Character Homes - There Have Always Been Little Boxes on the Hillside

Posted by KaraLee Foat on Thursday, January 4th, 2018 at 11:28am.

Before I was a REALTOR and saw thousands of homes, I really liked the theme song from Weeds. 

I thought it was like a poignant middle finger to the home building industry. A skeptic can say that our homes have become cookie cutter boxes covering a hillside, all filled with similar ticky-tacky from Ikea. But the song pre-supposes that there was a time when this wasn’t the case; when every home was a ‘character home.’ That’s just not true.

Countless times, when speaking to someone interested in buying a home, I’ve heard: ‘We want an older home. Something with character.’

What gives most old homes their ‘character’ are odd ‘maintenance’… um, ‘upgrades’… um, let’s go with ‘improvements’ - made by the amateur handyman living in it at the time. The basic design and layout of our homes in Calgary have always been cookie cutter.

At Heritage Park, in the Atlas Lumber Co., there’s a turn of the century Eaton’s catalog that you can flip through.

In the early 1900s, home buyers would pick the design of the house they wanted. Eaton’s would package the wood in Winnipeg and put it on the train. You’d pick it up at the store, along with the building instructions, and build your house. It was Ikea meets Amazon, on steroids.

I can barely put together an Ikea toddler bed. Could you imagine an entire house? And that house is worth a million dollars in hundred years. Mind. Blown.

Drive down 4th Street SW and turn west on any avenue from 21st-26th. The streets are lined with beautiful old homes all built between 1910-1920. They are in varying states of 'improvement'. Some beautifully renovated, some decrepit, some turned into multi-dwellings with numerous suites. One thing they have in common: they all look the same.

Let’s keep moving through time. Every Calgarian has been inside a bungalow built in the late 1950s to 1960s. They’re strewn throughout the city. The layouts are exactly the same. Seriously, stop right now and draw the floor plan of a bungalow. Front door in the middle opening into the living room on one side. Dining room in the back corner. Kitchen directly in the back with steps going to the back door and basement. Two bedrooms facing the street. Third bedroom in the other back corner. Bathroom between the kitchen and bedroom on the backside. Large open basement. There, I just described every bungalow from Braeside to Thorncliff.

Here are you two options for 50s-60s bungalows in Calgary. 


Or this:

The only thing that gives them character are the ‘improvements’ that have been made over the last 60-100 years. Do you know who made those ‘improvements’? No. Neither do I. Which means we also don’t know how qualified he/she was. Or what the building codes were at the time, if he/she followed them.

Go to a showhome these days, there will be 6-10 models of homes to choose from and an infinite number of upgrade possibilities. All of the options will be appealing because builders do significant research to create homes people will like and buy. 

There are some neighborhoods in Calgary where every house on the block looks different. Woodbine and Wildwood come to mind and a lot more. The ‘improvements’ made to them vary even more.

My point is - you have your own character, and it the result of your age. So let’s find you a home that fits with who you are. Whether aged and quirky, new and shiny, hardwood or linoleum, open concept or maze of walls, find the house where you can be the most you.


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