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Old House Fetishizers of America

old house fetish

Alright, this week I had the painful experience of reading an article on The Atlantic that can only be found in America as the fruits of common core math begin sprouting in the minds of today’s journalists and city planners.

On the journalistic scale of 1-10 this one came in at a solid -126. That may seem like an arbitrary number but I can assure you the number has merit unlike this story.

The article is called Stop Fetishizing Old Homes by M. Nolan Gray apparently attempting to capitalize on the M. Night Shyamalan first initial only name game that made his movies so riveting. Who is M. Nolan Gray? According to his bio, he is a professional city planner and a housing researcher at UCLA. He is also the author of the upcoming book certain to be a staple on every bookshelf called Arbitrary Lines: How Zoning Broke the American City and How to Fix It. I’ve pre-ordered my copy and you can too at

The thesis of the article is that America has an unhealthy obsession with old houses which, in the author’s eloquent words, “just kind of sucks”. A clearly definable statement that is not subjective at all.  He posits that new construction is “better on nearly every conceivable measure” and “one hears a lot of self-righteous discussion about the need for more preservation.” On a more serious note, I’m not sure how he discovered the rotating top secret “righteousness club” meetings I and other preservation influencers have, but I’m determined to get to the bottom of the leak. -21 points for snooping

He continues “Old housing is simply less safe” due to lead paint and lead pipes. He also sites improper, aging wiring, and these buildings lack of building materials needed to stop a blaze as a fire hazard. You know unlike the newer, better stuff like vinyl siding and spray foam which are so flammable it takes little more than my ex-girlfriend walking by to be ignited by that old flame. -35 points for fire misinformation

What struck me most was not the audacity and smugness to write an article about how anyone who disagrees with him is clearly out of their mind. Clearly us old-housers suffer from lead poisoning which makes us Cuckoo-for-COCOA-PUFFS. But what really chapped my hide was the utter disregard for facts and lack of real world experience.

One of the immeasurable improvements present in new construction, the honorable Mr. Gray sites, is how “noise is appropriately now recognized as one of the biggest quality of life issues in cities” and how new buildings get this right while old buildings almost always have no noise dampening features.

Not only is this verifiably untrue, which anyone who has lived in a home with 1” thick plaster walls that block not only my voice but stop the wi-fi signal from 5 feet away, but the opposite is more typically the case.

He lays lavish praise on his former home, a mid-2000s apartment in DC, that had such excellent sound-blocking due to fiberglass insulation, clearly the gold standard of modern sound-blocking to Mr. Gray. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m truly happy for him that he found the one apartment building in America where sound-blocking was done effectively unlike every other apartment the rest of of us have lived in where your 23-yr-old neighbor feels obligated to keep you awake until 1 AM with another rendition of Dirty Pop. True story and God Bless N’Sync. -42 points for keeping me awake

Seriously has this man lived in any of the modern housing the rest of us have? Wood trim that falls apart faster than a Hollywood marriage, double pane windows that fog faster than my shower door, and mold growth that, well…I’ll just say that most of today’s housing stock reminds me of a 4-week old loaf of bread on a Floridian kitchen counter.

But the pièce de résistance of the whole article is when he prescribes the final solution for the Old House Fetishizers of America (a new club I just started thank to his suggestion). The solution? The Japanese model, where homes are torn down after only 30 years and thrown in the landfill (aka Tokyo Bay) and new homes are built to replace them. This, he believes, results in “a new house with all the modern amenities and design innovation that entails.”


As someone who lived in Japan for nearly a year I can assure you that Japanese home construction is not something that America will cherish. Japanese houses are made with some of the cheapest prefabbed materials on earth and provide the lowest quality of life I have experienced. Most middle class Japanese houses were built with materials that wouldn’t make the quality cut at IKEA. -28 points for making me reference IKEA.

Add those all up and you get -126 on our journalistic rating.

It’s clear that facts are fickle things that come only sparingly across the desk of Mr. Gray. Much like a unicorn bathing by the moonlight.

As someone who shows such concern for climate issues throughout this article I would think that proposing the solution of razing and dumping what would amount to trillions of metric tons of waste into our landfills and pulling the equal amount of materials out of the earth each year to replace those old houses would cause the error function on his mental calculator to display, but apparently that function has been disabled on the Ocasio-Cortesean model he uses.

This article proves once again that people who have never lived in an old house should not be trusted to make decisions about what we as a country should do with our old houses. So, as someone who has been inside more old houses than Hugh Hefner has Playboy bunnies, let me say that there is only one “final solution” for old houses.

If you want an old house you should buy an old house. If you want a new house you should buy a new house. Neither group should have any say in a free country like this is about how other people choose to live their lives and in what kind of home they choose to live those lives. And if you can’t do math, then stop promoting a policy where 2+2=zebra.

And that’s today’s SoapBox.

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37 thoughts on “Old House Fetishizers of America

  1. Old houses! Yes!! I have lived for 40 years in my 1884 two-story house in CA. First-growth Doug-fir floors, straight as an arrow and hard as iron, laid over joist! Walls of 3.5×1″ first-growth redwood, tongue and groove, toe-nailed into the Doug-fir. Immoveable, and as straight as an arrow and hard as iron even after all these years. Oh, by the way, this was a house built for the hired help who worked in the apricot and avocado orchards of the Santa Clara valley…
    Gone through all those earthquakes with no modern foundation, just first-growth 10×10 redwood posts dotted under the house!
    New rooms built off the back of the house in the 1970s. Those have needed a lot of work and repair. But the original house has stood strong!

