Open thread: Preserving midcentury homes and features — how to know what to keep?

brown vintage stove in dumpsterI sent a newsletter yesterday that spotlighted my four favorite time capsule houses from 2011. Reader Joe took a look at the four homes, and mused:

OK, the problem is “How does one know when he has something worth preserving?” We all admire those select-few geniuses who kept their mid-century homes in mint condition, but I suspect most of us went with the flow and re-decorated as periods changed. I mean, we, too, had a 1964 home, but by the ’70s, we had to redecorate, because it seemed so gross. Fast forward 50 years, and I would give anything to have that house back in its original condition! (I’ll bet the original GE appliances would still be working!) Maybe it’s that we become smarter with age, or maybe we are just washed over by the wave of nostalgia. Memories do seem to become more important as we get older. Those of us in the retro movement certainly do have a keen appreciation and vivid memories of “back then,” but which of us was brilliant enough not to ever touch a thing and to preserve our mid-century glamour? I mean, pink? Turquoise? Who would have thought?

If we keep everything as it is in our homes today, is it possible that, in 50 years, people will be dying to have what we got? ….

I definitely have strong opinions on this question. But I’ll put the question out to readers first:

When it comes to original features in our homes,
how do we decide what is “worth” preserving vs. letting go?

  1. Joe Felice says:

    We have our realtors telling us our houses must be updated if we ever hope to sell them. Whenever I have listed a home, the first question asked is “Has it had updating?” And then we have HGTV & DIY Network telling us we have to replace gross and disgusting ’50s bathrooms and kitchens. Today, EVERYBODY wants stainless-steel appliances and granite counter tops. I don’t happen to like either, and, quite frankly, am sick and tired of seeing them and hearing people say they have to have them. In 50 or 60 years, will people be dying to have them again? I can’t imagine, but how does one predict these things? I also can’t imagine anyone’s harking back to the ’90s and ’00s, when bland & boring were in. I mean, how many greige houses can we have? Painted aspen white and almond inside?

    On the other hand, some Americana is timeless. So who, indeed, has the clearest crystal ball? While we tend to think of American inventions and trends as marvelous, let’s not forget some of the least-impressive items that we would be better off not having: chain-link fences, cedar fences, sliding-glass doors, paneling, mirror tiles, plastic (vinyl) siding, aluminum storm doors (and windows), whirly-bird roof vents, popcorn ceilings (especially the ones with glitter in them), vinyl floors, and many others. These are the types of things people in other countries look at and wonder what’s wrong with us. Generally speaking, we tend to think of past creations as durable and lasting. Indeed, American products used to be built to last, “like tanks.” And so, as long as they lasted, people tended to keep them, and repair them. Then came the throw-away era. Nothing is built to last (if it even works in the first place), and when things break or go out of style, you’re supposed to throw them away. So, down the road, there won’t be all these products from today that people tended to keep. I think the ’50s – ’70s was the last era from which items could be kept and restored. Just try to get a stereo or TV (or ANY electrical device) repaired today. And yet, look at all those wonderful gadgets we have from earlier times that are still functional. And, in many cases, there are those who wish they still made them or would start making them again! Aluminum houses OK, but plastic houses, not so much.

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