Share this article

print logo

THIS OLD HOUSE

The biggest problem Ray Ganoe faced when fixing up the old house he bought in Allentown 2 1/2 years ago was dealing with the fact the house wasn't level.

"Installing crown molding was a pain in the neck," said Ganoe, who runs Buffalo General Hospital's Project Reach program.

Like others who invest their cash, time, energy and hearts in old houses, Ganoe quickly learned that while decorating an old house can be rewarding, it also has its share of headaches.

Sure, the woodwork is gorgeous, but the hardwood floors often need a great deal of stripping, sanding and refinishing before they can be brought back to their original beauty.

Yes, the high ceilings are wonderful, but finding functional furniture that will make up for a lack of closet space can be time-consuming.

And while the stairway may be the most beautiful thing under the sun, searching for affordable hardware and moldings that fit into the old-fashioned ambience of the house can wear down even the most zealous do-it-yourselfer.

For most old-home dwellers, however, the decorating part doesn't even start until after the bare bones have been checked, repaired and, sometimes, replaced. Electrical wiring may require updating. Leaky roofs need to be fixed. Windows sometimes require repair or replacement (a costly venture). Old furnaces often are ousted for new, energy-efficient ones.

It's only then that homeowners can begin to transform a house that has been around for generations into one to call their own.

And isn't that why weekends were invented?

When it's time to do so, it's helpful to know that old houses share some common decorating problems. And solutions.

"Your room sizes are different in an old house than a new house," said Janet Wetter, an interior designer who lives in North Buffalo in a house built in 1909.

While the old-time dining rooms may be bigger, the rooms designated as family rooms or dens may be smaller.

This can be a problem if you are shopping for a new piece for storing the stereo, TV and VCR, for example.

"If you go into stores nowadays, the entertainment centers are oversized for the vaulted ceilings and great rooms you find in so many of the new homes," Mrs. Wetter said.

Solution: Homeowners have to find furniture that is scaled to suit the room sizes of their older home.

Similarly, furniture arrangements may be more difficult in older houses than in newer ones -- especially when the rooms have radiators and other wall-robbing features such as French doors and multiple windows.

"My living room is smaller than my dining room. One wall has two windows on it. One wall has a window, a fireplace and a radiator. One wall has huge pocket doors leading into the dining room. And the other wall has French doors into the hallway," said Mrs. Wetter, who runs Windows & More Interior Design.

"There only are two places for a couch, and one is definitely better than the other," she said.

Fitting a larger mattress into many of the bedrooms found in older rooms can be tricky for the same reasons. These bedrooms often have fireplaces and lots of windows as well.

In addition:

Because older homes tend to have more and bigger windows than newer homes, covering them will be more costly. Keep in mind that the windows in older homes sometimes are unusually shaped, to boot -- or feature etchings or other decorative elements you won't want to cover. This is a good place for a professional to come in and help with ideas and solutions.

Old windows carry additional surprises. "One of things I have found is that the windows are not all the same size," said Mary Quimby-Arana, an artist living in an old farmhouse in Wilson.

That's a real trick when you are trying to cover them, add molding or remodel, she said.

Lots of older homes don't have much closet space. Armoires and roomy dressers become essential, and homeowners invent other handy ways to find storage space.

"We use a lot of shelves and try to find nooks and crannies wherever we can," said Mrs. Quimby-Arana, who specializes in ceramics and decorative painting and calls her business the Secret Garden.

"We also store a lot of things in baskets. You get used to it. It's a lot more homey and low-key," she said.

An added bonus of living in an old house in the country, where storage space is tight: "We have a barn in back," she said.

High ceilings make rooms feel spacious, but they also need to be considered when selecting wall coverings.

"You may have more waste on a double roll. Because your ceilings are so high, you may lose a whole cut of wallpaper. If possible, order something that is packaged in a triple roll," Mrs. Wetter said.

Homeowners often have to deal with removing multiple layers of wall covering as well so they can paint, sponge or paper the walls. Removing the layers may require a steamer, a great deal of scraping and application of a chemical wallpaper remover such as Dif.

(While a steamer makes the job easy, it may damage old plaster walls. Experts advise testing the steam method in an obscure corner before attempting the entire wall.)

Fixing up the floors is another time-consuming endeavor.

When Ganoe talks about sprucing up the 147-year-old Allentown home he shares with Mark Dooley, the conversation begins with the hardwood floors. Their first task was to find them -- buried underneath layers of orange shag carpeting, linoleum and sub-flooring.

Once they removed all that, they had to strip eight layers of paint from the pine planks, Ganoe said.

Finding molding, lighting fixtures and hardware that matched the style of the house also took some legwork. Ganoe was able to find some older items at Antique Architectural Circus and Horsefeathers Architectural Antiques, and some new items designed to look old at Home Depot.

The chandelier, for example, is brand-new, "but has an older style to it," he said.

Same with the kitchen cabinets.

"I think a mistake a lot of people make is to buy an old house but go ultra-modern in the kitchen. We tried to keep the flavor of the house," said Ganoe, who bought the house for $29,900 and estimates they have invested an additional $60,000 in renovations.

Ganoe and Dooley also remodeled the kitchen, removed the doors on the first floor to improve traffic flow, enlarged and remodeled the upstairs bathroom (without giving up the old-fashioned tub, which they had professionally refinished), refurbished the home's exterior and landscaped the yard. They also removed a second-floor bedroom to enlarge the landing.

"Old houses tend to have long, narrow hallways, which we didn't like," Ganoe said.

In the end, Ganoe figures they went through more than 350 tubes of caulk and hundreds of gallons of paint.

But, as any lover of old houses knows, it was worth it.

There are no comments - be the first to comment