Celebrate the existing.
In urban hot spots such as Hackney, Brooklyn or Berlin, wholesale building repair is avoided as a stylistic choice. To people not resident in these design-pioneering neighbourhoods, the thought of maintaining dilapidation seems bizarre. However, the style created by doing this is one with an important message for those who are renovating on a budget, and the message is, celebrate the existing.
For example, if your wall is knobbly, highlight it. If it was built using a collection of different bricks and concrete blocks and laid by a series of brickies of varying ability, lucky you, you own an artwork.
To develop a liking for this style requires a sensibility shift. If you are interested in acquiring this I suggest throwing yourself in at the deep end as exposure to the extreme examples of the style may initially move your perceptions only slightly. Start by looking at ‘ruin-porn’ (yes, there is a photographic genre with this name). Look in detail at the exquisite photographs of decaying Detroit by Marchand and Meffre. Over time and with regular exposure to images such as this you will begin to embrace imperfection. Then, when you find yourself pausing to savour peeling paint or coveting irregularly placed air bubbles in poured concrete, your attitude to house renovation will be one where deteriorating plaster-mouldings or patchwork brickwork won’t be things you want to remove.
Bad doesn’t mean good.
It is important to note that to make the best of previously unwanted elements within your building requires good quality design advice. An assumption that what appears to be badly built is aesthetically good, is wrong. Thought and editing over what to keep is critical. A well-designed scheme will work holistically for the building while bringing out the best in its constituent parts. Juxtaposing the dilapidated with the new can create details that enhance both. Moments such as a particularly sharp line of new plaster next to an uneven wall, or a machined metal frame against a damaged concrete column will bring delight.
Make sure your builder is fully briefed on what they may find to be an alien concept. To many, their primary function is to eliminate entropy, to remove all traces of the patina of age. The thought of protecting faded paintwork or unfashionable glazing from potential damage during building works will appear to many to be comical at best and insane at worst. Make sure you are insistent on what you want and don’t be persuaded that you are wrong.
When your project is complete you will have the pleasure of being able to read your building’s history like a book. A historically in-filled doorway, a revealed arch, or a panel of faded Victorian wallpaper will illustrate the evolution of your building. This is done by eliminating refurbishment costs that would have once been considered necessary; and with the result of a more personalised space.
In Japan they call it Wabi-Sabi, in East London they call it hipster, but whatever it is, it will save you money.
Roger Crimlis 2017.