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Renovating an old house? A thousand companies want to help you

The trend to renovating older-type homes is growing swiftly in the US. To help the trend, home fairs are beginning to sprout in many cities, thus providing needed help to do-it-yourselfers and experienced craftsmen alike.

According to Clem Labine, editor and publisher of the Old-House Journal, the nation's leading home-renovation periodical, there already are major renovation fairs in Salt Lake City, Baltimore, Chicago, and Macon, Ga.

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Since 1866, when George Washington's home, Mount Vernon, was rescued from eventual decay, preservation has continued to expand.

The Old-House Journal, in fact, has grown from a few subscriptions in 1973 to 35,000 today. Companies serving the industry with everything from gingerbread to order to stamped metal ceilings have grown from 205 five years ago to some 830 in 1980.

Before the end of 1981 some 1,100 companies are expected to be in business, offering products to help those who want to restore older homes, Mr. Labine predicts.

Good ideas very often come out of the home fairs.

A recent Chicago exhibition, "City of house -- a Marketplace of Renovation Ideas for Old Houses," is a case in point. It was sponsored by the local chapter of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Chicago Commission on Historical and Architectural Landmarks.

Architects, contractors, and experts on historic preservation advised audiences in seminars to do the best to preserve the romantic qualities of an old house rather than tearing out all of the nostalgia and starting anew.

Cynthia Weese, an architect with Weese, Seegers, Hickey, weese, recommends that high ceilings in old kitchens be preserved for their beauty and good ventilation. Needed light can be added by putting lamps under cabinets or open shelves. She further advocates the use of under-cabinet refrigerators, freezers , and dishwashers to maximize space.

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Before going to an architect, Mrs. Weese suggested, a homeowner should make a list of the things she wants to do, in the kitchen, for example.

These might include whether she wants eating space as well as an area for food preparation, whether storage is needed (or can the pantry be used?), or whether a laundry room, not provided in the Victorian era, is needed.

Robert Furhoff, an interior designer, recommends that homeowners become as familiar as possible with the historic details of their homes. Wills, deeds, and other documents will help them in this research, he says.

"Don't remove and replace windows," he advises, pointing out that often the whole character of a house can be changed by installing modern windows. He also recommends that before ripping out plaster, research should be started to learn what may be there. In some cases the walls were intended to be a combination of paneling and painted surfaces. When plaster is removed, the woods don't match.

When applying to a bank for a renovation loan, the homeowner should have the plans in mind and share them with the banker, counsels Joel Zemans, president of Mid-Town Bank of Chicago, who also recommends that a homeowner be in a position to tell the banker the prospects for the future of the neighborhood in which the house is located.

Walker Johnson, an architect with the Chicago firm of Holabird & Root, says "the value usually increases when the property is maintained and the character not changed."

Mr. Johnson advises potential remodelers to "respect the sense of time and place," pointing out that it is the neighboring houses which make a street charming, not just a single home.

"Think of the house as a work of art which is not alterable," he adds. "If you have an architectural monument, you'd want to maintain it. That's why painting or repainting must be done carefully."

The architect says that the trades which were used in the original house are still available. It is advisable to stay with the original trades, he adds, instead of switching to an alternative, such as covering a building with new siding.

"Porches, windows, masonry, etc., should be saved rather than replaced," asserts Harry Hunderman, an architect with Historic Resources. He talks about the details of the exterior and how they should be restored, emphasizing that it is important to know architectural terminology.

To sum up, when renova ting an old house -- take it easy.

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