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A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

Ten Dreadful Things That Have Become Housing Standards

I’ve been watching all the “Let’s have a housing makeover” shows. It’s interesting how many of them there are. Everyone seems to be interested in the design and execution process now. There’s very little of what used to be the norm in home-improvement shows — pointing the camera at the people doing the hammer and nail work. Now it’s point a camera at the realtor, or the curtain guy, or the designer for the most part. They have elves do the work while the camera crew is at lunch, I guess.

Most people get their ideas about what to do in fashion by looking at what other people are wearing. Essentially, all the home rehab programs are fashion shows at this point; centered around the soft goods. I’m in the furniture business now, so it’s sort of my game, but I used to be more heavily into the building of the actual house, so there’s some things about the whole megillah that bug me.

They bug me because everyone is doing them because everyone is doing them. They are ugly; or nonsensical; or counterproductive; or wasteful; or mostly an ephemeral fad being written into concrete — always a bad idea. The decorative stuff is going to be painted over shortly or thrown in the dumpster too quickly, and the permanent installations are going to make the owners miserable for generations because they’re too expensive to get rid of.

So here’s my counsel. STOP DOING THIS:

1. Snout houses.
Stop nailing your house onto the ass end of your garage. I’m not going to explain myself. I shouldn’t have to. You are building a house for your car and living in a shack out back. Never ever ever do it.

2. Putting a flatscreen TV over your fireplace mantel.
Profoundly dumb. It’s tiring to look at screens above eye level when you are seated. Designers have given up doing their job integrating two things to look at in the same room, and so have stacked them. They’re not washer/dryers in a condo, people. You’re slouching in your chair and getting headaches and backaches trying to look at the thing. There’s a reason no one sits in the first row at the theater. Look down slightly at entertainers, and the entertainment, too.

3. Putting the microwave over the stove.
Reaching over a hot stove to remove dishes sometimes filled with superheated items, above eye level for most women and all children is profoundly dumb. It’s the greasiest place in the world, too. Put it in the island and your five year old can make their own popcorn.

4. Cooktops in islands with seating.
I love to have hot grease spatters launched at me while I’m seated across an island from the cook. The boiling cauldrons of water give a nice netherworldly effect as well.

5. Open plan in a big house.
Open plan is for little houses, so rooms can share some space with one another and counterfeit roominess. A big house with undifferentiated space is a airport lobby. Last time I checked, having doors doesn’t preclude a plan from being “open.” You just leave them open. Not having them does preclude you from closing off the rooms when you want to, though. Even small houses are better with rooms that can be closed,if you ask me.

6. Very high ceilings in a family room.
You’re trying to watch TV in there, or talk to one another, and the sound bangs around like an airport hangar. You’ve got an open plan so you get to listen to the dishwasher and refrigerator run, too. A two story bedroom is pretty dumb, too, but I don’t want to make a Top Eleven list.

7. Plastic everything.
Vinyl sided, rubber windows, plastic decking… Man, everybody’s living in a big rubber box nailed on the back of a garage. Wood, stone, masonry, glass, paint, people.

8. Ceiling fans everywhere.
Do you all really think you live in Casablanca? If I go into another ranch house with a ceiling fan hanging down from a 7 foot 6 inch ceiling, I’m going to go postal. If I can’t stand up in the middle of the room without getting a bruise or a haircut, you’re doing it wrong. There is no stratification of air in a house. Doesn’t happen. You’re screwing a window boxfan sideways to your ceiling. Stop it. Your house has AC anyway. And you live in Wisconsin. Cut it out.

9. Enormous jacuzzi tubs.
You can ooh and aah all you want when you go in the bathroom and see a big jetted tub with a window over it, and a skylight above, but I’ve got news for you: You will patronize your undertaker more often than you use that tub; 99% of humans will not bathe in front of a window; and the skylight will rain condensation every time you take a shower, forevermore. Strike three.

10. Blue and Brown.
I’ve lived through this three times now. I’ve ripped all this stuff out twice with customers muttering “What were they thinking?” Powder Blue and Cocoa Brown DO NOT go together under any circumstances, anywhere. Except of course in every room on every show on television.

18 Responses

  1. I was a carpenter and home builder before giving it all up for the lure of inconsistent pay and universal loathing as a realtor so these home improvement/flipping shows offend me on a couple of levels.
    Does anyone believe that you can gut a house to the studs, redesign the floor plan, purchase material and perform all the necessary labor, and then sell the home for a handsome profit all on a budget and schedule tighter than anyone not living in TV land would spend to put a coat or two of paint on the place?
    I don’t know who I feel more sorry for…the people quitting their day jobs to become “houseflippers” or the poor saps who buy these things after we watch the “contractor” lay tile over particle board in the shower enclosure.

  2. We anticipate building/buying a house in the next several years. We both agree that snout houses are out. In my region, though, just try to find a new house that isn’t a snouter in our price range. Will you come to NC and be our contractor/designer?

