A case against “updating”: My grandparents' well-preserved 1940s bungalow

Last week, on a trip visiting family, I realized that sometimes, “home” can be a house we’ve never actually lived in.

This (sorta) Old Life: Kids on porch

Although I’ve never lived in my grandmother’s house, it is home to me.

I have more than 40 years of memories stored within its walls. It is a place I have always felt welcomed, protected, and loved unconditionally.

This (sorta) Old Life: Kids in living room

If that’s not “home,” I’m not sure what is.

My Grandma is 95 now, still living in the house she moved to more than 55 years ago with my grandpa and her two sons (my dad and uncle).

This (sorta) Old Life: Grandma and Grandpa

This was taken around the same time my grandparents moved into the house that’s been Grandma’s home ever since.

Last week the kids and I got to spend a day there with her. While I know she probably wouldn’t like this picture much, I love it.

This (sorta) Old Life:  Kids with their great-grandmother

I think you can see from it how much life, energy, and love she has.

I want to be just like her when I grow up. :-)

Visiting her home for the first time after several years’ absence, I realized how much my ideas have been influenced by my Grandma and the home she made.

As we’ve shared before, both Cane and I generally favor preserving (or restoring) the original character and features of a house.  Grandma’s house is a shining example of why this is important–even for modest, working-class homes in modest, working-class neighborhoods.

Grandma’s house has wonderful, original features. My favorite is this fireplace with built-in bookcases.

This (sorta) Old Life: 40s bungalow fireplace and built-ins

My favorite part of the fireplace is this charming tile:

This (sorta) Old Life: 40s bungalow fireplace tile detail

This (sorta) Old Life: 40s bungalow fireplace tile detail close-up

Both sides of the fireplace are flanked by these narrow tiles with a scene reminiscent of the winding mountain roads of nearby Mt. Baker.

This (sorta) Old Life: 40s bungalow fireplace tile detail close-up/side tile

The wood in her home–mantel, built-ins, doors, trim–has never been painted.

This (sorta) Old Life: 40s bungalow built-ins

I love the leaded-glass panes on the sliding glass doors.

This (sorta) Old Life: 40s bungalow built-ins

You can find the same leaded glass and woodwork in the adjoining dining room. Each corner has a built-in china cabinet:

This (sorta) Old Life: 40s bungalow dining room built-ins

I love the lines of the wood at the top of the cabinet:

This (sorta) Old Life: 40s bungalow dining room built-ins detail

And above them are coved ceilings, which you can see in the background of this picture:

This (sorta) Old Life: Rita with kids and grandma

As I said, this is a modest bungalow, built in the 40’s. It boasts two bedrooms and one bathroom. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the same level of new homes all had this one’s craftsmanship and thoughtful design?

The doorway behind us in the photo above separates the public areas of the house (kitchen, dining room, living room) from the private areas (bathroom, bedrooms, upstairs attic). (Isn’t that smart?)

One of my favorite features when I was growing up was behind that door.

This (sorta) Old Life: 40s bungalow laundry chute

That might look like a simple, built-in telephone table, but it’s also a laundry chute. I loved opening that little door and dropping laundry in when I was a girl.

Another favorite place was the upstairs attic, where I slept when I came to visit.

This (sorta) Old Life: 40s bungalow finished attic

Above you can see its large open area. (My dad and his brother had a ping-pong table there when they were teens.) On either side of the open area are two alcoves.

This (sorta) Old Life: 40s bungalow attic alcove

My uncle slept in one alcove (pictured above), and my dad slept in the other (pictured below).

This (sorta) Old Life: 40s bungalow attic alcove

I loved sleeping in my dad’s old bed when I came to stay with my grandparents.

This (sorta) Old Life: bedpost detail

All that wonderful tongue-and-groove wood surrounding me made the whole space feel like a warm, cozy cocoon.

This (sorta) Old Life: tongue and groove paneling in attic

(I don’t know what the chalk marks are; they’ve been there my whole life.)

As much as I like the space, I also love the things that have made their way up there over the years.

This (sorta) Old Life: old record holder

This (sorta) Old Life: mid-century furnishings

Love that lampshade, the headboard, and the bedside lamp.

I’m sure you can tell that my grandma has always taken care with her home’s appearance.

This (sorta) Old Life: Grandma and Grandpa in the early 60s

I love Grandma’s classic style.

She’s always been stylish, keeping up with popular trends through the years. She did it in her home, though, through her furniture, draperies, and accessories–not by altering the basic elements of the house.

This (sorta) Old Life: 60s Christmas tree

My grandparents did remodel the front of their home in the 70’s, adding a cement patio. They also updated the kitchen and bathroom–which now clearly represent what was popular in that era.

Those changes were made primarily to address issues of functionality, not style. And while I love this house, those changes are my least favorite parts of it.

This (sorta) Old Life: 40s bungalow exterior

This is the front of their house (in 1962) before they removed the sunporch and added the patio you see in the first image at the top of the post. The new patio is more spacious, but I love the original construction.

One of my fantasy futures (I have several!) is to somehow live in this house some day. I love it so much, and I know how deeply I will miss it when I can no longer run my hands over that fireplace tile or climb the stairs to the attic that holds so many treasures and memories.

This (sorta) Old Life: two kids in chair

Yes, I really remember the taking of this photo. My brother and I are bundled up in our jammies before getting in the car for the long ride home to Seattle. I loved that chair (now stored in the attic) and that toy that my brother got to hold. So glad they captured me with my fingers in my nose!

I would love to uncover the hardwood floors you can see peeking out from under the rugs in this old photo…

This (sorta) Old Life: 60s living room

My mom before she and my dad married. (Doesn’t she look like Jackie Kennedy?) I just love that couch and lamp.

…and there are so many things a person might do with the wonderful attic space. (I think I’d turn it into a creative project room, with one alcove for sewing, and another for painting and crafts. There’s a large closet up there that would be great for storing supplies.)

Since the chances of getting to do those things are pretty slim, my hope is that some young family will make it their home, and that they will love it the way my grandparents did and the way I would if it were mine–as it is, for what it is.

I hope they will see that it doesn’t need “updating” to be comfortable and beautiful. There’s plenty of opportunity to infuse the space with anyone’s individual sense of style, while still retaining its original features.

This (sorta) Old Life: Grandpa and me

Here you can see that by the 70s, my grandma had removed the 50’s floral curtains and brought in some groovy burnt-orange upholstery. (I was trying to be serious like an old-time pioneer would have been in photo.)

I hope it will be for them the kind of home its been for me, and that they will make as many great memories there as my family has.

This (sorta) Old Life: Grandparents' backyard circa 1966

Very serious about mowing the backyard.

This (sorta) Old Life: Grandparents' backyard circa 1999

Same backyard, same girl (buried under the baby pile), some 30 years later.

This (sorta) Old Life: Grandparents in their backyard

And my grandparents in their backyard a few years after that.

 How about you?

Do you have any “homes” you’ve never actually lived in? Are there homes you can no longer return to? What makes a house home to you? And where do you stand when it comes to making changes to a home?