Sow's Ears and Silk Purses

Rehabilitating Old Bones into New Charm by V. Croome

All too often, standing in front of a major remodel, I hear the comment, “They should have just torn it down and started over.”

Shaking my head, I reply, “But it has good bones.”

More often than not, the comment falls on stone-deaf ears.

The older houses carry a charm and a character not found in our newer construction. Before World War II, builders commonly built with a care and attention to little details that today are glossed over in search of the faster, more ‘economical’ modes of building. Early builders considered the ‘economy’ of a lasting structure. Today, builders are often primarily concerned with delivering the cheapest possible house, as quickly as possible, with the largest possible margin.

In the process, the bones suffer and become similar to all the others. Modern, cold and without character.

For whatever the reason--the economy or the lack of large-scale development funds--the vast bulk of building around Fernie right now is remodeling the many older houses scattered around Main Town, the Annex and the Airport. The exception would be Veneto, primarily an affordable housing project just being finished by Parastone. This year owners are looking at a house and imagining a nip here and a tuck there, a little bit of a middle-aged spread over there and all will be good.

This is recycling in the simplest form. Appreciating and using what we have and making it better and longer lasting.

Standing on the north side of Town Hall and looking across 6th St you can see two fine examples of the current trend in re-habing vs tear down and start all over.

On the corner of 6th and 4th Ave is a long-term remodel. Now clad in pink foam with new beam accents, the house is slowly being brought to a new life. Before they started, there was some detail, but the new owners added beams and worked on the exterior to develop a feel and character with the addition of structural and cosmetic beams.

Directly to the right is another project although it does not appear to be a project. The house in the middle of the block sitting next to the alley is often overlooked, yet it is one of the classic architectural detailed houses in town. The outside is the common gray stucco of so many homes in Fernie. On a closer look, you’ll notice the windows are original with leaded glass detailing across the top of each. The top floor punctuates the steep roof with dormers.

In style it would be classed an unadorned Victorian with the steep roof broken by dormers.

Inside the house shines with detail.

The current owner is readying the house for sale. I was talking to her the day after she removed the carpet and found a hard wood floor underneath.

“I don’t think it can be refinished.”

“Try it. It may not look brand new, but the character will add to the house.”

I walked through the other day and the floor looks brand new. One of the few hard maple floors I’ve seen in Fernie, it shines with blonde warmth that fills the first floor.

She took off the heating registers to refinish the floor and found they were the original copper. They now accentuate the blond floor. New tile is ordered for the hearth. And the list goes on.

Essentially, the house will be 1909 new in a month or two. Character with all the modern comforts.

Wander around and look. A house in the airport is adding two timber-framed entries. The little yellow house on 9th St (see articles in the Fix) has been lifted and sits on a new foundation. In short order it will be early 1900’s new with an energy efficiency even new builds will envy. Yet the original character will still be maintained.

So when you look at a house in town, don’t look at the dress, look at the bones. Think accent and dressing it up a bit. We’re lucky in Fernie. You can take a sow’s ear and make a silk purse. It’s done every day.