I grew up in a 1927 Dutch Colonial which my mother and father spent painstaking hours restoring. My father, a cake decorator by trade but not by schooling, went to work six days a week at a bakery, starting his day at 4:00 a.m., returning home from work at 2 p.m., and continued work on the house most nights and weekends for as long as I can remember. When he died in 1996, it still wasn’t finished.
As a child, my house was filled with the sounds of the table saw and my father methodically sanding and planing doorways, baseboards, and any piece of wood in the house that didn’t move. The smell of his bakery whites and fresh lumber were comforting and constant. And the light over his basement workbench inevitably burned well into the night. When we went on vacation, we usually made time to visit one historic home or another – the Hudson River’s beautiful 1804 mansion named Boscobel, the House of the Seven Gables in Salem, Orchard House where Louisa May Alcott grew up – and every time we would jokingly warn my father he couldn’t bring a screw driver, couldn’t take any of the doorknobs or light fixtures. And I remember car trips around town on “big trash day” where we would pull over so dad could unscrew sashlocks or chains from discarded windows, or take glass door knobs off of doors that had worn out their welcome. Everything architectural became a treasure.
I find myself doing much the same thing these days. My purse has become the homebase for architectural digs. It houses a notepad that has measurements of windows, doorways, and wall spaces, just in case. Sometimes it has the random screw that needs to be matched, or a paint chip for a room that needs the perfect accessory. Going to an estate sale is just as thrilling as getting invited to a college party used to be, where finding new antiques is like meeting new friends. I find myself wondering the story behind the possessions that I acquire, wondering as I walk through the home what the family who has moved on was like.
And I could spend hours at ReStore, a Philadelphia architectural salvage store. And I have. Armed with my tape measure and notebook and husband, I have lovingly run my hands over banisters that have lost their homes, and fingered glass tiles are no longer lining someone’s bathroom walls. And sometimes I wonder whether the radiator cover we bought used to be a favorite sitting place to someone else’s cat. Because mine are very grateful for the extra metal warmth.
And I wonder what my father would think of my newfound passion.