from a Historic Preservation Specialist
“If you want to make people mad in the world of historic preservation, just make a living doing it.” Andy Ladygo, a highly respected preservationist, made the comment at an Association for Preservation Technology meeting back in the 1990’s. It took me a bit of time to process the comment but it’s probably the most accurate comment I have ever heard about restoring old homes and structures.
Restoration of Old Buildings
There are tons of people who talk and write about historic restoration jobs but few who actually do it, and even fewer who make it their day job. The skill set required to work on an older structure is many times greater than new construction or most remodeling projects. This isn’t “plug and play”. The incentive to work on much more difficult projects under much more demanding circumstances often works against us. Toss in the fact that many who own older homes don’t want to pay what it costs to hire highly skilled restoration workers and you begin to get the gist of what Andy was talking about. I’m not going to argue wage scales for preservation workers but there are some legitimate reasons to consider when hiring workers:
- “I can get all I need from the Internet.” There’s a lot of information about historic restoration jobs out there by people who are better writers than restorers. I have found a ton of misinformation about wood floor restoration (my area of expertise) from people who had no business writing about it and base much of their advice on assumptions. Most people who do serious restoration are seldom good writers or experienced at public speaking. Experience trumps words every time!
- “I can get that done for half the price” What is your metric; what is the basis for your comparison? When someone gives you a price for work, get some idea of the time involved and do some simple division. Invariably, serious restoration work takes more time and labor and you rarely pay exorbitant hourly rates. However, the “half price bargain” usually is at a higher hourly rate, and the results can be quite marginal. Arguably, this is the most common mistake made.
- “This work has made my life a living hell?” Few people have the resources or time to buy an older home and have it completely restored before they move in. As a result, they are often living in the workspace, that is, living in chaos. It is no fun to come home from work to a house that smells and is filled with dust and debris. Rule No. 1 – Make it easy on yourself. Carve out a comfort zone and work on the rest. Or ignore my advice and hire a divorce attorney or spend your retirement on therapy sessions. Again, someone who has restoration experience knows this and can help you survive.
Historic Restoration Jobs
People who seek out old homes to restore and live in are a different breed. The same is true for those who like working on them. I have been doing both for forty years. The challenges are daunting but, in my opinion, the payoff justifies the investment. And that is the key word, “investment”. If you treat it that way, chances of making a costly mistake diminish.