  2. Brilliantly written! This gets all over me in our area in Oklahoma City. My biggest pet peeve is developers coming in and under the hospices of “community betterment, urban infill, and newer quality housing” change the zoning of one or two lots at a time in a neighborhood that has retained its value precisely because of its historic charm and well-built structures. Using value of older areas to put in million dollar, poorer quality structures is definitely not going to be the panacea for America. This guy sucks!

  3. Have not read the article but agree with your points here. However, I’m going to have to say -126 for bringing common core and AOC into the discussion. Would be cool if ANYTHING in America could be free of partisan/political poison.

  4. To be fair, after reading the article, I think he’s really talking more about old apartment buildings in urban settings rather than single-family homes.

    I got the feeling that his real frustration, as a city planner, was with the lack of quality affordable multi-family units being built in cities. While those of us who love our old houses might have the knowledge, time, energy, and resources to deal with things like lead paint abatement, improving energy efficiency, and restoring old windows, there are loads of folks living in very old apartment buildings that have not been cared for and who would probably jump at the chance to raise their kids in an apartment without flaking lead paint, lead water pipes, and windows that frost over in the winter. I know what those places are like, I lived in them when I was in college and I couldn’t afford anything else.

    I wish we could build bridges as a community of people who have something we love to do in common rather than speculate about how a random city planner might vote. We’re already so divided politically, does it have to be that way here too? I read and re-read the article, and I didn’t see any suggestion that people’s personal freedoms should be taken away, nor did I see anything stating that all old houses should be torn down. I saw him say that zoning laws in urban areas are frustrating, and that he has the crazy notion that new housing should be built with obsolescence as part of the plan. Can’t we just point out the crazy in that and leave mentions of ‘AOC’ out of it?

  5. I live in a 1906 Craftmans house, with beautiful bones and a fiestiness, she kicks wifi out the door as she does the noise of the neighborhood.
    She’s irreplaceable and witnessed more in her life than many humans. I only hope 100+ years from now she’s as loved as she is today, a unique irreplaceable beauty.

  6. The man is obviously an idiot. I know individuals who build new homes and have foundation issues after two years of living in them, mold issues as you stated, the list goes on and on. I will stick with my older home and enjoy all of it’s quirks, better craftmanship, better materials, and character any day of the week before I would live in a newer home.

    1. His full name, which he is understandably shy about and has long tried to keep secret is MAROON Nolan Gray. ( How do they keep guessing what the M stands for, it’s reported he often mumbles to himself in the office elevators.)

      Scott, love your blog and the sass from the soapbox for that maroon!

  7. Who knows it may be an East Coast / West Coast thing. I’m guessing we have exponentially more “old” (pre-1910) houses here in the East than they do out West. That said, there is something to be said for structures that have stood the test of time. In Europe, houses are many hundreds of years old. Plumbing, paint, and electric service can all be upgraded to meet the current code should owners choose to do so. As you say, you do you and I’ll do me. I am happy in my 1902 house and my previous 1890 house.

  8. Loved the commentary! Haha. I wonder how much of the opinion of Gray is influenced by his profession. A city planner wanting to tear down old construction, divvy up lots, and cram as many dwellings as possible in? Sounds like one hand washing the other to me.

    Thanks for the entertaining read Scott.

  9. Firstly, I just want to say thank you for the early morning giggle, we laughed our way through this one. Secondly I want to say, hell yeah! I hear you, I’m with you, ie. everything you said made sense to us. We both grew up in old houses, then lived in apartments for a while, then bought an old house as soon as we possibly could. Our daughter and son in law lived in Japan for a couple of years just recently, and she complained constantly, having grown up in an old house, that the building materials in Japan sucked. Landfills are full enough, thankyou, and restoring old houses is an honor. We live on a busy street, and even with hundred-year-old, single-pane, not yet restored windows we hardly ever hear the traffic to any unpleasant degree. I have a dream… if I ever win the lottery, I’m going to restore as many old houses as I can, using the greenest materials I can find, whether the houses belong to me or not. Anyway, 2+2= a gorgeous, comfortable old house in my math, so please send me your club application asap.

  10. Dude! Thanks for this post. Made me laugh and provided me with yet another case study against the Tyranny of the “Enlightened” Left. I will proudly join the Old Homes Fetishizers Club, aka OHFC (pronounced Oh Fu k). I think that might make a good t-shirt logo. I live in a 1907 Craftsman in OKC, OK. Old OKC is going through a bit of an old home rehab phase. Thank goodness they’re not just bull dozing them down. I think you might be able to recruit some members here.

    ps. I bought one of your IR paint strippers for a rehab project. I have a main front door that someone erroneously thought needed paint 50 years ago. Hope I don’t screw it up.

  11. Was on board until the political reference. Staying on principles and facts make sense to me, but demonizing people is really distracting from the bigger picture.

    I’m with you, people can make any plethora of choices and succeed in the same goals in different ways. It’s clear the other author was going for inflammatory click bait, as we can see that his article isn’t effectively winning any fans on his perspective by putting down old house restorers as fetishists.

    Can I ask what is your goal with this article? Is it just to vent frustration? Are you trying to state that people have a choice in how they choose to live, and both ways are valuable? I totally hear you on the first option, but if it’s the latter it gets lost until the last paragraph (and then undone again on the last sentence).

    I’d really like to hear what your ultimate goal is with this article. If you need a space to vent, I fully respect that. It would just be helpful to get some clarity on what you’re trying to accomplish here.

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