So here we are – undertaking our seventh house renovation in thirty-seven years. (We have also lived in four rental units.) Our newest spot is a home that was built the year my husband was born, and he is not a boomer baby.
When I went to city hall to inquire about permits for this house, the lady smiled and said, “A tear-down.” It was not a question. I said “No, I am from Maryland. We renovate houses like this one.” What I didn’t add was nobody I knew in Maryland ever had the money or the inclination to level a house that had suited two or three generations of families. Or maybe we didn’t know better?
The home we now own is the kind of home that two years ago a builder would have torn down to build a “spec” house – an anomaly that has defined the Dallas building market for several decades. We get a buzz out of Dallas homes built in the 1930's. And we found one: a house that has good bones, spiffy woodwork, and well-proportioned, compact rooms; situated on a modest lot, carefully landscaped but not so carefully groomed for the past few years. (A Garden!) Alas this charmer also has minimal closet spaces, and is one bath short of our desires – true to the M.O. of all the homes we’ve enjoyed in Maryland.
Dallas is a builder’s city – even in down markets. Until recently developers paid good money for homes built in the ‘20's and ‘30's and later: houses with gracious proportions, wrap-around porches, big windows – but plumbing problems – electrical problems – rot problems. Overnight, it seemed, they leveled a grand house, into a spacious lot, and erected structures that dominate the lots from front to back, and side to side. Clearly no guidelines of restrictions on conspicuous consumption – French chateau Texas I have sniffed. Even my mother-in-law, a true lover of all things Dallas, agreed.
In Maryland, Annapolis specifically, we preserve houses – yes, indeedy – as well as all the problems that go with living in an old house! And we don’t drive so much as a nail without the permission of a commission whose ambition is make the town a living museum. They keep all who want to live in homes within their jurisdiction historical and perhaps a wee bit more elegant than the original owners would have been. They then rewarded each renovator with colored plaques, an unspoken testimony to how much money they probably blew bringing even a modest, but old, house up to code. We have rules back east that most of Dallas hasn’t had – but precious few of our finely restored homes have more than one walk-in closet, large laundry rooms above ground, and bathrooms for every bedroom, plus two or three ½ baths for good measure.
So we bought a house in Dallas that any Marylander would be proud to fix up – and the best aspect is the covered porch that sports two fans (in need of cleaning) and enough room for a couple of picnic tables where I might lay out a few bushels of crabs – there’s even a sink in the garage to wash up. Alas, this little jewel of a house is far, far away from the Chesapeake Bay. But it’s good to know I have the outdoor space for hosting a chili party – when the weather cools.