Ask any old home devotee—if you’re in the market for something prewar, you better brace yourself for a long, drawn-out search. The older a home is, it seems, the more opportunity it has had to undergo any number of horrific changes. Original fixtures might be ripped out for charmless “modern” ones, hardwood floors might be covered in mysteriously stained wall-to-wall carpeting, large rooms might be subdivided and misshapen into Frankenstein-like additions. If you’re planning on renting, the litany of potential renovation crimes only grows larger. When interior designer Carmel Chisholm began her own search for a prewar apartment over 10 years ago, she found the pickings discouragingly slim. “When I was apartment-hunting,” she recalls, “I had a list of must-haves (old house, decent trim, hardwood floors) and dealbreakers (wall-to-wall carpeting, low ceilings, lack of sunlight). Finding all of these at a price that was affordable to my 20-something self was hard.” Rather serendipitously, Carmel’s realtor called with an unlisted rental that fit the bill. Although the realtor described the home as “totally decrepit” and Carmel remembers it looking “hella haunted,” the home’s old world charm, 6-foot windows, and marble fireplace were enough to woo her.
Located in the quiet town of Arlington, MA, the house’s locale has a rich history dating back to the Revolutionary War. During her first month in the new apartment, Carmel recalls waking up to the sound of muskets firing on Patriot’s Day, a magical moment that cemented her love for the place. Over the years, Carmel has weathered a number of disasters that plague old home dwellers: invasive animals, bad leaks, a mysterious plume of black smoke emanating from her fireplace during a particularly bad rainstorm. Still, despite the apartment’s shortcomings (or, if one feels generous, “character”), Carmel has turned the space into a home, one that has seen her through her twenties and into her thirties. “I remember one of my exes’ moms who owned an old house telling me that ‘no matter what people do to it over the years, no matter how awful of shape it is in, if you put in the work, you can always get an old house back,'” Carmel notes. “That has stuck with me. I am open to living in newer homes, and of course I am a fan of modernist architecture and such, but old houses just have this appeal that I cannot describe. They are stunners. And they are worth the work.” —Max