Photo: This Old House
Kevin O'Connor will be appearing at the 2014 Minneapolis Home + Garden Show at the Minneapolis Convention Center. See him at the Lifestyle Stage on Saturday, March 1, at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.
You went from banking to hosting a show about old homes. What, if anything, do banking and old homes have in common?
Lots of money! They both require it. When you embark on a home renovation, old or not, you should pretty much count on it costing more than you expect—and taking longer than you expect. Home renovations are big, complicated beasts. Inevitably, every single time, one thing leads to another. It’s just the way it goes.
You’ve probably uncovered some strange things when you’ve been renovating. Any treasures?
We renovated a house, early 1800s, maybe even late 1700s, and we found lots of artifacts in and around the site. Musket balls, breast plates from horses—and there was a cannon ball lodged into the side of the house. Clearly, it had been shot. That was pretty cool. No one can confirm, but we like to pretend that the Minutemen had a little experiment.
Speaking of “old”, cars from the 1980s are now considered collector’s items. Does that mean you’ll be doing Brady Bunch-style homes soon?
We’re not terrible sticklers but generally we adhere to the idea that 50 years or older means the home has the potential to be of historic interest. That takes you back to the mid-century-modern days and before. We’ve done a Bauhaus-style house from the 1950s. That being said, the vast majority of houses that we renovate are much older than that, usually 1800s.
Where do we draw the line between preserving a home in modern times and being too purist? I mean, it’s not like we’re going to forgo electricity.
Many of these historic homes, especially ones in the historic preservation mode, are culminations of years of changes. It’s rare that you find a building in its purest state. It’s all been touched. That gives you license, I believe, to continue the evolution. You can have vintage materials, but you can continue the home’s natural evolution.
Is there one preservation idea or rule that people should just throw out their leaded glass window?
If you were to put anyone into an average house from 150 years ago, they would find it terribly insufficient, and most apparent would be the scale. Rooms were smaller. Kitchens were tiny. Food prep was relegated to as far away from the public part of the house as possible. I don’t think there are many people out there that are such purists that they want a tiny little kitchen where they spend the vast majority of their time. In that sense, you change the scale. But it can still have all of the old vintage materials and looks.