We all think we would want to live in a house like any of these Victorian mansions. I know several people who “took one on.” They bought them planning to restore them. They savored delicious images of refinished wooden paneling. Ceiling beams with miniature gargoyles and carved balustrades in the hall.
Gleaming wood floors and a kitchen big enough to run a restaurant … and probably a dining room that matches. All of them eventually gave up the dream. They tried. They labored. But is was too much house and they moved on.
One couple finished it. It was magnificent. THEN they went bankrupt.
The third … I’m not sure what happened. I believe she got about half way through the process … and gave up.
These are wonderful homes. Big rooms with light from huge windows. Airy, high ceilings, hand carvings and stunning wood interiors. With that come roofs which are a nightmare to repair. Wiring gone to rot or so primitive, you couldn’t run a modern kitchen without setting the house on fire.
Huge rooms and high ceiling make the homes impossible to heat. Everything that makes the house beautiful also makes a problem for any modern homeowner. Most particularly, the sheer size and lack of insulation in these houses … and the lack of modern infrastructure makes them a constant challenge.
These are huge houses, designed to house large families with lots of children and probably two or three generations of earlier generations, from babies to great granddad. And maybe the odd cousin, too. Did I mention that they don’t have closets, either?
Classic Victorian “Painted Lady”
In the real world, we get to a point in which we recognize we don’t need a 3-story house with 8 bedrooms (and often, just one bathroom). We’d be fine with a single story house, two bedrooms with one and a half baths. And hefty closets. Luxury? How about a small fireplace and a fenced yard for the dogs?
In my middle years, I yearned for large and open. With tall windows. Oh, those windows!
For a brief time, I owned a one-fifth of a Victorian. It was a one-bedroom flat on the first floor of the big house. By the time I bought my piece, it was five apartments — four in the main house and a bigger one on what would have been the attic level. My piece was not huge by square footage, but it was felt bigger than it was … and it was elegant. Twelve-foot ceilings and the floors were elm. It cost me almost a thousand dollars just to have simple cotton curtains made for all the windows. Not fancy drapes, mind you. Just enough to cover those 7-foot tall windows.
My apartment was on the first floor and it was not out in the country. You really needed window coverings. I lived there less than a year and then, Garry and I got married. The apartment only had one small bathroom — no room for a second. Garry and I can share many things, but NOT a single bathroom. NO closets. I mean zero. Apparently people didn’t own stuff, or more to the point, everything the owned was on display.
Victorian houses were incredibly cluttered. You had to be a ballet dancer to not knock over the pottery.
We tried to buy the other (empty) apartment across the hall, but the condo association got flustered by the unconventionality of the concept. We gave up and moved elsewhere. I rented it out for a couple of years, then I too went bankrupt.
No one wanted the apartment, so the bank canceled the mortgage and but I kept the place. I gave it to my son who lived in it with his wife and kid and finally, he gave it to an ailing friend who has completely redone it. It’s gorgeous, just the way I’d have done it if I’d had the money.
Many of these glorious painted ladies have been broken into pieces for condos. At least that keeps them in one piece because otherwise, they wind up knocked down to make room for sensible housing.
These are houses to dream about and for which we yearn. If you are wealthy, you can fix them up and live there, but you need some pretty big money to make them livable and it takes years to bring them up to reasonably modern living standards. At this point, I can’t imagine dealing with so much room. For the rest of us, Victorian homes are places to admire, and photograph. Otherwise, they are the highest maintenance houses ever built with far too many stairways and an awful lot of glass.
When the moments of yearning come to me, I watch “Meet Me In St. Louis.” That makes me feel much better and I can sing along, too.