The ongoing war against the remnants of our historic built environment continues unabated. Our previous examination of this topic (Part 1) dealt with elementary school textbooks which propagandized children and instilled a bias against historic buildings in the mid-twentieth century.
Today we’ll take look at the same insidious indoctrination process as it manifests itself today — through television. There are several things about many of the most popular home renovation shows that really disturb me — the primary issue being that many houses are needlessly altered just for the sake of altering them — presented to us as “updating”. In the process, many still-useful and increasingly rare architectural features are forever lost… while more mediocrity is gained. Another disturbing aspect is how many TV personalities are referred to as “experts”. Experts at what, exactly? Timeless design? Architectural integrity? Sage financial decisions? Certainly not historic preservation or “going green”! No; they’re experts at convincing viewers to emulate currently marketed design trends via infotainment — often to the permanent detriment of the architectural integrity of previously intact houses and typically resulting in the blatant waste of material resources.
Television is like any other tool: it can be used for good or less-than-good. It is a common mistake for many people to assume that wildly popular television programs devoted to remodeling or decorating are designed to impart the wisdom of absolutely the most competent and skilled design experts for our collective education and societal benefit.
Sadly, these assumptions are far from the truth. And what is the truth?
The truth is that such programs are designed to encourage waste and consumerism because both practices help to fuel the economy. Let’s face it; Big Box home “improvement” stores are going to sell fewer products if people are content to live with their houses essentially as they were built. It’s much more profitable if TV encourages homeowners to take a sledgehammer to their property, throw the debris into a dumpster and then replace everything with newly made products imported from around the globe. They’ll likely hire carpenters, plumbers and electricians in the process. Change stimulates the economy.
The truth is that these television shows are not educational; they’re pure indoctrination into the “keeping-up-with-the-Joneses” mentality. The truth is that most older houses, particularly those built prior to roughly 1965, were built to last with regular maintenance.
Conversely, much new construction contains built-in obsolescence. Old wood windows, for example, can be repaired when they begin to age while new vinyl windows can only be replaced when they begin to fall apart; they’re not designed to be repaired. Same for your refrigerator and other appliances. You get the idea.
OK — I’ll stop ranting now and we’ll take a look at some before and after images that will make the same point. For the sake of brevity, we’ll just look at exteriors today. I may take a look at interior makeovers in the future. While looking for images, I was pleasantly surprised to see that not all of the makeovers were horrific… there seems to be a growing awareness of the value of retaining more originality than in the past. At the end of this post, I’ll show some of HGTV’s more admirable before and afters – the kind which our existing housing stock will benefit from in the long-term!
OK; I promised I’d include some before and afters which are actually admirable… and here they are: