Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Annals of Real Estate: The Arthur Vinal House, Part 2

Following up on my previous post about The Arthur Vinal House in Dorchester, here are a few more photos of things that weren't included in the listing. 

The house is still on the market as of last night, so hop to it if you want it. The realtors emailed us yesterday to ask if we were interested. My husband confessed to me that he is; I am not. One of us has to be sensible around here at any given time; and it's my turn. Or recent debacle taught me that I shouldn't even try to fathom how deep a money pit restoring that house would be. I now know this: any mind-boggling figures that were quoted to us before the sale would need to be tripled, quadrupled, or quintupled once we had the keys. And then there's the area: it's not walkable. Everyone relies on cars for errands, groceries, and everything else. I like to walk and I don't drive. Yes, the Red Line is very close, but... no. I went there to ooh and ahh, not to make an offer.

When we were there on Saturday, I went down to the basement, which is unfinished. A crowd was milling about upstairs; no one else was down there with me. I couldn't figure out how old this boiler is and the agents couldn't tell me:

I wonder if it was originally quite so rust-colored; that color never does much to boost a homeowner's comfort level, does it? 

I poked around the basement for awhile and didn't find anything remarkable, like a secret burial ground or a pile of discarded original ceiling lights. I did search for and find the toilet; there is often one in the basement for whoever did the laundry back in the day. They are usually tucked in a simple closet by themselves although I have also seen one parked in plain sight alongside a modern washer and dryer in a Newton basement. This one was in a dark alcove. It was not a porcelain fixture— just a battered wooden box with a hinged cover. Stuff was piled on it and in front of it or I might have investigated a bit further and perhaps even remembered to photograph it. There was also an original long, decrepit, three-bay stone laundry sink; nothing else of note.

Often the rooms on the second floor of an old Victorian house are disappointing. Owners of old houses often carved extra bathrooms from bedrooms in clumsy ways, or "updated bedrooms by lowering ceilings and adding wall-to-wall carpet. Fireplaces often get blocked up or have their mantels removed, or maybe a cast-iron radiator is parked right in front of them.

The second floor of the Vinal House wasn't so bad. I'm going to borrow a few photos from the listing, courtesy of Lee Robinson at Sotheby's International, which I'll identify. The other photos are mine. 

Photo: Sotheby's International Realty, Boston

There was one spacious bathroom with a newer sink, toilet, and tile, but an old, deep porcelain tub that looked great but lacked a spout. There were taps, as you can see, and an overflow valve, but nowhere for water to flow into the tub. That's a more recent (and bad) wallpaper border up at the ceiling. Overall, this bathroom offers possibilities, at least, with that tub. There was a second, mid-century bathroom off the kitchen, but I didn't think to photograph it because it wasn't at all attractive or interesting.

I am now realizing that, when architectural details bother me because they are incongruous or in poor taste, I often forget to document them. I need to fight my instinctive reaction to try to forget them and I didn't do too well with that in this house. 

Here is a fireplace in one of the bedrooms. The mantel looks old but the tile looks new and shiny. This room also had a recent application of "Victorian-style" wood molding with a fancy design at the ceiling. Its color matches the fireplace and other trim. This room felt "bogus" to me in the way the spray-painted dining room did. The Victorians loved shiny wood, but it shouldn't be that shiny after all this time. And 

In the next bedroom, we studied the strange, padded wall in the bay window:

Photo: Sotheby's International Realty, Boston

As you can see, it's pretty useless as a headboard. It seems designed to provide a comfortable place to beat one's heads against the wall before or after bedtime. A professional wrestler once lived here with his family. Maybe he used  it to strengthen his neck muscles or something. That's the best I can come up with.

There is also more new, bogus molding at the ceiling. In Victorian houses, bedrooms were often much plainer than the downstairs rooms, not simply because they weren't meant to impress visitors but because Victorians feared dirt as a source of illness. They wanted their bedrooms in particular to be easy to clean and free of dust-catchers. That molding, with its deep crevice below the ceiling is nothing they'd have liked.

