Thursday, 6 November 2014

With Fresh Eyes

My grandfather had two Federation houses, mirror images of each other, one in which he lived and the other as an investment property.

Samson House, Fremantle (Not Granddad's)

The first he bought in 1962 for his small family and before long set about fixing it up. The second he bought later and as it was just an investment property he did not bother modernising it, just updating it so it was rentable.

In the early sixties fixing up an old Federation house mean modernising it.
  • Streamlining the face of the interior doors, 
  • Removing (and burning) the Jarrah mantlepieces, 
  • Replacing the tall sash windows with squat ones
  • Knocking out the fireplaces and removing the chimneys
  • Covering over the red brick facade with a rough white monstrosity. 
  • Removing the front door and glass surrounds and bricking it up to fit a narrower, safer door. 
  • Removing the decorative skirting boards and architraves that collected dust in each and every grove.
The new architraves viewed through a doorway with the old architraves still in tact. 
Granddad did all of this, but it wasn't just renovation; he also improved the house so that it was habitable.When he moved in, the house was in such a terrible condition that the front door was without a lock.

The kitchen walls were a dark brown particularly unsuited to the already dark style of a Federation house. It wasn't until he began preparing the walls to repaint that he noticed that the dark brown colour cleaned off the walls revealing a lighter creamier paint underneath. It had been a build up of grime over the years.

And in the bathroom, once located on the verandah but eventually closed in so it became part of the interior of the house, the bath tub rocked on its bottom, the claw feet having gone through the rotting Jarrah floorboards.

Hints of its past glory as still scattered throughout.

In the lounge room, the long sash window still exists, overlooking the brick wall of the neighbour's house, its age and beautiful architraves overshadowed by the axminister carpet Granddad had laid.

In this room and one of the bedrooms the skirting boards still retain their undulating form, mirrored around a door way by the short fat version with which we are more familiar to this day.

The doors were all recut from sliding doors, the only things big enough to fit the older, wider measurements, except that is, for the bathroom, where the inside still features the moulding that would have been seen throughout the house.

In the middle of the hall way an archway still stands, the columns still decorative and the keystone decorated with a carved bunch of lovely flowers.

    In the lounge room the cornice winds around the chimney, wider and more ornate than seen in modern houses. In Granddad's house it remains white shaded by its own height, though I have seen the various bands painted in graduated shades of grey or pink, tying in with colour of the walls. 

    In the centre of these bands in the ceiling rose, the last of its kind supporting a thoroughly retro light shade.

    In the process of our renovations, undertaken after my Grandfather's death, the carpets were lifted, revealing the Jarrah floorboards that run the length of the hallway and floor the four rooms at the front of the house. 

    Knowing what it could have looked like, the historian in me weeps at how much historical beauty was discarded for the sake of modernity. How the pieces removed were viewed as waste products, wood worthy only of burning in the fireplace before that too was dismantled.

    It has only been recently that I have started to focus on the beauty that still remains. Tradies and services come in to provide quotes as part of the current renovation efforts and each and every one marvels at the house. They gasp at how much detail does remain. 

    And noting the pattern you come to realise that there is still enough beauty and history in this old house to acknowledge, should you chose to enhance those remaining features. 

    Halliday House


    1. are you keeping the floorboards? or recovering?

      1. The floor boards are in relatively okay condition but would require a lot of work to restore them which is not worth it for a rental property, so they've been covered by laminate floors.
        To be revealed if we ever do a proper restoration.

    2. March 1961, not 1962
      Dad told the story that when he started sugar soaping all the grime from the kitchen walls (imagine grease built up over decades) he set sparks off in the electricals. Mum scooped up Bri, grabbed my hand and went to stand in the middle of the street, just in case the whole house went up in flames.


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