House Histories

Your home has a story.

What did your house look like “before?”

One of the biggest challenges in researching a home’s history can be figuring out how a renovated home looked and functioned when it was originally built. Even the most carefully preserved and thoughtfully restored homes will have little differences from the original – updated plumbing and electrical wiring, composition shingle roofing, concrete foundations – that make them safer and more convenient to modern residents. Most “regular” homes have gone through many more changes in their lifespans. Luckily for many homeowners, our older homes weren’t built as unique vernacular structures but from common patterns repeated throughout the cities where we live. And when our own home was renovated by previous owners, others like it may not have been.  Trolling through the homes listed for sale on recently rewarded me with a lovely example of what parts of my own home might look like had it not been renovated in the 1960s and 1990s.

This home for sale at 1116 Delaware Street in Berkeley appears to have been built from the same plans as our North Oakland house. Like many in our neighborhood, ours had a second story built beneath the first in the 1960s to give extra space to families accustomed to more privacy and indoor recreation.

The smaller rectangular window in our place was replaced by one with similar dimensions to those on the street-facing side of the house. It provides more light, but honestly makes it more difficult to place furniture.

This picture really makes me want to get out the sander and putty knives, as all the woodwork in our house is painted a bland white. It also suggests the possibility that home builders chose from a few add-on options when erecting a new house from a standard plan, as this example has corner cabinets and window seats that I don't believe ever existed in our dining room. The fireplace (on the wall opposite the doorways) is also similar to ours but with slightly more elaborate masonry. Previous owners of our house also removed the two doors leading to the entryway and front room, leaving open doorways. In all, the dining room at 1116 Delaware is warmer and more inviting than our updated version.

I'm a little less sentimental about the kitchen updates in our version of this house, as the pantry and rear entryway were knocked out to produce a larger space more convenient to cook and visit in.

I do love to see how the old stove location (newer stove than the house but probably in its original spot) vents into the chimney and how a matching built-in is back-to-back with the dining room's. The little doors below the glass ones lead to an opening through which hot dishes could be passed directly from the kitchen to the dining room.

So, if your house seems similar to others in your neighborhood and you’d like insights into how it’s changed over the years, keep an eye on the real estate listings and visit open houses. It can be very enlightening!


One comment on “What did your house look like “before?”

  1. Julie Merholz
    February 14, 2012

    Or…ask someone knowledgable like you about it.

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This entry was posted on February 14, 2012 by in Architecture.