Our personal home was the beginning. The idea was sound, the plan was naive. Let's buy this old empty house and fix it up, just like on TV! We had no idea what we were starting.
First, we were reminded that TV is not reality. Not even reality TV. Our house restoration was a 2 year process of trial and error, bruised thumbs and egos. But we did it, and we did it pretty well. We learned what most old house owners learn about old plaster walls, wood floors, and wavy glass. We learned about plumbing and electricity and myriad building codes.
But even more importantly we learned new words and ideas: some of the things we learned were big and nebulous like urban infill and green space and city zoning ordinances. Some were much smaller, like how to pick the right height for a banquette.
We learned how every old wood window sash is secretly a piece of art. Hand built by a craftsman, just for your house. We learned that lime plaster can heal itself, breathe out water, and last for hundreds of years. We learned that everything moves in a house, just a little, whether you give it room or not. We learned that old houses are the most sustainable houses, if you just give them a chance.
We learned that we are not house flippers, or remodelers, we are historical preservationists. We are ok with that.
We have taken all those skills and resources and ideas and words and are putting them to use in Paducah. Our big project right now is a building know locally as the Smedley Yeiser.
This is the first time we re-remembered it, back in 2012. Before the vines took it over. Before the city gave up on previous plans for it and offered it for sale for $10,000. Then $1. Before we submitted a proposal and bought it with a golden dollar.
This house is one of the oldest freestanding residences in Paducah and we are the proudest owners we can be. We hope to use the skills we've developed to do it justice. We are approaching it with respect and thoughtfulness. The energy it took to build this house was invested 165 years ago. That's forward thinking and sustainable. We plan to preserve and restore all original features, including the copper roof, and update it to modern standards so that a business could rent it.
We were surprised to find the original chandeliers still work.
While we've been working on this project, a revered public building has become the source of much controversy in Paducah. Although not nearly as old as the Smedley Yeiser, it is no less significant. Paducah City Hall was designed in the 60s by Edward Durell Stone, a world renowned architect, and was meant to be Paducah's sign to the world that we were progressive. The materials and style harken to the time period and post WWII feelings. It was a time of great innovation, enthusiasm, and optimism and we were presenting ourselves to the world. In many ways it is incredibly ironic because we seem to be at a similar impasse.
City of Paducah administrators are looking at options for City Hall. We know that with time and passion and hard work Paducah City hall can be restored to it's original beauty. It is a shining example of classic Mid Century design. It has an open layout, a beautiful atrium, and fantastic woodwork. A quick walk inside will reveal a lack of proper maintenance.
This building sorely needs some preventative care and basic upgrades. We are happy that by getting our friends and community involved, we have convinced our city leaders that this building is worth saving. What remains to be seen is how our city's grand remodel scheme will compare in cost to a new build, and if the public will accept this cost difference. We are concerned they are trying to do too much at once, updating earthquake codes, completely remodeling the interior so that it is a ghost of what it once was. What if we staged the project, fixed it incrementally over several years, and took advantage of the current classic midcentury design that has already come back in style?
We believe this building does not need a full gut renovation, it needs thoughtfulness and creativity. Paducah is a UNESCO creative city. There are twelve in the world and three in North America. Surely we can use some of that noted creativity in this situation.
We have learned from experience that it's often less expensive and easier to take care of what you have, to make updates, and it's definitely the most sustainable option. We believe that with smart choices this is a building we can be proud of for years to come, and it's a more financially responsible project if we are conservative with our choices.
The bottom line: Buildings CAN and SHOULD last hundreds of years. Whether they are pre-Civil War, built in 1917, or even in 1962, we must cherish and preserve our buildings that form the fabric of our history.
So look out, Paducah! Your newest accidental young preservationists are on a mission!
If you agree, let our city leaders know.
Lauren and Levi
Follow along on Instagram: @desertmountain @ljax