November 11, 2009 / 5:17 PM / 9 years ago

Love of craftsmanship sparks home restoration fad

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Blame it on the economy, a love of fine craftsmanship, an appreciation of beautiful detail or nostalgia for an earlier, more genteel era.

Ingrid Abramovitch, author of the book "Restoring a House in the City" poses in this undated handout photo. REUTERS/Nina Subin/Handout

Whatever the reason, homeowners across the United States are recognizing the unique beauty of old homes and restoring them to their former glory,

“Just as in food, where there is a return to artisanal ingredients and good-old fashion cooking, in the design world there is a growing appreciation for the kind of homes that were built before the era of drywall and renovation nation and quick fixes,” said Ingrid Abramovitch, the author of the new book “Restoring a House in the City.”

From a Federalist town house in New York’s Greenwich Village, to a Greek Revival in Charleston’s historic district and an 1835 architectural gem in Boston’s Beacon Hill, the book features 21 renovations in 10 cities in the United States and Canada, as well as the stories of people who did them, including a fashion mogul, a photographer, a movie set designer and actress Julianne Moore.

“The houses in my book are hand-crafted homes made of gorgeous materials, built by artisans whose skill and workmanship is on the brink of extinction,” said Abramovitch, who lives in a Brooklyn brownstone.

She describes taking on a renovation project as an act of bravery, or faith, and the people who do them as “post-post preservationists - renovation’s third wave” — a group who have fled leafy suburbia for a more urbane life in the city.

“You know if you take away the cars and walk up and down the streets in the evening it almost looks like Edith Wharton’s New York,” Abramovitch said of the quiet streets of her adopted city and the acclaimed American novelist who used New York as a backdrop for her works.


Abramovitch started the book three years ago and looked at hundreds of houses. The 21 in the book were her favorites, chosen for various reasons — to show what is possible, what is realistic and how much can be done, even on a budget.

“People are realizing these houses were crafted by hand from first-grade wood from America’s first forests. If you would do this today you would have to be a billionaire. But you don’t have to be a billionaire if it is already there. Why tear it up?”

In addition to 400 photographs and details about each renovation, some which kept strictly to period details while others included amenities suitable for a modern lifestyle, Abramovitch provides practical advice on how to take on and manage what many would consider a daunting project.

“People are not moving as much. They are waiting. If they are living in an older space they might as well make it livable. Just economically people are not switching jobs. They are staying, and from what I am hearing they are restoring,” she explained.

A growing interest in green architecture has also helped.

“There is nothing greener than restoring and recycling a house that is already there,” she said.

Abramovitch doesn’t think any house is unredeemable, but it could be costly. She suggests getting a thorough evaluation of what needs to be done before undertaking the project.

“The book is as much about practical information as it is about inspiration. Whether you live in a pre-war apartment, or an old house in the country,” she added.

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