In Praise of Old Houses #1

March 7, 2014 | Peter LaBau

I had a repairman at my place yesterday to look at my ailing dishwasher; the thing had completely shut down and was gushing water through the door seal. It seemed hard to believe that a three-year-old device could be failing already. The repairman’s analysis was that it was cheaper to replace the machine than to repair it, and “cheap” became the operative word of the morning. “Durable goods” like kitchen appliances are now so poorly made that the expectation is that they are essentially throwaway items that have a very short life span and will need to be replaced every few years. “Yeah, the older machines were better” the repairman said. “Even ten years ago the stuff was better, and machines older than that still give me something to work with. The materials were better, the guts were simpler, and they were made to run for decades rather than a few years”.  And what does all this remind me of? Yep. Houses.

The New Bungalow Kitchen

February 17, 2014 | Peter LaBau

My books are some of my most treasured possessions, and my architecture and design books serve as major sources of my design inspiration. I’m ever mindful of the old adage: “Originality is the art of concealing your sources”. That said, I’m going to be leaking out some of my favorite sources in the hopes that you’ll be as inspired by them as I am. For book #1, I’m starting with my own first book, as the shameless self-promoter that I am. Here it is, it’s titled “The New Bungalow Kitchen, published by The Taunton Press:

You can find this book at any good bookstore, or on line from here:

Or from Barnes and Noble on Line:


The Titanic String Band

February 17, 2014 | Peter LaBau

Titanic String Band Video

For a good number of years now I’ve been playing a type of banjo music referred to as “Classic Style”. I play other instruments, and other types of music, but this Classic Style stuff has been a source of great musical joy to me over the years. And I feel a certain responsibility to keep it alive- its hay day was roughly from about 1880 through the 1920’s, and as such it’s not as accessible as a lot of banjo stuff. I consider myself part of the living timeline of this style of playing; I have had the honor of playing it with some of the players who were active in the 1920’s, and they in turn had sat at the feet of those who came before them. I enjoy turning younger players and audiences alike on to it, so I feel like I’m a link in a so far unbroken chain.  I’m presenting a link below here to a video that I, along with my musical partner Mitch Nelin made a year ago (2013) in Lowell, MA with the assistance of the National Park Service. The video will give you a basic “lay of the land” and if you’re interested, I’ll be writing more about this music and the instruments used to create it. I hope you enjoy the video!


Virginia Ghost Town

February 17, 2014 | Peter LaBau

Mouth of Wilson, Grayson County, Virginia

Looking east along route 58, route 16 heads south to the right 

My first motorcycle trip down the Blue Ridge Parkway in 2004 planted the seed for my future move down to Charlottesville, VA a year later.  I had a series of revelations in the course of that first trip. Some involved profound human interactions I had, and some were based on various observations at a time when my eyes were wide open to this new part of the country. It’s funny how a new place will excite my senses, and equally saddening how that freshness wears off after becoming acclimated to it. On this first trip to Virginia I saw a quote from Marcel Proust on a coffee mug in a gift shop window in Lexington, VA: The only real voyage of discovery lies not in seeking new landscapes, but in developing new eyes with which to perceive them”. Proust had it right, as far as I can see, and I’m inspired ceaselessly to adhere to his maxim.


One of the more moving sights on this first ride through southwestern Virginia was a town named “Mouth of Wilson”, at the North Carolina border, at the junction of routes 58 and 16.  This town looks like many other timeworn places I’ve seen and photographed, but this one stands apart because it’s commercial center appeared to be completely abandoned. I’ve seen many towns in many parts of this country that had a period of prosperity reflected in the town’s architecture, but that progress had left behind. Once formidable buildings are slowly sinking into disrepair, some too far gone to realistically bring back for any current usage. Some of these places were on back roads where traffic had long ceased to flow. But this place, Mouth of Wilson, was right at the “T” intersection of two busy roads- route 58 that runs east west along the border of Virginia and North Carolina, and route 16 that runs south to North Carolina. This is still a rural area, but there was an intermittent flow of traffic on both roads while I spent an hour or so there.


Daryl Hall House Project

February 17, 2014 | Peter LaBau

Every once in a while I get a project that stands out as one of particular interest, and this house in western Connecticut is a good example. The house is owned by Daryl Hall, of Hall and Oates fame, and is undergoing a series of alterations including a new addition.  Built in 1787, the house has been added to several times over the years, and was given a more uniform exterior skin in the 1920’s that serves to tie together the various added parts. This project is a collaborative effort between Daryl, Connor Homes in Middlebury, VT, and contractor Steve Wilson. The process is being documented by the DIY network, and will air as a series of shows starting in the spring of 2014. As an expert on old houses I worked with Connor Homes to provide the architectural design for the addition and various interior elements in the existing house. Architect Jessie Chapman, who works with me on many of my projects, aided me in that effort.

Northeast Corner of Hall House, pre-construction

Northeast Corner of Hall House, foundation complete

Northeast Corner of Hall House, addition shell underway