Tuesday, May 16, 2006


As a hobby, it has a revolutionary ring.

“What are your hobbies?”

“I’m really into demolition.”

As stress reliever, there are few better ways to refocus the mind from grant-writing and job descriptions, budgets and the details of annual gatherings.

As instrument of history, the crowbar is a surgical tool, prying away layers of cheap building materials, dirt and accumulated crud to reveal the beautiful bones of old houses—instant gratification in which we indulge at our peril. Some of that admittedly substandard material provides insulation—important not to remove more on a sunny summer day than can be replaced by the time the snow flies.

Sometimes the payoff is a startling discovery. When I ripped up carpet from my living room, I found fourteen-inch maple boards. Not exactly pristine condition, but I far prefer their scarred and pitted warmth to cheap carpet and accumulated dog hair. This weekend, the carpet in one upstairs bedroom came up. While not as dramatic, the payoff was still sweet: a painted floor in reasonably good condition. A new coat of paint, and it will be much easier to sweep away the piles of ladybugs. (Can you have too many ladybugs? Oh, yes.)

One more bedroom and a hallway to go. It is such a pleasure to watch the house become mine, project by project. Every owner of an old house dreams, I suppose, of having the money to do it all at once, but I’m not sure we would make wise decisions if we had all that money to spend in a single swoop. And we wouldn’t have any demolition projects left to brighten rainy weekends.

The outright destructive steps—swinging hammer or crowbar—are relatively short, satisfying as they are. Demolition is a process of removing material layer by layer. It requires a fine touch, attention to detail, and always more hauling of debris than you imagined possible. It takes patience. It takes an eye to see where to stop. It takes listening for the house to tell you when you have peeled back to its essentials.

Demolition is more than a hobby, more than raw escape. Demolition is a metaphor.

1 comment:

Leslie Shelor said...

I've been remodeling an old house as I can afford it. For over ten years. I've loved every minute of it. Wonderful discoveries you're making, and demolition as an art is appealing!