Tell me a story ...

Old House Journal - - From The Editor -

Mar­keters and min­is­ters know this: If you want your au­di­ence en­gaged and your point well made, if you hope they’ll re­mem­ber, then tell a story. Don’t lec­ture or preach. Tell a good story.

To those who look and lis­ten, houses tell sto­ries about their builders and oc­cu­pants. The old­est houses em­body more sto­ries. Then there are houses “right out of a sto­ry­book,” the ec­cen­tric ones widely known as Sto­ry­book Style houses, which spin a tale of Hol­ly­wood sets, Amer­i­can soldiers home from Europe, and me­dieval fan­tasies.

Not every­thing can be a fairy­tale, of course. A restora­tion ar­ti­cle, for ex­am­ple, must get down to busi­ness: this ma­te­rial, this tool, this process. Tell me how to build a stoop or porch steps, though, and I’ll tell you why. Be­cause when you sit on the stoop—a place be­tween the pri­vate house and the pub­lic street—you see that Mrs. Wil­son is back from Florida and the lit­tle boy across the street has a new puppy. Stoop-sit­ting is the so­cial com­mit­ment that binds a neigh­bor­hood.

Wood porches, it’s true, need a fair amount of up­keep. We need in­struc­tion on car­pen­try, epoxy, and paint­ing. But we do it all for the sto­ries. Years ago, in the coun­try, I lived in a house called Salam­ovka (above). It was a long-ne­glected house, man­aged re­luc­tantly by a park ser­vice, and in bad re­pair. I have rich mem­o­ries of those sum­mers spent mostly on the porch. Its roof leaked buck­ets, of course, and balus­ters were miss­ing by the run­ning foot, but there was so much porch it didn’t mat­ter. Fam­ily, kids, guests would sit to watch the weather gather in a val­ley over the river, shel­tered from vi­o­lent Au­gust thun­der­storms. The porch smelled of hon­ey­suckle. The side near the big farm­house kitchen was the place to haul sweet corn to shuck it while sit­ting on the sin­gle step, while the screen door slammed be­hind.

Later I bought a shin­gled house that had been built with a big front porch and a kitchen porch, but they were long gone. I put them back. Not be­cause it was cheap or easy, but be­cause I wanted the sto­ries.

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