Yesterday I went on an inspection of The House with a good friend of mine, who is also an architect and home builder. I have also been in the construction field for 10 years and have an academic background in architecture, but my experience is mostly in large industrial buildings so I wanted someone with more experience with this type of building to give me an objective view.
Let’s just say it’s not exactly Move-in-ready. I’ll start with the good and then move on to the the bad.
1. It has good bones. The house was built at the turn of the 20th century by a famous (in the day) carpenter. All of the main posts and beams appear to be in excellent condition. I just have to clean the cobwebs and chase the giant spiders out.
2. Nice Finish Carpentry. This house was very well built in its day, with built-in tansu, Shoin (“study places”), tokonoma of various sizes and styles, and elaborately carved transom (ranma). All still in good condition. Unfortunately, I was focused on photographing the parts I would need to fix (the bad) so I didn’t get any pictures of all these nice little details.
3.Plenty of Space. The house measures roughly 40 mats, not including formal Genkan (3 mats), and Kitchen/Douma of 14 mats. That also does not include the bath house, closets, tokonoma, or Engawa (verandah). The 40 mats are divided into a 4.5 mat room two 6-mat rooms, a 7 mat room and two 8-mat rooms. The 7-mat room is the Shoku-no-ma (“dining room”), and one of the 8 mat rooms is a shoin style Zashiki with a place for an altar, where any guest would likely stay. It has plenty of space for us, but it doesn’t have a layout conducive to the “one room per child” sort of use that has become standard in the US. The kids will have to bunk together.
4. Irori. I love irori. This little square fire pit definitely goes in the bonus category. The Irori is located just off the kitchen in the back part of the house (with the poorest light) so I have to figure out how to make it seem more inviting and less like a cave.
Now for the bad…
…and since we’re in the Shoku-no-ma with the irori, we’ll start there.
5. Attack of the Shiro-Ari. Termites. Luckily the whole house is not infested. There is a leak in the roof that obviously soaked some tatami, probably caused some dry-rot below and the rest is history. About 4m² (or two mats, or 40SF) of floor structure from the threshold at the kitchen into the dinning area will have to be completely rebuilt. Overall not the end of the world certainly, but this room will be a lot of work.
6. The Roof Needs Help. The roof is somewhere between 90 and 110 years old. and is made of clay tiles. Remarkably it is still in pretty sound condition overall, but in some places, were plants have decided to take root, or where a tile has cracked, especially around the eaves (where in some places the wood rotted and the tiles fell through!). The roof repair will be my first priority. I can’t afford to replace it, so I will have to do my best to repair it and keep it maintained.
Luckily I know a guy who installs ceramic tile roofs! The problem is that the tiles are so old that they don’t make ones that will match these days, so I need a good source of matching tile, not to mention other materials…
7. The Barn/Gate has to go. “Oh my,” says my friend. “This thing is dangerous. You gotta tear it down.” So the Barn/Gate is beyond repair. The roof is falling apart, the timbers are insect eaten and in many places rotted out and braced by make-shift shoring. I have to agree with his assessment. Fortunately, careful demolition of this structure should provide plenty of usable material, including plenty of matching clay tiles.
8. Kitchen, Toilet, Bath. Not much to say here. All will need complete and total make-overs, and I always knew that. The Bath is separate from the house. I am thinking I will connect it (to the kitchen) and enclose the walk to it, also creating a little space for a sink and vanity, as well as a stack-able washer/dryer.
The toilet is completely trashed and is the “hole in the ground type” anyway, so I’m gonna repair the area (door, exterior walls, windows) and fill in the pit, and install a composting toilet.
The Kitchen is a mess. A very bad attempt to modernize what was certainly once a pretty standard “Douma” style kitchen. I am going to tear all that out and bring back the douma (earthen floor) and then add in a tasteful mix of antique and new appliances.
9. Tatami are shot. Somewhat to be expected, but I will have around 40 mats to replace… Ack. Actually though it won’t cost as much as I thought. It is somewhat comparable to the cost of replacing carpet in the US, and besides, I will probably end up doing a couple of rooms with wood flooring if I can round up appropriate materials. At least I want to do the Shoku-no-ma in wood.
10. Out with the old. The previous inhabitants left the house full of everything from dishes, and foodstuffs, to futons, a bed, dressers, boxes of who-knows-what, even old, family photos and memorabilia as well as the family altar remain… Yikes. I am assuming that whoever lived here passed away and the inheritor just never cleaned the place out (various of my family members are asking around to find out the exact story on the place). But because of the condition it is giving my wife the Hee-bee-jee-bee’s. So we are calling the professional services of a Buddhist priest to take a look. Anyone have any advice on that one?