A few months ago, a good friend texted me to say, “Guess who’s going to be your neighbor?”
“Get out?! Really?”
Really. Lisa, who is in my book club, and her husband were looking for less house to maintain, and bought the house three doors down. Although the new house is about the same size as their current home, it doesn’t have a pool, guest house or big yard, so will be a lot easier to maintain. “We wanted lock and go,” she said.
Then last week, another friend, Stacy, who used to live on my old street, called to say she and her husband bought the house four doors down (and next to Lisa). If there’s a good-neighbor lotto, I’d just won the jackpot.
After my husband and I moved literally around the corner from our old house, Stacy and her husband moved to a new community 40 minutes away. Though the new town had a lot going for it, they missed our little town where they had lived for 23 years. So they’re moving back.
Having one good friend move into your neighborhood is fortunate. Having two is a sign from the universe, though I’m not sure of what. And here’s the bonus! Besides having two fun friends within a stone’s throw, I’ve also gained, and I’m slightly embarrassed to admit this, a front row seat, that is, almost unlimited snooping rights access to observe renovations they are making to their homes. And they are renovating.
See, our community of 28 homes is now more than 20 years old. Until recently, many of the residents were the original owners, and the homes retained their original finishes. However, over the past couple years, a third of the houses have changed hands. As the neighborhood transitions, so are the homes’ interiors. Many have gotten total makeovers.
“Twenty years is about the time when homes need a pretty significant overhaul,” said interior designer Sally Ward, who is helping Lisa with her remodel. “Finishes just get dated. Even those that are in great shape.”
I am paying close attention because my 20-year-old kitchen fits that description.
As I walked through Lisa’s house this week, a home I remembered as being beautiful and meticulously maintained, I gasped a little when I saw it taken back to the studs.
“Nothing needed to be changed,” Lisa said. “I loved the space from the minute I walked in. At first I thought, I would just give the interior a little refresh, but as I got into it, I wanted to make it mine.”
And so what started with a plan to move the fireplace and expand the kitchen evolved into a near total gut, and the three-month project has become closer to eight, and counting.
Who hasn’t been there?
Next door, I walked through Stacy’s soon-to-be home, where work had yet to begin but plans are in place. Rather than do a complete renovation at once, she and her husband are making only necessary changes before they move in. They’re replacing the roof, removing tired wallpaper throughout, painting walls a neutral off white, and replacing old carpet with new wood flooring upstairs. (The downstairs wood flooring is new thanks to a plumbing-triggered flood.)
“The major issue is the 20-year-old wallpaper,” Stacy said, as we walked through the house together. I could hardly argue. “I’m going to lighten everything up.”
Future projects will include remodeling the bathrooms, rejiggering some walls, upgrading the kitchen, and putting in new landscaping.
Because it’s time.
“We all say we want looks that are timeless,” Ward said. “But what’s timeless? What people are really saying is that they want to live in one place forever and not change anything. That’s not realistic. Styles change. Technology changes. Looks go from light to dark, and back again. There is a 20-year cycle. That’s about when appliances reach the end of their lifeline.”
“And,” I chime in, “isn’t part of our job as homeowners to keep our homes relevant, and that includes current?”
“Ideally,” she said, “you want to make improvements that work for you and that appeal to the current market.” Then Ward answered a few more questions, which encouraged me, and maybe you, to overcome my resistance and consider making some needed changes at home.
What if it comes back in style? Yes, sometimes old becomes new again, but if a style does come back it comes back with a twist. For instance, 25 years ago polished brass faucets were big. Now brass is back, but it’s in a brushed satin finish. In general, outdated features are not worth hanging onto.
What if what’s old is still in great shape? If money is not an issue, not liking something or wanting a different style is reason enough to make a change, even if what you’re removing is still in good shape. Fortunately, a lot of materials can get recycled, which makes remodelers feel better, Ward said. If you are buying a new house, or living in a house that has someone else’s outdated style, you have permission to update it with materials in colors and styles you like.
What if updating one area makes the rest of the house look dated? This is where working with a designer, who can globally look at your space and help you make integrated decisions, becomes important. One trick is to keep the flooring continuous throughout.
If a truly timeless look isn’t possible, what’s next best? “Though no look is forever, the best way to avoid looking dated quickly is to keep your look classic,” she said. “Don’t get too funky or too modern, and you won’t go wrong.”
Marni Jameson has written six home and lifestyle books, including “What to Do With Everything You Own to Leave the Legacy You Want,” “Downsizing the Family Home – What to Save, What to Let Go” and “Downsizing the Blended Home – When Two Households Become One.” Reach her at marnijameson.com.