This little upstairs room with beige wallpaper is charming — just as wide as a bay window, so nice for a nursery, maybe, or a sewing or sitting room. The light fixture is a new reproduction, and that's a toy rocking-horse on the windowsill.

Photo: Sotheby's International Realty, Boston

As I said in my earlier post, I'd  never seen fringe curtains before and this looped variety really gave me the willies. Over the past few years, I have trained myself to evaluate almost everything I see in answer to the question: "What would Harris do to this?"  I don't think about (yet) when I'm contemplating entire buildings, bridges, or mountains. But I see a pond or swimming pool, and I worry about Harris. Our other cats, especially Toffee, have eaten and done dangerous things as kittens but they have all grown wiser and more cautious as adults. With the others, I only have to worry about them scratching the furniture, and they're mostly pretty good about not doing that, too.

Not Harris. I see any object that could break if it fell any distance and I immediately think of Harris. I consider flowers and many foods primarily in terms of how toxic they would be to him and only then in terms of whether I even like them. Any tiny item is evaluated in terms of what would happen when it eventually landed in his mouth. I don't buy black clothing anymore, and I avoid anything that can get pulls from tiny claws and teeth. When I walk into an antique shop, Harris is mostly what I think about. I imagine how long it would take him to knock any given teacup, vase, or paperweight onto the floor.

Fringed curtains wouldn't last five minutes around Harris. He would wreck them and then he would eat them, strand by strand. And then he might need an endoscopy because I bet they are made of nylon.

The third floor had unfinished attic storage areas and a couple of small dormer bedrooms that had seen better days. All the woodwork, including the stairs leading from the second floor, had been painted peach, I'm guessing sometime around 1980. Peach is never a good idea. There was some newer wall-to-wall, too. All in all, I got the feeling that it had been some young hippie's lair once upon a time, although the peace-sign decals and black-light posters were long gone. We didn't linger.

I remembered to photograph the kitchen! I finally feel nostalgic when I see these 1980s cabinets because they were the ubiquitous, upscale renovator's choice when I moved here after college and commenced my very first house-hunt, for a one-bedroom rental. The best apartments I could afford sometimes had these, shiny, almond-colored, and topped with Formica countertops:

There are still plenty of these cabinets around so I don't feel that sentimental. This kitchen is high-ceilinged, roomy, and bright (three windows) and thus has potential. It's also not big enough for anyone to install an island; I find islands intensely annoying. 

I'm not convinced that the beadboard paneling behind the cabinets is original but I hope so. It looked awfully pristine, but it is also a strange choice to add and then hide behind cabinets. But the people who lived here made some unusual choices.

There was probably a pantry where the new bathroom is, alas.

I don't want to have you leave via the kitchen, so let's step back into the dining room, romantically lit so we can pretend the spray paint is real gold leaf:


  1. aww.. bummer. I was looking forward to coming to visit you in this house :)

  2. am I seriously the only one that saw that little room with the bay window and thought "what a great foster kitten space" :)

    1. That is EXACTLY what I said to my husband. And I decided that the second bedroom would be another foster room and then the whole third floor was really only good for kittens, too... that is when his great enthusiasm for the place began to dim a little. Because he knows my foster failure rate is 100% (Lion).

  3. We are still laughing about the possible uses for the padded walls in the bedroom... thanks for the smile!

  4. When we were house hunting we had to walk away from a couple of houses that we loved and were in our price range but were going to need more work than we could afford. Including one that had a basement that was essentially completely filled with a furnace and duct work. It was like they had an acutal oak tree made out of sheet metal. I've never seen anything like it.

    In the end we bought a fixer-upper anyway. Still fixing it 16 years later. But doing the work ourselves (by which I mean my husband is doing all the actual work).


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