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Life Minded

This Old Home

I watched a lot of Bob Vila when I was a kid. My dad liked Bob’s show, This Old House. Bob seemed to know everything about everything. And we enjoyed Norm, his insanely knowledgeable carpenter sidekick. I had never heard an accent quite like Norm’s and it was fun to decipher what he was saying in a manner so exotic to my Midwestern ears. I had no idea what Bob and Norm were talking about when they went on poetic speeches about lumber grades or 60-tooth carbide blades. I was waiting for the big reveal at the end. Bob was pre-HGTV. He was pre-Extreme Home Makeover. He was pre-TikTok. The projects he worked on took historic research and troubleshooting and creativity and time. Viewers tuned in week after week to see the progress and final result. He made everything look perfect, painstakingly restoring houses to their original grandeur. 

We bought our circa 1988 house in 1998. It was described in the real estate flyer as a “charming doll house.” It would be a very good house for dolls since dolls don’t need closet space or mud rooms or convenient electrical outlets. For people however, the house has presented some interesting challenges. And then there are the current homeowners. Us. We are part of the problem because each time we fix one thing, three other things fall apart, and we cannot keep up. A camera-ready house has never been our top priority, and it shows.

If Bob visited my house, he would likely break out into a stress rash. He wouldn’t even know where to begin. My old(ish) house was not particularly well made to start with. I’m sure Bob would have some very reasonable questions for which I have no answers. I’ve spent far too much time questioning choices the original homeowners made and have to shake my head at some of my own decisions as well. 

Why are all the windows different sizes in the bedrooms?
Why would anyone put carpeting in a dining room? 
Who roofed the porch but used no flashing?
Why did we let a group of our 26-year-old friends paint our bedroom while they drank beer?
Why are some of the baseboards oak but others are white?

We have remodeled plenty of areas and made cosmetic changes multiple times, like paint and flooring. It’s the fixing of small things we aren’t great at and the problems have gained momentum over time. All the current issues could be remedied with a truckload of money and two truckloads of patience. But I find myself weighing if I would prefer a dazzling set of baseboards or a trip to Paris. Paris edges out baseboards every time. Everywhere edges out baseboards. After I see every inch of the world, I could research molding and trim trends, but I doubt I will want to. 

Most recently our doorbell got stuck ON. It went from a painful blaring to a dull buzzing. My husband opened up the box to dismantle it. Like on This Old House, we both marveled at the simple yet effective, mysterious inner workings of the doorbell. Then, unlike Bob Vila, we left it disconnected and decided we could survive without a doorbell. 

I’m far more sentimental than I am a house perfectionist. A house can be a showpiece but a home is something different, crafted over time with magic. This old home is where twenty-six years of our family memories have unfolded. Our house is comfortable. You can put your feet up. You can’t hurt anything. We can have dogs and toddlers and teenagers over and nothing is too precious. There isn’t a room that can’t be swiftly converted for a game night, a large craft project, or some indoor lacrosse face-offs. We have lived hard in every inch of this space, causing us to hang art over a few imperfections in the drywall. 

Someday long in the future, the flyer can read “Charming Doll House For Sale As-Is.” The new owners could hire someone like Bob to bring it back to 1988 glory. Either way, any prospective buyer will need to knock and knock loudly because we are probably inside, putting a dent in something. 

Jen Fortner is a freelance writer who enjoys asking friends and strangers far too many questions. She spends her spare time sitting in inclement weather watching youth sports, traveling, cooking, and searching for the very best baked goods. She lives in Shorewood with her husband, three children and the most spoiled dog.