I really had absolutely no idea what we were in for when my husband and I bought our circa 1906 Victorian house in Beacon six years ago. At the time, all we knew was that it was oh-so pretty and just packed with charm: the wraparound, rocking chair porch; the intricate mouldings, the grand staircase, the wide-paneled wood floors. And the pocket doors that divide the living and dining rooms? Proudly demonstrating how they disappeared right into the wall was my favorite party trick. “We love old houses,” we’d happily declare to anyone who would listen.
Then I tried to hang a picture on the wall.
Anyone who knows anything about old houses knows exactly where this is going. As I attempted to hammer in the picture hook, the wall around it crumbled to dust in front of my very eyes — as it did the next 20 times that I tried to accomplish what had, previously, been a fairly routine task. “Well, do you have plaster walls?” the guy at the hardware store asked when I queried him about my dilemma. I have to admit that never in my 30-plus years — not once — had I ever considered what walls were made of. I stared at him blankly. Eventually, we determined that yes indeed, the walls must be plaster. “So you have to find the studs,” he told me. While I momentarily thought he was making a joke about how this was man’s work, I soon understood what he was referring to (yes, even I had heard about wall studs) and was sent home with my very first stud finder. It would not be my last.
I had scoffed at people who shuffle along the beach searching for buried treasure with a metal detector. With my stud finder, I instantly became just like them. I would move the device slowly and methodically across the wall, anticipating the wonderful moment when the beeping would commence and the red light would flash. But victory was often short-lived, because while sometimes a stud was found where it was supposed to be, oftentimes it was not. A parade of increasingly expensive stud finders followed, but to no avail. Even our beloved handyman was somewhat mystified. He would spend hours knocking on the walls and trying to analyze the sound. “I found one,” he’d call out excitedly. “Listen, you can hear the difference.” Well, I never did hear the difference, although I eventually pretended to. I was just thrilled when somehow, miraculously, a shelf would actually stay upright, despite the fact that there did not seem to be a single stud in the wall.
Naturally, I also quickly learned some of the other pitfalls of old houses, including the smallest closets in creation and the never-ending need to vacuum because of perpetual dust. (To be fair, having three cats doesn’t help.) But I still love my house and thinking about ways to decorate it and improve it. In our home issue, we take you inside the fascinating renovation of an old stone house and fill you in on the latest in home spas. (While I’ve never been a hot tub gal, the rain canopy shower is something I could get behind.) There are also other tips and ideas for making the most of wherever it is that you call home.
And just for the record, I still love old houses.
Olivia J. Abel
Editor In Chief