On Halloween weekend as I settled down to knit children’s hats for donation, I was not interested in the scary movies or football on the television schedule. I opted for a “House Hunters” marathon on HGTV. As couples commented on the houses their Realtors were showing, I recalled the homes of my childhood. The comparisons were quite revealing about current times.
Size is always a consideration in a home purchase; most of the TV buyers wanted a bedroom for each child. I remembered our house on River Road with the one upstairs bedroom that we four oldest girls shared for many years. Having two bedrooms to share when we moved to Ford Road was grounds for celebration.
Lots of closet space throughout a house is coveted during these modern times because we need someplace to stuff all our stuff. Walk-in closets with shelving systems in master bedrooms are popular features often difficult to find in older homes.
The HGTV couples were also hunting for several bathrooms, especially ones attached to master bedrooms. Most buyers also desired double vanities, citing difficulties in getting ready at the same time with just one bathroom sink. Our large family – even with five girls – survived one tiny bathroom in each of our farmhouses: it was called scheduling.
When I was a kid, room names and functions were very basic: kitchen, living room, dining room, bedroom – and eventually family room and den. These days people also want media rooms and home offices to house their growing accumulations of technological gadgets.
Some home owners like separate rooms, each with a specific purpose; but others prefer open space, undefined and unrestricted by walls. Many current buyers want kitchens that open into living room areas so that parents preparing meals are not cut off from interaction with family or guests, and modern moms like to keep an eye on their children playing in another room. My mother should have had it so easy. Our kitchen was the center of family activity; we even played there. I think Mother would have welcomed the “open concept” so that we would not be underfoot while she cooked!
Also in demand today are finished basements with another whole living room, perhaps an extra bedroom, and maybe a kitchenette. I hated what we called the cellar in the house on River Road: steep steps led to a cold space with spooky corners and shelves holding Mason jars filled with unknown contents preserved at least two generations prior.
The most intriguing room requested by contemporary buyers is the “man cave,” a sanctuary for the man of the family. With just one television in any house he occupied, my father had to watch the news, bigtime wrestling, or Lawrence Welk in his always-well-populated living room. Nevertheless, he did have his man cave, known as the barn.
Home buyers must choose the number of stories in any house they purchase. Our farmhouses each had an upstairs, but one-story ranch homes became popular during the Baby Boom years. I do find it curious that some young parents insist on one-story homes because they worry about their toddlers falling on the stairs – I mean, children do have to learn to navigate steps at some point.
The HGTV programs showed frequent opposing viewpoints concerning interior style: the “character” of older homes compared to the “clean lines” of modern architecture. Expectation and reality often clashed when young buyers desired charming older homes with crown molding, original hardwood floors, and glass door knobs while simultaneously expecting updated gourmet kitchens and huge, spa-like bathrooms.
I wish I knew more about our River Road house, which sadly no longer stands. In its glory days it must have been a showplace as evidenced by its beautiful woodwork, quaint transoms, and spiral staircase. Even more fascinating is the fact that this house had a twin, also on River Road. The other house – occupied at various times by the Howards, the Faulkners, and the McDaniels – seemed very familiar during a couple of visits I made, until I finally realized it shared the same floorplan with our house at the other end of the road.
Historical circumstances prevented my parents and many others of their generation from purchasing dream homes. The house on River Road came with the “farming on the halves” position that was my father’s job. When that job ended, he and Mother were thrilled to finally have the Ford Road farm as the only property they ever owned, but they bought what was available during a very short period of time.
The family life we experienced in our two childhood houses is what we wanted for ourselves in our own homes – and what my siblings desired for their children. My sisters and brother began in starter houses and progressed to the homes in which their own offspring grew to adulthood.
It may be that the house hunting millennials I saw on HGTV – the ones looking for “wow” factors and curb appeal – grew up in luxury they now want for themselves. There are also certainly enough young adults seeking to impress with upscale features and fancy amenities.
I believe, however, that this younger generation may also be trying to replicate the warmth and comfort they experienced during their childhoods – when the “bricks and beams of their houses became the hopes and dreams of their homes.”
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.