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Restoration Vs. New Construction


segovia

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Hello Neighbors,

What is your opinion on restoration vs. new construction? What option does a better job in the long run of maintaining and preserving the architectural integrity of the neighborhood? Any personal experiences or projects undertaken?

Thank you.

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That depends on so many variables, doesn't it? Mainly personal choices, I would guess, how much money you have, how much you care about preserving the integrity of the neighborhood, why you bought there in the first place, so many variables. I lived in a 30 year old home for 10 years, I just moved a few years ago into a 15 year old home, and now I have a 110 year old home. Each one has its' positives and negatives. I must say that even though the 110 year old one is the most challenging and frustrating (mainly because the previous owner let it fall into disrepair in certain aspects), it's also the most rewarding and enjoyable because of its' rich history. It's not fancy in any stretch of the imagination, but I love working on it, and knowing that it's still here 110 years from the time it was built when so many others were either bulldozed or burned down is pretty amazing. Plus, I'm learning all kinds of new skills! :lol:

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It depends a lot on the quality and appearance of both.

Certainly, restoration can bring back a neighborhood to its old glory, though with a different demographic living there.

New construction can completely reinvent a neighborhood that can be better or worse than was there before.

It is a case by case study, and frankly, different people will have different opinions on whether it is an improvement.

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I have seen a lot of new construction in my area. I had the privilege of seeing it first hand across my street (6 homes). Not all builders are the same. They differ quite a bit from the quality of the products used and the skilled labor hired. Restoration can be rewarding but you might end up paying as much as for a new house without accomplishing all your goals. I guess...for new homes...buyer beware. Restoring an older home...have a defined plan with achievable goals.

House plans from yesteryear:

http://www.historicaldesigns.com

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I think you have to admit that restoration isn't always the answer. While nobody likes to see old buildings torn down, very few people want to take on a dilapidated old house with plaster walls and knob-and-tube wiring.

That being said, you have to wonder if some of these developers that tear down historic buildings to put up town homes are familiar with the concept of Karma.

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i agree, renovating older places, especially those that have not been kept up, can be very expensive and time consuming.

BUT - in the case of these people on lubbock st., i doubt time or money is much of a concern...

PLUS - i think people like them probably emit noxious things in to the air that keep people in general away from them...

EDIT: i did forget to add this quote from the chronicle:

"Norman and Isabel plan to preserve the palm tree."

heh

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What option does a better job in the long run of maintaining and preserving the architectural integrity of the neighborhood?

That's a loaded question. You have to look at what you're replacing. I bought a new Perry townhome (I know, I know) that replaced a trailer park on Airline. Literally, a trailer park. Nobody can make an architectural integrity argument that the neighborhood was better served by a trailer park than by townhomes, no matter how much you disagree with Perry's (lack of) architectural styling. I'll take a new home, no matter how cookie-cutter it is, over a trailer park any day.

People complain because new construction raises the cost of surrounding houses, but by that argument, you could say we'd be better off erecting cardboard shacks. It'd do a great job of keeping property values low and taxes cheap! Woohoo! Let's go cardboard shacks!

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i also communicated with the director of programs and information at the greater houston preservation alliance today, and he said that the house in the aforementioned chronicle article is doomed and the owner will not budge. at all. :angry:

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One must ask the question, what do these people think makes a neighborhood? More than most places, they will be hated by their neighbors. How much fun can that be? If their house caught fire, would anyone lend a hose? Would anyone even call the fire department?

More likely, they would gather across the street to applaud. This type of construction is no different than a pig farm next door. It affects the entire neighborhood. You would think a "designer" would try to fit the neighborhood just a bit.

But then, you don't have to know anything about architecture to be a "designer", do you?

Maria Isabel Maria Isabel Maria Isabel

(I did that so that when she googles her name she'll see what a f-ing loser I think she and her husband are.)

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A subject dear to my heart!

My first apartment was in a nascent preservation district in Rochester, NY. It took a lot of pleading and wheedling to keep the city from tearing down decrepit Victorian brick houses, and it payed off. It's a lovely neighborhood, and the residents were passionate about preserving it. Such things can build a sense of community. Every time someone took on the daunting task of restoring a beloved but decrepit house, she (or he) became a local hero.

I've been a resident of the Montrose area since 1981. At that time, Montrose was considered by many to be a decayed and dangerous neighborhood (anyone remember the sarcastic "The crime-free Montrose" tagline from a local radio station?) Property was very affordable. Creative people could afford to buy houses here, and do creative things with them. The existing architecture was sympathetic; why have a normal front lawn when it could become a sculpture garden? People would live in the back of the house, and cut hair, or sell antiques or used clothing in the front.

