Posts Tagged ‘first commandment of old houses’

Pink Bathrooms: Extinction Looms

March 24th, 2018 Sears Homes 11 comments

Remember the very first commandment of old house renovation? Thou shalt not destroy good old work.

That’s it.

More than 35% of the garbage at America’s landfills is construction-related waste. That’s a phenomenal amount of debris. What’s worse is this: The replacement materials promoted at contemporary big box stores (in most cases) has a serviceable life of less than 10 years. So that new light gray bathroom with white accents will probably need replacing, and THOSE construction materials will also end up at the city dump.

We have got to stop destroying “good old work” in older homes in the name of keeping up with the Joneses (and the Kardashians).

You know what makes my blood boil? Ads like this.

NOTE: All the houses shown below are in Portsmouth, Virginia.


Theres a special extra-toasty place in preservation hell for this bank.

There's a special extra-toasty place in preservation hell for this bank. A very special place. A friend sent me this advertisement. It popped up on her Facebook page. Oh, how I loathe this promotion. It feeds into the insanity promoted by HGTV that "old and lovely" is never good enough. And yet odds are that this same bank will spearhead efforts to promote recycling. Not much sense in saving 21 pounds of plastic and yet promoting the destruction of thousands of pounds of "good old work."


Classic good looks.

This light-pink bathroom features classic good looks and will provide decades of service. The tile floor (cartwheel pattern) is already more than 60 years old, and is set in about 6 inches of concrete. With minimal care, this floor will endure another several decades. The same is true for the tile walls.



The pink tile in this Portsmouth home (Virginia) dates to the mid-1950s, and yet - due to good care and maintenance - it is in like-new condition. The materials used in these mid-century bathrooms will last another 50 years. And yet their modern replacements - fiberglass and plastic junk from big-box stores - will not endure.



When I was a kid growing up in Waterview (a 1920s/30s middle-class neighborhood), I don't remember seeing anyone "remodel" their bathrooms, and yet by the 1960s/70s, these kitchens and baths were quite old. The pink bathroom featured here has its original sink and toilet. As with the others, it will endure for many more years.



The same bathroom (shown above) from a different angle. It has a tiled shower and separate tub. It's also beautiful, with the white and pink tile.



Some pink bathrooms are more subdued than others, but these mid-century tile jobs are typically set in several inches of concrete. When experts recommend retreating to a bathroom during a tornado, this is the type of "safe space" they have in mind. The thick-set mortar bed plus copper pipes plus additional wooden framing makes this one sturdy space.


My favorite pink bathroom is a deep rose with blue accents.

My favorite pink bathroom is a deep rose with blue accents. I tried to purchase this house (in Waterview) late last year, but it got tangled up in a bidding war, and the price went from $210,000 to almost $270,000 within hours. It was probably this bathroom that drove up the price.


We have got to stop destroying “good old work.” My current home has a green bathroom. Green is my least favorite color, but I have decided to live with it for a time and see how I feel about in 5 years or so. It may grow on me. I do know this: Society needs to learn that “keeping up with the Joneses” is a path to madness, waste and financial foolishness.


Save the pink bathrooms!


NOTE: All the houses shown above are in Portsmouth, Virginia.


“Thou Shalt Not Destroy Good Old Work”

December 18th, 2015 Sears Homes 5 comments

A few years ago, my friend Bill Inge reminded me of this “First Commandment” of old house preservation:  “Thou shalt not destroy good old work.”

It’s so succinct and so accurate and most of all, so vital. And it makes good sense.

Unfortunately, it’s the diametrical opposite of the position taken on most of the programs on HGTV.

Or as my friend Mark said: “HGTV - Houses Getting Totally Vandalized.”

If you’re planning to buy an old house so that you can rip out every single thing that makes it unique and special and historic and charming, WHY buy an old house?