  3. Amen to number 1 … and to all of them, really. As for those snout houses, certain programs on HGTV show couples house-shopping where the choices are often three such homes, each more egregiously tacky than the last, and all with monstrous SUV/Abrams tank-capable garages in the front.

    Fortunately we still have a lot of pre-war residential neighborhoods in this country – the ones that survived “urban renewal,” anyways – which can teach those of us willing to listen a thing or two about tasteful design both inside and out.

  4. Hi all.
    anybodyinpoulsbo- I saw a “instant fix the house guy” install a toilet by stacking wax seal rings at the flange because the floor was laid over the old one, and no one raised the closet flange. With a camera pointed at them. That should turn out well in a couple of months.

    ruth anne- I would walk on hot coals for the Adams. Not sure how much use I’d be in North Carolina, though.

    cg- I like old houses too. There have been lots of booms in housebuilding in America. I think the greatest period was the 1920s. More regular people got their first decent house in the twenties than any other decade I could name. The houses were small, but well built and well laid out. Lots of different styles, all interesting. I have a lot of plan books from the twenties.

  5. I agree with you on a lot of these. On the others, you have educated me. Thanks.

    “Snout” houses. Good name for them. In my town there are brand new developments full of houses with small front lawns and big front porches, with garages out back on the ALLEYS! You see, good sense eventually comes back in style. “Snout” houses kill a neighbourhood deader than doornails.

  6. I think you are being rather restrained..just 10! I am arriving in Ca in a few weeks time and will be looking to buy a house to refurb.Considering I have never lived in anything less than 150 years old it is going to be intersting at seem to be rather in demmand…i have gothis bargeboard to make here at the moment…if you could see my woodworking skills you would know just what a task I face!

  7. And don’t forget those awful “art projects” that the designers coerce the home owners in to making with them on many of these shows.
    Unfortunately, I watch too much of that channel, like a gawker drawn to a car accident.
    -Deb in Madison

  8. Hoo boy, the house makeover programs. My wife’s family is all contractors, paperhangers and painters. I’ll occasionally tune in just so they can comment on the rooms that get painted with no on-camera evidence of dropcloths or, more telling, sandpaper.

  9. Now come on… You’ve got to admit some of the house renovations they made on Monster House were pretty cool… like the time they installed the pneumatic tube system (think drive-through at the bank) in the house, so that the person in the kitchen could send a beer to the person on the barcolounger without moving more than 2 feet. I’m telling you, they’ll use that thing EVERY DAY!Or how about the house they built with the UFO “crashing” through the ceiling?

  10. I’m right with you, of course, on your list. You know what you are uniquely suited to provide for the benefit of your readers, Sip?

    A list of the top ten things to look for when buying a house to tell whether it was built by contractors who knew what they were doing or whether it was built by the sort who put the tile over the particleboard and raised the toilet just by stacking the wax rings.

    And, for those folks having a house built, some helpful top ten signs that the contractor your interviewing is really qualified (or top ten questions to ask him).

  11. So what kind of house do you build on a 50 foot wide lot with street access only at the front? Oh, you don’t. Put the blame where it belongs: on the (lack of) planning commission.

  12. Your list is perfect, except for #8- ceiling fans make a huge difference if you’re living way down south. You can keep the a/c pegged up a few notches and still keep a room cool with the fan blowing.

    My favorite house was the 1895 Victorian I lived in 8 years ago in Champaign – beautiful layout, plenty of natural sunlight, wide doorways, substantial porches and a falling down, lilac covered garage way out back.

    I still dream about that house.

  13. Charles, I could draw you ten thousand plans for a 50 foot wide lot that aren’t snout houses.

    Pat- Those are great ideas.

    Anonymous- so you do live in Casablanca.

  14. Here are two suggestions for ferreting out the competent contractors from the fly by nighters.
    I don’t like to say never, but NEVER hire a contractor on a strictly time and material basis. A “real” contractor will use a contract, provide a bid, and any changes to the bid will be addressed with change order forms. You would be surprised at how many people, particularly on remodels, go for the ” it’s an old house and we may run into unexpected problems so how can I provide a bid” line from potential contractors. An experienced contractor will have seen it all and will anticipate problems.
    Another easy way to separate the wheat from the chaff is to ask your potential contractor to briefly describe the different grades of lumber and other building materials and under what circumstances they might be best utilized. Even if you as a home owner know squat about building materials, this is a hard subject to BS your way through and if you have even a moderately sensitive bull shit detector, you’ll know if he doesn’t have a clue.
    The ONE rule to remember is always require an easily understood contract. It’s why they call them contractors.

  15. Correct me if i’m wrong

    Ceiling fans were in every shop or store in the South – southern Long Island to be exact – when I was growing up in the 1950s. And they worked great.

    Of course, the ceilings were a little higher.

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