I cannot imagine such activity or engagement in a neighborhood with a sudden influx of new construction. Owning a recently built townhome doesn't engender the same passion as preserving what's already there. There is, of course, a need for infill.

I'll try not to resort to cliches, but won't succeed. New construction shouldn't destroy the very thing which made the neighborhood desirable to begin with. It bothers me that people move to Montrose because it's centrally located, or a good investment; that's not the point. The exisiting architecture is a reminder of the history, the culture of a peculiar place and time. How unfortunate if it's wiped out.

Edit: This probably belongs in the Montrose thread, but I thought it applied to the question.

Edited by dbigtex56
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I'll try not to resort to cliches, but won't succeed. New construction shouldn't destroy the very thing which made the neighborhood desirable to begin with. It bothers me that people move to Montrose because it's centrally located, or a good investment; that's not the point. The exisiting architecture is a reminder of the history, the culture of a peculiar place and time. How unfortunate if it's wiped out.

BigTex, as a long-time Montrose resident, you're the perfect person to ask: do you miss the Westheimer Street Fest, or were you glad to see it go?

Twice a year we had a blast down at the Westheimer "Freak" Festival (and I mean that in a most loving way)...that is until the area got too yuppified and the new residents didn't want those creative spirits walking "their" streets and making music anymore.

I guess you see what camp I'm in.

As for the topic at hand, restoration vs. new development...you definitely have to look at what is existing. In South Union, there are a lot of houses that SHOULDN'T be renovated. In fact, there's a lot that we hope AREN'T renovated. First of all they're not exactly "specimen" homes to begin with, but so many are so decrepit they're falling down. On the other hand, there are a number of well-kept, beautiful homes that don't look their age. Our neighborhood is (slowly but surely) becoming a nice mix of well-maintained originals and affordable new homes (1500-2000 sf).

In South Union, new development is welcomed. A couple miles up the road in Third Ward, you've got a totally different situation. In much of the Third Ward, the homes are worth saving. The new homes being built in our neighborhood wouldn't fit into Third Ward at all...which leads to the "this is our home and it's not for sale" phenomenon.

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One must ask the question, what do these people think makes a neighborhood?  More than most places, they will be hated by their neighbors.  How much fun can that be?  If their house caught fire, would anyone lend a hose?  Would anyone even call the fire department?

More likely, they would gather across the street to applaud.  This type of construction is no different than a pig farm next door.  It affects the entire neighborhood.  You would think a "designer" would try to fit the neighborhood just a bit.

But then, you don't have to know anything about architecture to be a "designer", do you?

Maria Isabel Maria Isabel Maria Isabel

(I did that so that when she googles her name she'll see what a f-ing loser I think she and her husband are.)

in the article it was mentioned that historic neighborhoods make up less than 1% of houston's land - so that's leaves almost EVERYwhere else open for them to build. they will be pariahs of that neighborhood for sure!

oh and let me help:

Maria Isabel Maria Isabel Maria Isabel

:D

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"Right now that lot is full of bums. People come and put trash there. Cleaning it up -- that's my thing. The historical movement, it's not my bag."

I can't believe Maria Isabel would actually say this stupidity to a reporter from the Houston Chronicle in the first place. She may change her mind about moving there after her neighbors from all around get wind of her true feelings for her community.

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Guest danax

Maybe a little negative peer pressure will dissuade Maria Isabel from building her dream house there but I kind of doubt it. "historical preservation is not my bag" not only dates her but shows her selfishness; she cares about what she wants and forget about the passionate neighbors. Unfortunately, there are many more who prefer new over old, that's why preservation ordinances exist (not here) because, if left to the majority, there would be no intact old neighborhoods. Oh well, if we didn't have something completely out of place to jar us every few blocks, it just wouldn't be Houston.

I had a discussion with a women in my neighborhood last night who is remodeling her 1940s home. She invited a few of us over to see her recent work after our neighborhood meeting. She already ripped out a lot of the cool features and is about to gleefully gut her sea-green tiled kitchen that is in near perfect shape, original cabinets with glass knobs, sink, lighting, original stove. I tried my best but there was no way to change her mind. She wants bright and shiny, even if it will look dated in 10 years. Another friend of hers was there too telling me how she did the same thing. And another one was telling me how she was going to yank out the old wood windows in her house (all in the same neighborhood) and go buy vinyl ones...I left there with a feeling of futility.

One of the reasons places like Historic Houston have a hard time staying in business is that there are so few old homes being restored here. They can't hold all of the salvage though. I think they need to remove the clause in the Historic District ordinances that allow someone to go ahead with demolition after the 90 day waiting period. That makes the whole thing almost worthless.

