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Trends in houses that make me frown

May 6th, 2012 (05:05 pm)

Ed and I have been looking at houses; we'd like to move to a larger house. In our current house, the girls have to share a room. We'd like them to have their own. Also, it might be nice to be closer to their school, and if we're going to go through all the hassle of buying a new home and moving, we'd like a master bath.

So we've looked at houses. Lots and lots of houses.

The problem is that things we want are fundamentally incompatible. We prefer the look and feel of older homes. We like traditional styles, windows made with panes rather than big sheets of glass (and lots of them), hardwood floors instead of carpet, and the sort of quirks and weird spaces that you'll get in Victorian construction but never in new.

On the other hand, we'd like a master bathroom. A mudroom or some sort of entryway with good storage for coats and boots would be nice. I'm not a huge fan of creepy basements. I prefer forced-air heat to radiators and will miss my central air if we move to a house without forced-air venting.

There ARE houses built before 1940 that have been remodeled to provide them with modern conveniences like master bathrooms etc., and we've looked at lots of them. I now have a long list of things that seem to be trends that I find spectacularly irritating.

1. Badly designed multi-acre kitchens.

Our current house has a small kitchen. It's small, but reasonably convenient to use. Back when Ed and I took Home Ec the teachers talked about the "work triangle," and how you want the fridge, stove, and sink to be conveniently near each other. We have a nice work triangle with prep area between the stove and fridge.

We have seen an appalling number of kitchens that seem to have been designed by people for whom "work triangle" would be a novel concept. The most absurd was a kitchen with acres of countertop but cabinetry that came out the full depth of the counter -- so, you know, you'd bash your head if you tried to actually chop anything on those counters. They'd be super useful if the only thing you ever did on your counter was store appliances, though.

It's one thing when you see a small house with a vintage kitchen that hasn't been updated since 1970. The thing that boggles my mind is when I see a large house where they've clearly spent tens of thousands of dollars building this badly put together kitchen.

Part of the problem here is that Ed and I don't care whether we have an eat-in kitchen. We eat our meals in the dining room, and intend to continue eating meals in the dining room. I would kind of like a breakfast nook but I would prefer it to be a nook rather than an island with seating. I acknowledge that this is a personal quirk but for heaven's sake, people! I did some aimless open-house-type wandering today and looked at a bunch of houses that were too small. They all had smaller kitchens that looked more usable than most of the big kitchens we've seen.

2. Vinyl interior doors.

It's fine with me if people want to replace interior doors (if this is an older home, the original interior doors are almost guaranteed to be a lead hazard.) But hollow-core wood doors are not THAT expensive and frankly I think even flat hollow-core wood doors look better than vinyl up close. Vinyl oozes fakeness from every pore. (Or it would, if it had pores, which it doesn't, which is part of the problem.) Vinyl siding at least has the excuse that you never have to paint it. Interior doors are not something that require the sort of regular maintenance that the house exterior does. There's simply no excuse for vinyl.

I saw TWO houses today, both older homes that had been updated, that had vinyl interior doors.

3. Enormous master bathrooms (with an ENORMOUS tub plus a separate shower, for instance) in a house that's less than 3,000 square feet overall.

The first palatial bathroom I ever saw was at a work party at some executive's house. It had a tub big enough to fit two adults, a separate shower, and a gas fireplace. I have to admit, it was pretty awesome, but this was a 4500 square foot McMansion somewhere in Eagan. If you've got 3,000 or more square feet to play with, then sure: go for the palatial bathroom. Why anyone would waste 150 square feet of a 2,000 square foot house on a single bathroom is baffling to me. A 3/4 master bath is totally adequate, as far as I'm concerned. It doesn't need to be fancy. In fact, if there's going to be a fancy bathroom in the house, better it should be the family bathroom because I have two daughters who would be thoroughly intrigued by an enormous jetted tub and the whole point of a master bathroom is that you don't have to share it with your children!

(My parents' house has a master bath with a really nice shower and then the family bathroom has a big jetted tub, so SOMEONE OUT THERE gets it.)


Posted by: BlueRose (thebluerose)
Posted at: May 6th, 2012 11:38 pm (UTC)

Those kitchens you are talking about? they are designed by kitchen designers to look pretty in magazines. There is no useability involved at all - go into some showrooms and have a look :)

Posted by: Naomi (naomikritzer)
Posted at: May 8th, 2012 03:53 pm (UTC)

Gah. Is there any way to find a kitchen designer who designs kitchens to be used by people who like to cook?!?

