??? Really??? WOW! Teach them how to sheetrock, mud, paint, saw wood, use a hammer, nail etc…….what a work crew - your renovation will be done in no time.

 

We are certainly not against living in our old home here : ) We have 3 children (two of which are not yet even in school) Our lovely sitting room is currently a playroom, complete with a little tikes playhouse, trucks etc. In my opinion, you can respect the house without dressing the house. By all means make it yours, make it livable and loveable. It does bother me that the first thing people see when they come in is a sea of primary colored plastic playthings, but that's life.

Richard , (cant help it but your name makes me laugh - I loved Richard Pryor!) great discussion here. This is something my wife and I have struggled with for 23 yrs - we've lived in progressively older houses from the 1930s to 17770s to our current 1740s colonial. We have 3 large, gangly, loud and semi-destructive teenage sons and 2 terriers and house chocked full of antiques. Every bed, dresser, chair and table is antique - we go for the sturdy stuff and I spend a lot of time re-gluing and adding support brackets. Our "parlor" has always been a semi-formal room with more ornate furnishings, but still very usable and quite comfortable. We have one antique Duncan-Phyfe syle couch and then a new reproduction colonial style couch and wingback chair and an assortment of early American side tables and a couple of old blanket chests for coffee tables. We have taught the kids from an early age to respect the antiques and not do flying leaps onto the old sofa but we have never limited anyone from using any of it. We used to have a couple of delicate old Victorian chairs but finally got rid of them as they were just too impractical. Our dining chairs are new Hitchcock Chippendale repros since they tend to take a beating - but all other chairs are antique. We get everything from garage sales, flea-markets and back alley shops - youd be amazed at what you can amass over time! There are pics on my profile page of our parlor if you wish to check them out.

Get rid of all the glass and put up a ping pong table.  The neighborhood folks will all show up to play.  You will know where your kids are.  Aerobic workouts will be a breeze.  You will save thousands by preventing illness.  Your parties will rock.

We also turned our main parlour into a library. TV is hidden behind doors in a bookcase. While my petite wife has no problem curling up and napping on a Victorian loveseat, I am almost 6 ft tall and understand the dilemma most of you have found with smaller furniture -- we solved the problem by placing a large overstuffed  Victorian "psychiatrist's couch" (it really looks like one Freud would have used) in the library as part of the seating arrangement around the fireplace. Opposite the chaise we have a short row of refurbished upholstered antique theater chairs that are really quite comfortable for both of us.

Thanks for the kind comment, Paul - Steffie and I do use the reupholstering process to increase comfort on many pieces - but the chaise/couch (deeply tufted and re-covered in leather) still has the original horsehair stuffing and is quite comfortable. 


As long as you do not do anything that would permanently alter the historic integrity of the building, I have no problem with an eclectic mix of furnishings - a house is not a home unless it fits your lifestyle too. Although my personal preference is to stick as close as possible to the period of the house, I have no problem with creative adaptation to make a space more reflective and supportive of the needs and preferences of the residents. IMHO, it is more about the overall aesthetic than the individual pieces of furniture - and as long as the pieces used are of good quality and design - regardless of age or style - they can be sensitively used (i.e. with attention paid to proportion, scale, color etc) across periods because good design is truly timeless. One way to make this work is through the use of fabrics. I would not hesitate to cover a modern sofa in a durable, pet-and-child-friendly version of a Victorian, Arts & Crafts, Neoclassical or other period style fabric. You would be surprised as how the careful use of fabrics and patterns can tie a room together into a cohesive whole even with different styles of furnishings and accessories.

Glad I came into this discussion. We have yet to remodel our parlor so for the time being, we have an assortment of things going on in there.

I have my bar and jukebox in there, along with an antique pump organ from 1919 and a couch with end tables and lamps. I too like space that's functional and while the "museum" effect is great, it becomes impractical at some point. I prefer to be comfortable while having a few show pieces (the organ) so we're looking into having the couch recovered to look more in tune with that era (house was built in 1900). While Stephen (my partner) likes the bar in there, I don't think I care for it. I think I'd rather have a casual room for reading and so forth, especially after the fireplace is working again.

 

Therefore, my vote is to make it as comfortable as you wish. While old furnishings add a touch of era realism to the house, nothing beats comfort. Even with newer furnishings, nothing will truly take away from the overall effect an old house has on people.

This has been a great discussion and I have read it and honestly laughed and for me been validated.  I live in a house built in 1912 which has both Art Nouveau and Arts & Craft influences.  But incredibly when it was built they put walk-in closets in the bedrooms - like 6' X 8' and they installed a central vacuum system which if I got the vacuum I could still use. I live in N California and the guy who built it put in a real useable basement with buttressed walls for earthquakes.  He obviously was a forward thinker, doing the best in design and building for this house at the time.

I have always loved good design from ANY period - if it 'sings' to me, I figure it will work.  So the mix in my house is all over the map.  I have Victorian 'scrolly' wire plant stands, a clean line computer desk, a flat screen TV on the wall, and a corbel from a 16th century French church catching dust in my entry.  My sofa and chairs in the living room are sympathetic design new pieces and the sofa can be used for a nap.  When we had the house rewired we included, CAT, speaker, and cable lines (of course right after that they went to wireless).


As for upholstered furniture I read an article years ago by some mucky muck designer that made perfect sense to me.  He said to upholstered sofas and chairs in solid colors so that they don't compete with your art and in this case your house.  Also you can move them from room to room as desired.  I do the same thing with my walls.  Both my husband and I are artists and we want you to notice our art not the wallpaper.  The art is definitely not even sympathetic to the house and it still really works.  Good design is good design no matter what the era.

I see us as custodians to our houses - I have scrapped, sanded, and repaired lots of the incredible woodwork almost all of which has never been painted.  Save the best and make it work for today.  My job as I see it is bring this incredible house into the future, while saving and protecting the best of it.

My two cents for what its worth.

Haldis 

It is a dilemma.  I love old houses,  but their layouts  were designed to accommodate the needs and social conventions of their respective eras.  Often these are in conflict with modern life.  I know there are some special places that should be,  and are;  kept as museums.  But we can't live in them,  and to own an old house doesn't mean we should be expected to walk around in period costume,  and surrounded by ill-suited spaces and uncomfortable furnishings.  I don't ever want to see the basic fabric of a place so altered that it's character is lost.  But we all have to live.  No one expects us to cook over fire anymore,  so why should we cram our lives in to small rabbit warrens that no longer suit us?  One interior wall removed to expand living space is not a heinous crime. (assuming it isn't load-bearing,  lol) Having a dis-used or neglected area of the house is a greater sin.  A house is an evolving creature to a certain extent.  Every generation leaves it's mark,  and if they were due to practical and reasonable concerns, then they are legitimate and justifiable changes.

My small stone house was once a maze of little rooms on the first floor,  judging from the marks of floorboards and walls.  We bought it recently,  and the previous owner had stripped it all open to the stone inside.  The only thing left was the centre staircase,  which we relocated to an end wall.  It wasn't historically appropriate to do so,  but as the space had already been opened wide,  and the stair treads were broken to the point of danger,  we continued in the vein of the new open layout.  We would have hated being compressed into those original tiny rooms.  We needed to make it work for us.  Of course,  the exterior is a different story.  We will restore it faithfully to it's building date,  but with the use of both old and new technology and materials.

Good luck with your house.  Treat it with respect,  but don't let it rule you.

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