During the weekend, my wife is addicted to watching fixer-upper home shows in between naps on the couch. Lots of Chip and Joanna, and their various handy pals, dancing across the screen smashing old walls and painting new ones neutral grey on any given weekend. And that’s fine, considering the fact that I’m likely to nap through one of their marathons.
I managed to stay awake for one tale of what was pitched as a restoration project. A near-century-old home in Detroit had been sold off decades ago, then re-purchased by the original owners’ grandson, who also happened to be a contractor. He was going to bring this disheveled, fire-damaged wreck of a house back to new, he said, and would once again enjoy the place where a million childhood memories flowed. Period photos? History? All there. If it was a car, I thought to myself, I’d want to photograph it for a Restoration Profile piece in one of our magazines.
But a car is not a house (unless you’re in a motor home, which is a different question altogether). Outside, refinishing is practically mandatory on a house: Fix the crumbling fixtures, sort out the loose bricks with new mortar, and cover it all in a coat of paint. In the world of car restoration, preservation is huge. Original parts and original finishes all give a period-correct and accurate feel for what the car once was. If it needs to be refinished, restoration demands that it be done using period colors and finishes.
But it’s inside the house that the big transformation takes place. For a place that supposedly holds so many memories, gutting the inside of the place and knocking down walls feels (at least to this geezer-adjacent old-car fan) against the point. The living is done inside. What remains after the refurb is absolutely a more functional place to live, and I’m sure that the feng shui is vastly improved and makes it more comfortable. Many who love their cars and cherish the memories they generate want them frozen in amber. Car restorers will go to unreasonable lengths to make their cars look and feel correct—installing cloth wiring looms, developing methods to replicate otherwise-impossible finishes, finding entire other cars to crib parts from. No one in these home shows is looking to get a 1950s-era fridge running for the new kitchen or track down the original style sconces or re-use knob and tube wiring; those interiors are going to be full of new equipment and acres of counter space, taking up part of a previously-walled-off room that incorporates a newly-devised open-plan concept that takes up the entirety of the bottom level of the house.