Posted by: BlueRose (thebluerose)
Posted at: May 8th, 2012 08:15 pm (UTC)

oops sorry my reply to this got tacked on to the bottom of the thread, making NO sense at all

Posted by: Magenta (magentamn)
Posted at: May 7th, 2012 12:49 am (UTC)

You might want to make a list of things relatively easy to replace, and the cost for replacements, and figure that into your budget. You can replace interior doors, you can put in central air if the house has forced air heating. Replacing the electric stove with a gas one was part of my move-in budget, for example. So was replacing all the exterior locks (they were crappy).

Don't know if I'm making sense, it has been a long day. If you want a recommendation for a good real estate agent, email me.

Posted by: Naomi (naomikritzer)
Posted at: May 7th, 2012 01:11 am (UTC)

Yeah, we're pretty much doing that. But we've looked at a lot of houses that don't have the ductwork for C/A and are heated with radiators.

What drives me crazy are things like this: we looked at a house this week that we'd seen once and liked a lot, so we went back. We still like it. HOWEVER: down in the basement, there's a major structural beam that they cut a notch out of to run a pipe past. It was 10" thick and they cut out a 5" notch (!) Our realtor (we have one) pointed it out and was concerned about what structural problems this might cause.

I like the house, but I have no idea how expensive something like that would be to fix. I suppose I could find a structural engineer on Angie's List and see if anyone would give me a ballpark figure for that sort of repair... the thing is, if I owned the house and needed this repair, I would look for someone who did free estimates, but for a house I'm considering, I would really feel that I should pay the structural engineer for his or her time. So even figuring out how big of a problem this is could potentially be expensive.

There's another house we looked at that was beautiful but filled with expensive problems. It was a Queen Anne Victorian and looks absolutely fantastic in the online pictures ... but every single window (and it's a Queen Anne Victorian so it has a STUNNING number of windows) is in terrible shape. The (lead) paint is coming off in big strips, the wood is rotting away, the windows had no screens or storms, etc., etc., etc. And the house is in an expensive neighborhood so despite the work needed it's really expensive. I'm not even sure what it would cost to upgrade every window in that house but ... lots. Windows aren't cheap. They're even more expensive if you're starting out with a beautiful Queen Anne Victorian and you consider it important that they look like they belong.

Posted by: Scott Raun (sraun)
Posted at: May 7th, 2012 01:20 am (UTC)

I'll second your list, and add huge front entry doors that open straight into the main living area of the house. Don't these people realize they're building for Minnesota? What do those doors do to the heating bills and comfort level?

I have a friend who house-hunts for fun. If you'd care to pass along some criteria, I'm certain she'd be willing to do some targeted hunting.

Posted by: Cyllan (lilisonna)
Posted at: May 7th, 2012 02:24 am (UTC)

We have an enormous master bath, and I really hate it. I want a small, cozy bathroom that gets hot when I take a shower. Mine doesn't even get warm. Kitchens should be large enough to accommodate 3 people doing work or 5-6 people hanging out while one person does work. The work triangle here is vital. My current kitchen is a touch too small, but it's well laid out so it's okay. Some are just insanely large -- or small and badly designed; don't people cook anymore?

We're also house-hunting, although we're staying in the 8-12 years old range, and I agree with all of your hates. I'd love an older house, but in my part of the world, they're just not reasonable.

Posted by: Cool-Man (tg2k)
Posted at: May 8th, 2012 03:50 pm (UTC)

I think you'd like the house I'm renting more than I do. Decent and sizable kitchen, living room, no island, small bathrooms, except the bathroom/laundry room, which is large and has carpet (?!).

I didn't need my enormous master bathroom in the house I sold, but I would really like room to walk past each other and have two sinks. When Diane and I buy a house that'll be something to look for.

It's a split-level house built around 1978, BTW.

Posted by: Naomi (naomikritzer)
Posted at: May 8th, 2012 03:52 pm (UTC)

No good. I hate split levels.

Posted by: BlueRose (thebluerose)
Posted at: May 8th, 2012 08:14 pm (UTC)

Yes, the hard way ie visiting a selection, seeing their wares and then discussing useability features and see how they are received. Those that dismiss it for interfering with the 'Look' walk away from. Those that don't, well carry on talking. I suspect you will have better luck with the smaller more personal (less flashy) design places, the ones that have to listen to their customers to get the business?

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