Please, rather than destroying the charm of an old house and sending all that debris to a landfill*, just do everyone a favor and buy that 12-year-old McMansion in suburbia. No one cares if you decide to “re-beige the bathroom” or rip out the black granite countertops and replace them with concrete countertops. Or vice versa.

Because of the old-house violence that regularly occurs on HGTV, I can no longer watch these shows. However, due to a recent bout of the flu, I was stuck at home in front of the TV, feeling immeasurably sorry for myself and I happened upon an episode of Property Brothers.

This particular episode featured the home of Tory and Darren (Episode 2, Season 5), and the remodeling of several rooms in this late 1920s New England Colonial.

There was so much wrong with what they did, but the remodel that set my teeth on edge was the downstairs bathroom. The existing bathroom featured a porcelain-enamel double-apron tub, vintage  toilet with wall-hung tank and original basket-weave tile floor with complementing wainscoting. It all appeared to be well-maintained and in beautiful shape (no cracks, chips, etc).

The tile floor and walls in that 1920s house were “thick set” or placed in a mortar bed that was 2-4″ deep. The end result is an incredibly strong tile job that (with proper care) will last for a very long time.

I could write for days on the many reasons I loathe HGTV, but another reason is this: It is the worst kind of materialism. It heavily promotes the idea that you must always have the latest, shiniest, brightest, fanciest and newest bauble. If something has an imperfection, then it’s “dirty and tired” and must be removed and put into the waste stream. HGVT breeds a need that nothing in your home will ever be good enough, unless it’s shiny and new.

No longer are we trying to keep up with the Jones’ family next door; now we’re trying to keep up with the Hollywood elite and their ilk. It’s a perfect recipe for spiritual and emotional and financial disaster.

And this insatiable desire for “shiny” is also destroying the unique features of old houses across America.

As this article from the UK states, “The obsessive modernising of old houses is one of the great vandalisms of our time.”

We need to keep our focus on the First Commandment of Preservation: Thou Shalt Not Destroy Good Old Work.


*Up to 40% of all debris in landfills is construction debris. These same people who religiously recycle every scrap of paper show no compunction in sending tons of material to overburdened landfills. It’s despicable.


Project was at this house

Recently, "Property Brothers" featured the remodeling of several rooms inside this spacious two-story Colonial, somewhere in New England.


Wnetwork photo

Several rooms were remodeled, but the destruction of this vintage 1920s first-floor bathroom was the most painful part of the progam. Photo originally appeared at


Another view

A screen shot from the program shows the vintage toilet, wall-hung tank and double-apron tub. Note the classic basket-weave tile floor, set in several inches of concrete.


Basket weave and severe storms

Yes, it takes a jackhammer to bust up that concrete. And the destruction of this double-apron tub makes me crazy. These tubs are hard to find, and the destruction shown here (where the porcelain was chipped off the edge) was probably caused by a few blows from a sledge-hammer. At the very least, this tub could have been salvaged. At the very least.


Jackhammer to get out the cement

During extreme weather, homeowners are often advised to seek refuge in their bathroom. Part of the reason for this are these thick-set mortar and tile walls. An early 20th Century bathroom is a room with concrete walls, and will offer more protection than other rooms in the house. It pains me greatly to see this "good old work" destroyed.



When you're done destroying 4" of mortar, this is what's left.


Teris beige bathroom

This is such an abhorrent waste.


Removed after being trashed

Having completely trashed the double-apron tub, they're now going to remove it. As I said above, there's no reason on earth they didn't - at the very least - salvage the tub.


What do they have when theyre done?

And for what? So they could put up some composite wood walls and an MDF vanity and engineered wood floor? These materials have a 20-30 year lifespan (at best), and then they'll have to be replaced. More garbage for the waste stream. Photo originally appeared at


But this

They had timeless elegance and beauty. And they threw it right into the trash.


Up to 40% of all debris in landfills is construction debris. These same people who religiously recycle every scrap of paper show no compunction in sending tons of material to overburdened landfills. It’s despicable.