Monday, November 5, 2012

When Homes Welcome Guests Back to the Past

From my TravelOkcity column, published 2011.

The Lykes back in the 30s.

Several weeks ago, we received over 400 people into our private sanctuary. Yes, our house was part of the 16th Annual Tour of Historic Homes in Linwood Place.  Every year, some of Oklahoma City’s historic neighbourhoods showcase historic homes, opening them to the public for a walk back in time. Gatewood  Historic District and Heritage Hills opened their doors last October, while the Mesta Park Holiday Tour is something to look forward to in December when guests can enjoy the festive lights at night.

A snapshot of the olden days.

Having just moved in a year to our little abode, I was hesitant to have strangers into our home, to have them take a peek into my bathroom, which I hardly ever have time to clean with round-the-clock diaper duties on top of being a housewife and a writer. But my bathroom still has the original art deco black and white tile that has been installed when it was built in the 1930s. I personalized the bathroom’s nostalgic details with red and gold accents, mother and child artworks, and damask prints. Like the bathroom, the house features original fixtures and details accentuated with our personal touches. Out in the front yard, a pillar bears a plate that says: Linwood Place Circa 1930.

How can I possibly keep this from the public? How can I deny people the opportunity to travel back in time, to relive the days of eclectic art and design, the period of beautiful contradiction?
So reluctantly, I put out the welcome mat,  because I knew that just as people could pick up a few tips in house restoration by going through our renovated and preserved home , I also knew that I could develop a better sense of appreciation for what I have and possibly gain insight in travelling back to the past.

Our little breakfast nook with pictures we've collected from our travels.

Five other houses opened their doors as well, structures that I believe deserve to be featured in architectural or interior design magazines not only for the interesting architectural and historical features but also because of the work they’ve done inside, accentuated with their personal selections that exhibit sophistication and a great respect for the past.  Two in particular stood out, because I thought that they reflected our own tastes and aspirations, although in a grander scale.

When we moved in, this backyard was bare.

One of my favorite houses is the 1929 Tudor revival style cottage. A young couple brought contemporary elements to the house while preserving its historic aspects. The remarkable archway leading to their dining room, an example of peaked and curvilinear millwork and carpentry of the era, melds beautifully with the modern pieces of art that they brought home from their adventures around the world. 

looking out to a bright future

Like the young couple, my husband and I have always taken pride in the work that we’ve done so far for the house and the items that we’ve collected, because most, if not all, hold a special meaning to us. Every artwork tells a story of where we’ve been to or what we believe in. We shy away from mass produced store-bought items and would rather wait for that perfect piece even if it was created by a no-name artist in a small town in Hanoi, salvaged from an estate sale, or brought to life from an antique shop. The process of buying for the house has almost become like a treasure hunt.

Another house that I loved is a Prairie School style home that features a wood burning stove and interesting pieces of artwork that tell much of the owner from the reverse prints done in antique windows to the stories told through deliberately arranged wine bottle cork stoppers. 

While entering these homes,  I thought  of the importance of the present and the relevance of the past, of keeping one’s own preferences while still giving homage to the past, and how the marriage of both is not as easy to achieve, but when it is attained, the result is almost magical. And I’m not just talking about interior  design.

While I grasped on the glass doorknobs and  walked under the cathedral ceilings, I marvelled at how the past is still very much alive around us, alive in a sense that it is still significant and vibrant and can teach us a few things about functionality, beauty, and pride. Walking on the shiny hardwood floors, I heard subtle creaks whispering reminders about the value of preserving history that they may serve as lessons for our future generations.

I consider this responsibility a gift. I consider it a privilege to own a home with great historical significance, to protect and preserve this cultural structure that it may endure as a portal to the past and a landmark of wisdom through the years.


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