Friday, March 1, 2013

Don't Try This at Home: Charlestown

There was a gorgeous, well-preserved Victorian townhouse for sale last year in Charlestown, near the Monument. I thought it was wonderful but the price was just out of our reach... and we weren't sure about moving all the way to Charlestown, naturally. It was on the market for a long time, and we were busy dithering about moving to Quincy (an even more outlandish concept for us) when it finally sold.

It's one of the houses I keep thinking about. There are a few, including the house in Quincy, that haunt my "what-if" dreams. We've been house-hunting for three years and I have a shopping bag full of listing sheets of places we've seen that we felt weren't right for us. After this long, one begins to wonder if anything will ever be right. We may have impossible hopes or tastes. We definitely have an impossible budget considering what we like.

The house in Charlestown was a big, solid family house, with a patio and three bedrooms. I imagined that some lucky parents and kids would settle in there for the long term. So imagine my surprise when it came back on the market yesterday. But, oh, the poor house! I think some relatives of the family in Beetlejuice moved in, messed it up, and moved on.

Before and after photos tell the story best because I'd keep typing and deleting expletives while sobbing into my keyboard. 

Here's the entry way and main staircase, with a walnut newel post and some admittedly tired wallpaper that's just crying out for a handsome William Morris pattern to be slapped up on top of it. But look at that floor. It could be original and it seems to have a beautiful patina either way:

Why, oh why, did they stain or paint the floor and the newel post and bannister black? It's criminal! And unnecessary since the floors were fine to begin with, not so damaged that paint was the only solution. I wonder if they can be restored back to what they'd happily been since 1881.

Here's the parlor as it looked last year, with period lighting and that fine old floor:

Here's what happened to it:

Some of the furniture is interesting; the previous Early American stuff had very little going for it, I agree. (They do seem to have a phobia about using color.) But that ceiling light looks like it's made of inflated dry-cleaning bags and that black floor is going to have to be dusted at least once a day — more frequently if there's a cat, dog, child, anyone who ever goes outside living in this house. Every speck of dirt and dust will show (unless it's coal dust, and we don't have much of that these days.) 

I wonder what it would cost to bring the floors back to their original beauty, if that is even possible.

The dining room before, restrained and elegant; I'd change the wallpaper, lower the chandelier and get rid of the Ethan Allen dining set, replacing it with Edwardian or un-fussy Victorian antiques.
Look at it now, with another hideous ceiling light, a floor that looks like tar, and furniture styles and finishes that clash with each other as well as the room:

Those dining chairs look like refugees from the French Revolution, don't they? From the Bastille.

There's a library upstairs that's had its floor tarred, too. At least they didn't rip out all the mantels or try to paint them black, or cement mirror tiles all over them:

Of course, the price of the house is $100,000 more than it sold for — all that black paint and bad lighting had to cost something. 

We'll be going to see it on Sunday, so if you hear weeping and gnashing of teeth coming from the direction of the Warren Tavern in the early afternoon, you'll know it's me.

Photos via, the best online real-estate search tool, in my opinion.


  1. The updated home is terrible!! What the hell did they do to all the wood floors!! and the walls! Ok, so furniture can come and go, but the bones and patina of the house have been destroyed in my opinion. Black floors!! Sad.

  2. That leaves me with a bit of a stomache-ache.

  3. The "original floors" probably weren't original to the house, by the way. How do I know this? Because houses of that era generally had carpet installed (it was considered much nicer than plain old wood), and because the wood runs across rooms vs. lengthwise (a cheap new floor at that).

  4. Anon, I discussed that with the broker, and he thought the parlor and dining room floors might indeed have been original, since the wood runs in different directions in each room. There's a square in the middle of each room that runs one way, framed (with "herringbone" corners) by wood running in other directions. (I know I'm not explaining this very clearly.) This suggests that there were area carpets originally, with exposed wood borders. It's hard to know for sure since everything is black now. The upstairs floors had wide, less regular boards that were clearly original and... stained black, too.

  5. Ah, interesting! I thought it was a matter of painting bad wood to hide it. Not so. That's too bad.


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