What Makes a House Old?

Inn Above Ocean CreekWe’re spending a couple of nights out in rural Texas–the so-called Hill Country–at the Inn Above Onion Creek. It’s this charming country inn with about eight rooms on 100 acres of rolling country. I went for a really nice walk this morning with the very spry three-legged dog that lives here. Part of it passed through a deciduous forest, which is a rare site for a west coaster like myself.

The Inn itself is comprised of a couple of large buildings and some outlying cabins. To the uneducated eye, they look like they’ve been on the property for at least a hundred years. In fact, it’s fairly new, but uses a tremendous amount of reclaimed materials. The doors, floorboards, fixtures and furniture all appear to date back to the early part of the century or earlier.

Here’s an unflattering photo of our room. It doesn’t convey any of the space’s charms. I find it hard to take good, truthful photos of interior spaces–but you can see that it’s full of period detail:

Our Room at the Inn Above Onion Creek

I wouldn’t claim that it’s a heritage building, but the aesthetic does kind of beg the question ‘what makes a house old?’ How much of a house must be ‘original’ for us to, informally, declare it a heritage building?

I’m reminded of the building that houses the Victoria Art Gallery, which is an odd chimera of a 19th century mansion, a modernist expansion in the fifties and a renovation a few years ago. Is still an old house?


  1. I think a house is still old when there’s still something profoundly annoying about it (rooms too small, poor insulation, walls so thin you can hear right through them, wiring or plumbing crappy, etc.) that you have to live with. Once it’s been gutted to the frame and rebuilt to fully modern standards (or reconstructed from vintage materials, like where you’re staying), I don’t think it counts as old anymore.

    My dad was a young kid in Germany during World War II, and late in the war his family was evacuated to stay in a farming village in what later became East Germany. They stayed in a slightly renovated 500-year-old thatched-roof hayloft. When he and my mom returned for a visit over 50 years later, the loft was still there, not much different. Bullet holes from the war remained unpatched.

    That’s old.

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