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The Lovely Bones

Sometimes a wreck can be as compelling as a well-kept beauty.

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Photograph by Christoph Morlinghaus

It seems impossible now, but there was a point when houses like these were undesirable. Crisp-and-new was the postwar mantra; “Victorian” meant “funereal,” the stuff of Charles Addams cartoons, and “industrial” was absent from the housing vocabulary. Well, things have changed just a bit, and for a lot of buyers, “estate condition” is almost the holy grail. (So much so, in fact, that it’s often no bargain: The renovation cost can nearly equal the markdown.) You get to impose your own will on a space without sacrificing an old house’s handmade character and lived-in aura. You will most likely end up, budget and space permitting, with a pretty great kitchen. Most of all, you get stories, because at least one previous owner often turns out to have been odder or more interesting than you’d expect—a rum-runner or a pencil mogul, say. Best of all, of course, is the story you’ll build there. After all, there are few greater pleasures than saying to your dinner guests, “You should’ve seen this when we moved in! It was a disaster!


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