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And another one was telling me how she was going to yank out the old wood windows in her house (all in the same neighborhood) and go buy vinyl ones...I left there with a feeling of futility

Hey Danax, pm when she gets ready to remove her windows. If they are the same size as mine, I will remove them and haul them away, (only to be reused of course)

What kind of neighboorhood meeting do y`all have, where and when?

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BigTex, as a long-time Montrose resident, you're the perfect person to ask: do you miss the Westheimer Street Fest, or were you glad to see it go?

Twice a year we had a blast down at the Westheimer "Freak" Festival (and I mean that in a most loving way)...that is until the area got too yuppified and the new residents didn't want those creative spirits walking "their" streets and making music anymore.

I guess you see what camp I'm in.

A little of both, I suppose.

At one time, the Westheimer Festival was like a bizzare class reunion (except it was fun). Locals could always count on seeing people they knew, and it was amusing to see the bewildered looks on the faces of people unfamiliar with the neighborhood. It certainly brought out people's creative sides.

In its latter years, it seemed to degenerate into just another place for dim-wits to drink too much beer. Although unsympathetic new residents' attitudes towards the festival irritated me, I think that the WestFest kind of ran its course. Once something becomes too popular, it's difficult - maybe impossible - to restore what made it appealling to begin with.

(sorry - I know this is off topic)

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I had a discussion with a women in my neighborhood last night who is remodeling her 1940s home. She invited a few of us over to see her recent work after our neighborhood meeting. She already ripped out a lot of the cool features and is about to gleefully gut her sea-green tiled kitchen that is in near perfect shape, original cabinets with glass knobs, sink, lighting, original stove. I tried my best but there was no way to change her mind. She wants bright and shiny, even if it will look dated in 10 years. Another friend of hers was there too telling me how she did the same thing.

This seems to be the prevailing style - no home is complete without a kitchen equipped like a medium-sized restaurant.

How puzzling that people used to feed large households three meals a day from these kitchens; yet now two people living off microwavable food find them 'cramped'.

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Guest danax
This seems to be the prevailing style - no home is complete without a kitchen equipped like a medium-sized restaurant.

How puzzling that people used to feed large households three meals a day from these kitchens; yet now two people living off microwavable food find them 'cramped'.

So true. Is everyone a gourmet cook these days? Who's got time for that? That would seem like an impossibility for commuters especially. I think it's more for show and tell and the occasional feast.

This is part of the reason that we are losing so many old houses. They are not "feasible" for restoration, by todays standards of size and luxury.

That brings us back to the question of whether to restore and old house or buy new. Can you accept "less" perhaps? It is possible to expand, of course. The friend I mentioned in the previous post who's about to gut her kitchen; I have to say she's done a great job on the house in general, historic considerations aside. She added a master bedroom with oak-strip wood floors to match the rest of the house, along with a master bath with huge jacuzzi, huge walk-in closet and a back porch. So, the kitchen is just the final piece of her personal vision and most modern people would love it and might see the possibilities that these basic looking 40s boxes, that so covered Houston and are still plentiful, cheap and close-in, have for modern living. By the way, she lives alone so she's a perfect example of the current phenomenon of wanting much more than is needed.

I think that neighborhoods that retain their architectural integrity throughout the changing trends and generations are gifts to cities that keep on giving. And restoration and sensitive modification are the ways to keep those neighborhoods intact. It's totally unrealistic to expect many to stay the same though, especially here.

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How puzzling that people used to feed large households three meals a day from these kitchens; yet now two people living off microwavable food find them 'cramped'.

That has less to do with the kitchen functionality and more to do with the changing role of the kitchen. When I grew up, and my parents were having get-togethers, nobody spent time hanging out in the kitchen. People split up between the formal and casual living rooms or dining rooms, sitting around and talking.

These days, the kitchen is a gathering place. I've had plenty of parties that never left the kitchen. Preparing food is more of a central event now in the days of TV cooking shows - people want to hang out with the host as he/she cooks the food, and it becomes a central part of the event.

Heck, two years after we bought our house, we still haven't bought a dining room table. Everybody hangs out around the kitchen island.

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That has less to do with the kitchen functionality and more to do with the changing role of the kitchen.  When I grew up, and my parents were having get-togethers, nobody spent time hanging out in the kitchen.  People split up between the formal and casual living rooms or dining rooms, sitting around and talking.

These days, the kitchen is a gathering place.  I've had plenty of parties that never left the kitchen.  Preparing food is more of a central event now in the days of TV cooking shows - people want to hang out with the host as he/she cooks the food, and it becomes a central part of the event.

Heck, two years after we bought our house, we still haven't bought a dining room table.  Everybody hangs out around the kitchen island.

Thanks, BrentO - you make a legitimate point.

