Of all the ways an old building can be repurposed, the worst is for it to sit empty or be torn down. What a waste. At least let it be a refuge, where weary travelers with sticks over their shoulders may warm their hands by the fire on their way from here to there. That is my romantic vision.
The truth is, what happens inside abandoned houses makes most people shudder. That is why they want them bulldozed to the ground. In the wake of urban renewal planning pervading neighborhoods worldwide with its mission of salvation, some pretty interesting things have been done with old houses, buildings, and structures. The following are just a few of the things you can do with a structure when you let your imagination run wild:
Live in It
Ok, so this idea isn’t exactly off the beaten path. Updating an old house with modern amenities and a contemporary open floor plan has been done and done again, with amazing results. Whether your house lechery tends toward a Victorian mansion or a New England Shingle style house, a few essential updates will make a huge difference in coaxing your home into the modern age.
Remember the old white fridge and white range with metal coil burners that are ridiculous to clean? Invest in stainless steel or black and a stove with cooktop elements. Rip out the weird laminate countertops and replace them with wood, stone, metal, tile, or a tasteful contemporary laminate. As long as the structure, plumbing, and electrical is solid, there isn’t too much else to worry about except what suits your personal style. Even the antique clawfoot tub is en vogue.
And, why limit yourself to houses? A lot of luxury living spaces have been constructed from storage containers, factories, lighthouses, even water towers.
Student Housing and Apartments
The Shelton-McMurphey-Johnson House has been a landmark in Eugene, Oregon, for more than a century. After surviving two fires and a series of renovations, this 1888 Victorian house was repurposed first as apartments and then as student housing.
Dormant factories, schools, post offices, and a plethora of other abandoned buildings have been successfully transformed into modern lofts and purposeful housing. Imagine an old building recycled into a rec center or women’s shelter!
Turn It into a Restaurant
Realize your dreams of restaurant ownership by repurposing an old building. Many fine dining establishments reside in old buildings. Some restaurant entrepreneurs gut the building to create something completely new and chic; others use the original architectural details as a catalyst for design. Remnants of the old business can be incorporated into the decor, whether vintage signs, railroad crossing signals, or farm implements. Check out this dairy farm-cum-tavern in Bristol, UK.
The “Willy Wicket” pub and restaurant, Wick Wick, South Gloucestershire
Reinvent as a Hotel
Restoring an old hotel to its original grandeur is the most obvious choice for nostalgic hotel owners. Setting up a bed-and-breakfast in a historic house is another popular pasttime for history-lovers. Other brave investors, hoping to attract an equally adventurous clientelle, make hotels out of old buildings that were originally something very different.
Take The Dean hotel in Providence, Rhode Island. The structure was built in 1912 as an Episcopal mission. It has been reborn as an exquisite boutique hotel featuring a restaurant, karaoke lounge, cocktail den, and coffee shop. The owners chose to keep the original floors and elevator, and vintage decor from around the world makes an appearance.
Bring History to Life with a Museum
From the Mark Twain (aka Samuel Clemons) House in Hartford, Connecticut, to Ernest Hemingway’s tropical sanctuary deep in the Florida Keys, old house museums attract thousands of visitors who want to see where famous people lived and worked. Many of these museums offers tours, events, and hands-on activities for children. The Dolly Kindle house in Ketchikan, Alaska, is more of a hands-off for children. The former brothel on historic Creek Street is furnished with original memoriabilia and mementoes from its glory days.
Some museums have no connection to the past of the building. The charming Edinburgh Writers’ Museum is a tribute to Scottish writers Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson. Built in 1622 by Edinburgh merchant Sir William Gray, the building later housed the Countess of Stair. It was bought and renovated by the 5th Earl of Rosbery in 1895, then gifted to the City of Edinburgh in 1907 for use as a museum.
Open a Shop
There is no sweeter treat than browsing merchandise in a historic house or building. An old building or house adds flavor to antique stores, ice cream parlors, clothing boutiques… just about anything you can sell seems better in a historic building.
Service providers are always more interesting in a historic setting, too. Think real estate office, beauty parlor, tax service, mortuary … the list goes on.
Make a Movie
Whether you have ties to Hollywood or you’re just an amateur on the loose with a camera, abandoned buildings provide the ideal backdrop for your feature film slash indie production. Horror movies, in particular, have been filmed in such desolate locations as abandoned mental hospitals, amusement parks, disaster areas, and sanitoriums.
So instead of voting to condemn that old house or building on the corner, make suggestions on how it can be used. Maybe even buy it yourself! As long as the foundation is good, everything else can be worked out.