When my Grandparents built this house, starting in 1958, the neighborhood was only a few years old. My grandfather had worked for IBM in Endicott (at locations around the Binghamton area) for several years. In 1956, IBM announced they would be building a large facility in nearby Owego to house their Federal contract work. This of course began a mad stampede of development in the sleepy Owego area, where about 30,000 people lived. By 1980, the population would be 50,000, where it has remained. My grandparents and their family were one of the people who came and built a new house.
Everyone around here gets the Owego Pennysaver Press – a quasi-news entity that mostly exists as a vehicle for getting ads and coupons to everyone. The picture below is an ad that appeared in the Pennysaver, probably very early 1960, advertising the neighborhood. A few things about the picture: No trees. The subdivision was created from farmland on a hillside. Our house is fairly small, but in the upper left portion. There are only two houses on the street: ours and the first house where our road begins (the white two-story a bit to our house’s right.) The developer has two neighborhoods: Ours is Ridgewood, which was fancier. On another hill nearby (right behind the IBM plant) is Lincolnshire. Today this plant is Lockheed Martin, and still employs about 3,000 people.
It feels awesome to be so progressive.
After we first moved in, we had our work cut out for us – we originally planned on getting all three bedrooms cleaned and painted, but the house had other plans for us. Sometime in the 1980s my Grandmother and one of my aunts put wallpaper in the master bedroom. This delayed us finishing the master bedroom until not only after we moved in (we stayed in the middle bedroom for the first month), but also after the living room. Mary still gripes about removing the wallpaper.
As of 2011, the living room looked like this:
If you look around a bit at some of the other house blogs we read (right side under “What We Read”), you’ll come across some pretty cool things. One of the coolest things are “time capsule houses” – these are houses that are listed for sale around the country where the interior is virtually unchanged from the time they were built from the 1940s – 1970s, like Robert over at Live Better Electrically. They often have ridiculously cool vintage appliances, the type of stuff that was “the latest innovative tool” at their time, but for economic or style reasons never caught on and faded away. (See: GE Wonder Kitchen.)
So, a few things: First, our house is not a time capsule. My grandparents updated the house over the years and re-did the kitchen. We do have time capsule bathrooms which are pretty spectacular. Second, our house, though modest by today’s standards, was also not a “Mid Century Modest” house at the time it’s construction – it cost $18,500 to build in 1958. The average house at the time was $12,700, so our house was a fairly fancy one and the finishes and build quality reflected that.
The renovation work we do follows an ethos I call “Mid Century Compatible” – we have a great house that was well-designed and well-built. We generally take finishes and fixtures back to how they originally looked at the time of the home’s construction and then bring in modern touches with styles that are very compatible or complimentary to the original components of the house (See: Bedroom Before and After.) We are modern style lovers in our own right, and as such we want to have a house that pays homage to it’s mid-century roots while letting the mid-century idea move forward. That’s one of the cool features of true mid-century modern style: it’s still modern.
Shortly before moving we, we were fortunate to be able to get some work done in the upstairs bedrooms – cleaning and painting – so that we didn’t have to sleep in the middle of a construction zone. We spent some time researching colors for the house (more on that in a different post) with a friend who does some interior design work, Keith Weston at Upstate Office Furniture (Full disclosure: we did their website. :))
As you may recall, the bedroom looked like this before:
When my cousins and I were children and we would come visit the house, Grandpa Rynkus would always warn us to stay away from the manhole cover at the bottom of the property. Why should we stay away? “The Devil lives in there, and you don’t want to get eaten by the Devil.” Needless to say we never really went too close.
Well, here is where the Devil lives:
Take that, Devil.
(If you are wondering, it is the sewer line junction.)