Come to think of it, my brother's family generally eat in the kitchen's (cramped) breakfast nook of their mid-sixties house. The dining room has been relegated to the role that the parlor had in houses a hundred years ago - nicely furnished, but seldom used.

Hopefully, people will find ways to increase the functional use of their vintage kitchens while retaining the more desirable original elements.

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Guest danax
Thanks, BrentO - you make a legitimate point.

Come to think of it, my brother's family generally eat in the kitchen's (cramped) breakfast nook of their mid-sixties house. The dining room has been relegated to the role that the parlor had in houses a hundred years ago - nicely furnished, but seldom used.

Hopefully, people will find ways to increase the functional use of their vintage kitchens while retaining the more desirable original elements.

When I first bought this house, built around 1905-8, I had the idea of turning the formal dining room, which is the largest room in the house, into a master bedroom and the original 10x10 kitchen adjacent to it into a master bath. That would've given me 3 brdms and 3 baths and I could've turned the original 1908 bathroom, which had been stripped previously of all it's original features, into a laundry room. There was already another kitchen that had been converted from a bedroom (I know, weird).

I've since decided to enlarge the original kitchen (remodeled actually in 1926) and stay with 2 bdms, 2 baths and keep the original dining room. I am also keeping the original parlor as a sitting room and not converting it into a bedroom. Easy for me as I live alone.

It's not the "practical" thing to do but I didn't want to alter the original floor plan too much. And, I like the old fashioned way of preparing the food in one room and serving and eating it in another. It adds formality and a sense of peace and reverence for the act of eating.

Are these open kitchen/dining areas perhaps just a passing trend that will one day be as dated as a parlor? Most of the time, a compromise between architectural originality and personal preferences/modern living can be found without forever destroying the aura of the passage of time that exists in an old house.

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Open concepts have been a Houston hallmark for a long time. Not sure why. Cooler, perhaps? Less formal, as befits the Houston style? I don't see going back to isolated rooms anytime soon, especially kitchen/dining. That is actually kind of old school, when entertainment revolved around food.

Interestingly, Dallas homes up through the 80s (90s) had the formal setup of separate rooms, as opposed to the open Houston concept. Haven't been up there in awhile. Don't know what direction it has gone recently.

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Open concepts have been a Houston hallmark for a long time.  Not sure why.  Cooler, perhaps?  Less formal, as befits the Houston style?  I don't see going back to isolated rooms anytime soon, especially kitchen/dining.  That is actually kind of old school, when entertainment revolved around food.

Do you know what year the open kitchen concept began to be put into new homes? My home built in the fifties has a relatively closed kitchen. Could this have been the beginning of the concept? The reason I ask is because there are two open doorways (no doors) that lead to the living room area. Also I know of other homes in the area that are slightly open, but not to the degree they are today.

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Guest danax
Do you know what year the open kitchen concept began to be put into new homes?  My home built in the fifties has a relatively closed kitchen.  Could this have been the beginning of the concept?  The reason I ask is because there are two open doorways (no doors) that lead to the living room area.  Also I know of other homes in the area that are slightly open, but not to the degree they are today.

I'm thinking the true open kitchen where the dining room is virtually in the same space without any barriers came about in the 80s. I lived in a house built in '78 that had a separtate kitchen and a tiny dining room.

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This is somewhat of a guess on my part, but I believe it started in the 70s, around the time that the oil boom started rempant tract home development. My parents home, built in 1976, has an attached kitchen/breakfast area, open to the den. Many other homes in the neighborhood are similar.

However, ranch homes may have started the trend. Any ranch afficionados have any thoughts on this subject?

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I just noticed this thread, and you know what, as one of her neighbors, I'm going to do what I can to at least make sure she builds something that fits the feel of the "hood". What can I do........hmmmm, gonna have to think on it.

I adore the 6th ward, I may have to leave it very soon and it makes me so sad, yet, it makes me sadder still to see morons like this come in and ruin history. These homes are 100+ years old, there are VERY FEW homes in Houston that old. If she wants to build a gargantuan modern thing, fine! Just do it over in Rice Military, or Midtown or somewhere else where the original charm has already been clobbered.

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GoAtomic, don't forget the tremendous impact air conditioning had on housing design in Houston and much of the south. You can't have an open kitchen plan in Houston without it. Even in the 50's, many middle-class homes still did not have air conditioning, which is why the kitchens were still closed off to the rest of the house. My late 40's bungalo in Shady Acres is nothing but a series of comparments, with the kitchen tucked away in the back corner seperated by a door to the dining room, which was separated from the bedroom hallway with another door. The only open areas are between the living and dining room, separated by an archway.

Heck, I just described half the homes built in Houston in the 1st half of the 20th century.

So, the 'two doorways to the living area' probably had as much to do with comfort as structural considerations.

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