This Olde Victorian House

Donald Stull
Posted 6/19/20

We recently bought an 1891 Victorian house. It talks to us. Or at least it sounds like some demonic voice is talking to us. It could be the heavy metal music the mice are listening to as they party …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

This Olde Victorian House


We recently bought an 1891 Victorian house. It talks to us. Or at least it sounds like some demonic voice is talking to us. It could be the heavy metal music the mice are listening to as they party in the walls. Or the last gasp of the ancient heating system.

Ours is an olde home. People in the U.S. use the term “olde” for anything that existed before World War I. It helps take the sting out of owning something that has a direct pipeline to your bank account and always breaks down just before you have company over for dinner or to stay the weekend or before people make an offer to buy it.

When redoing a very small room that my wife uses as her office, one wall was 3 layers of paper, at least 12 different coats of paint—a third of which went over each layer of wallpaper, of course—and various layers of plaster or joint compound. All of that on top of 1950s wood-look paneling. That was just one wall.

The other walls and ceiling had different sedimentary layers of ancient home building materials, including raccoon spit, termite droppings mixed with mouse urine, and what I think was manure mixed with straw. I pray that there was no asbestos in any of this.

One of these years I will learn what people mean by the phrase, “Be careful what you ask for.” I had wanted to own a Victorian since I was a kid. I always thought they had great lines, classy gingerbread trim, rooms with high ceilings, lots of big trim and molding, big heavy doors. I would drive along the streets of town and see these beautiful olde homes, some of them “needing some love” (this is what realtors say when the house is not even inhabited by mice because they are afraid of being crushed by collapsing roof and walls) and I would dream of owning one.

I have now decided that a Victorian should be owned and cared for by a team of very wealthy, retired carpenters, painters, and plumbers. Our house was once a multi-lodger rooming house back in the 1970s. It was then updated and refurbished into a single-family home, much to the joy of 10,000,000 mice, squirrels, and woodpeckers who search for termites and other bugs hiding in the cedar shingles and pine siding. With only one family living in the house, that meant fewer humans to interrupt the cafeteria service provided to these local hunters.

When we moved in, we decided we wanted to update the look of the rooms to something more consistent and to make it look less like a bordello from the 1890s. However, in 130 years, many layers of “looks” have been added, walls have changed configuration so they look like something from an M.C. Escher print, and wallpaper has puckered under 17,000 coats of paint. That meant countless hours of scraping, re-plastering, and repainting were required, with the result that the walls looked like they were a jigsaw puzzle of various bits from the local dump.

Another challenge (people use the word ”challenge” when talking about their Victorian home when they really mean something like trying to swim up Niagara Falls) is that the main floor has 11 foot ceilings and 47 gajillion linear feet of trim and molding. And these require about 5 coats of paint, each of which disappears with a loud sucking sound. By the time you make one circuit of the room and you stand back to admire the results of your hard work, it looks like no one has ever painted anything since 1891. After the 100th trip to the hardware store to get more paint, just for one room, you finally begin to see some progress. And then your spouse decides that the “look” is not right. She saw something in the latest “House Beautiful but You Can’t Afford It” magazine. So it’s time to head back to the hardware store where you sign over your life insurance policy for the next round of “remodeling.”

I’ve been binge-watching a show on building and living in tiny houses. Almost no plumbing, lights work off solar panels, you can heat the place with a match, and you use a composting toilet. If I lived in one of those tiny houses, I bet I could sell the compost to the owner of a Victorian to use as patching material for their walls.

Wishing you peace and happiness.


No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment