Really, Really Living in Row House History

Irving Street, Philadelphia
Irving Street, Philadelphia

One day, I am going to be able to afford all the home improvements I’d like to do on our row house. Meanwhile, I am collecting ideas on Pinterest. Since I’m several years off, I have plenty of time to collect hundreds of photos. Although this sounds excessive, I will need to have a lot to review so that I can combat my design ADHD with a majority wins approach. The style that I pin the most, will win out.

Occasionally, I catch up with Pinterest so that I can actually visit the websites from where the pins originate. Sometimes, this leads me on quite the adventure! Although I meant to turn in early, I found myself embarking on a most intriguing row house adventure.

I started here – http://www.pinterest.com/pin/29062360069386412/. This is the parlor room from the Dennis Severs’ Terraced (row) House in Spitalfields, London, England. I just liked the look of the room but there is a fascinating story behind this house. Thankfully, it’s quite well known and there is a video here – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yr2HtBYSNY0 so that I don’t have to repeat the entire story.

In summary, Dennis Severs, a gentleman from California, decided he had had enough of 20th Century life (who hasn’t?) and in the late 1970s, he moved to a lovely Georgia row house that was built in the 1720s. He then decided to basically move into the past and decorate his home in period styles ranging over the 18th and 19th Centuries. Each room is a little different. What’s really unique is that he really lived in the house. If you visit the home, which is open for tours, you happen upon rooms with half-eaten food, slept-in beds, and roaring fires. It’s as if you’ve arrived unexpected and the residents are still there. This is not a museum-quality home. It’s not perfectly historically accurate. But it’s so real, because Severs was actually living in the home and using everything. Unfortunately, he’s passed on, but the house is still maintained to his specifications.

I do believe that I would be ecstatic to live in such a manner… the Husband, not so much.

From there, I viewed this suggested video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HAInq6vVlqM) about a couple renovating a home in the same neighborhood. It’s a good look into the mind-set of people who choose to restore and renovate. I love that when you research your home in London, you have such wonderful resources. We lucked out when I finally discovered the origins of our row house. There was quite a bit of information available. Not everyone is so fortunate here in Philly, although there are many historic homes.

Finally, because it was getting late, I completed my journey with this video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0jTEPvzfs7s) about a couple who is renovating another Georgian row house in the UK. Watching this, I am thankful our house is small and in good shape. Our roof is sound and the foundation is very sturdy. But there are some lessons to be learned.

Number one lesson? Patience. I have a really hard time with this, which is why I am thankful for something like Pinterest. Patience will allow you to listen to your house and discover all the secrets. We’re not lucky enough to have layers to uncover; someone did that in the 70s. But, we own our row house. No one is going to kick us out. So we have plenty of time to figure out what to do. Like the couple in the video, we don’t have much of a budget either, so we have to wait, and wait, and wait. And this is a very good thing.

Another valuable lesson observed, and this one is important for me because I long to walk through a painting, it’s the feeling, not necessarily the perfection of the replication that’s important. It’s OK if things aren’t perfect. It’s OK to take liberties. It’s OK to give things your own spin. In fact, it would seem that much sought-after realism is actually better achieved with some deviation.

I love looking at Georgian homes because they share elements with our own row house. Things like doorknobs, molding, wainscoting, windows, flooring, mantels, etc. are very similar and we can take inspiration. I regret that we don’t seem to find anything nearly as awesome in our garbage dumps here in Philly although I feel like if I was more aggressive at making friends with the salvage people, I might learn some tricks.

In any case, it’s nice when a good internet adventure makes one fall in love with one’s house all over again!

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