Life Needs a Pinch of the Past

By L. Noreen Parker

There are definite similarities between the projects that we choose to undertake and the path of our lives. We dream and plan and inevitably totally unconnected items and events converge and move in unexpected directions causing inexplicable events to occur.
Now, I have always been flexible, described as a problem solver, and content with the fact that not only is change to be expected but is welcomed and refreshing. Having been involved with Restoration, Reclamation, and Repurposing Architectural components and salvaged materials for use in construction projects for 25 years; that flexibility has been a necessity and asset for success and sanity.
The old buildings and materials can tell so much about history, purpose, and condition if you know how and where to look. You can take that information and incorporate the important elements into the project as it satisfies its new purpose, your personality, intent, and function.
I’ve never been real trendy, usually by the time I begin seeing an idea and material used everywhere; it has grown tiresome and redundant and I’ve already moved on to other visions. I have enjoyed “my very personal choices,” as my real estate friend somewhat disapprovingly describes it. But in thinking creatively, I believe that any undertaking should be as unique as the individuals that it serves. It should be tailored to their needs and visions and suited for the function that they intend. You don’t want to live someone else’s dream or life; so you don’t want to have their project result either. Not having enough creative definition isn’t just clean and simple, it’s just bland and without an interesting personality.

There are three types of minds:
  1. Those that are filled with vision, imagination, and discovery and the ability to translate that into a creative process and a successful end result.
  2. Those that don’t necessarily have the creative vision abilities, but they understand the creative process, appreciate it, are supportive and get excited over and use the work.
  3. Those that don’t understand or see it at all, and can’t comprehend its purpose. Of course, I have no explanation or comprehension of that one!

I tend to look at Restoration and Repurposing projects and Reclaimed materials in these terms. What are the real standout features of the structure, craftsmanship, and materials that can be enhanced and detailed to make the new use and purpose successful and artful? What are the features and materials that may not be able to be used as they exist currently, but can be repurposed and will be assets to the project in another form or use? Then what are the remaining components and materials that have no use for the project at hand, but are worthwhile to reclaim and recycle for others to use in their projects? If we are mindful of these functions, not only do we recycle and repurpose quality Historic structures, we save our American Craftsmanship and Building Heritage, our projects cost less, use less, leave a smaller footprint on the environment and have a real visual interest that succeeds, is meaningful, and endures.
I can’t begin to describe how many times I’ve been involved with a project and in the demolition phase we uncovered structural elements, such as structural arches in old brick walls, posts or steel beams that were hidden and totally unexpected. Those can be serious upsets to the architectural design but they can also be great visual assets. Once you recover from the initial shock, be flexible, and rethink the design and space plans to accommodate the new discovery. For example, one time we flew to a city for a dream vacation only to learn that a recent earthquake had quite literally, torn apart our plans. The end result of that vacation and life’s little twist was that we found another spot and that trip still ranks very high among one of the best getaways of all time, in my memory.
Life throws things at us; we regroup, and carry on.


L. Noreen Parker began working in restoration design in the late 1980s on such projects as design of the original CNN offices and studios and restoration of the Chattanooga Choo Choo train station hotel, restaurants, and conference center; she has been featured on HGTV, This Olde House, Old House Journal, Antiques Roadshow, CNN, and the
New York Times.

Leave a Reply