We live in a West Seattle farmhouse that was built in the 1920s. Over the decades the fruit orchards that surrounded it were removed and replaced with houses—most of them in the 1940s, some in the 70s. The interior suffered many bad remodels, and was restored a couple of years ago by the previous owner, just before we moved in. He lovingly scraped away layers of paint to reveal the original grain in the thick molding of local Douglas fir. Glued-down linoleum was peeled back, and the floors beneath it—more fir—were sanded and oiled. The kitchen was gutted and replaced, and the exterior was painted a pleasing shade of green.
We are grateful for all this work, as none of it sounds very fun to us. Turning to the kind of work that better suits us, we have ourselves embarked on what I like to think of as Restoration—Phase II. According to Eric Partridge’s etymological dictionary (one of my most treasured tomes), the word restore evolved from the Latin restaurare, meaning to give back something either lost or removed. How lovely! So in that spirit we are returning a chicken coop to the back yard of this home that once produced so much food and sweet fruit. A plum tree has been added, an Asian pear, and two little columnar apples. A sweetgum was replaced with an apricot tree (the sweetgum went to a good home). We’re expanding the vegetable garden, and adding cold frames for the Seattle spring. Meanwhile, as I enjoy my favorite pastimes–baking, knitting, sewing–I think of the women that inhabited this home in the depression years, and over the last century.
So often we think of restoration as an aesthetic endeavor, but expansively it can be so much more. We can remember that even our small yards constitute “land,” and begin to give back to this land its “lost” innate fertility.
Many cities have archived photos of historical homes–contact your city clerk’s office for info. In Seattle, search our city’s historical home census online.