Some homes are

Some homes are


In her job as a real estate agent at William Pitt Sotheby’s in Darien, Connecticut, US, Ellen Kelley sees a lot of homes. So many, in fact, that they tend to blur together. But several years ago, she visited one she can’t seem to forget. “I almost expected Donna Reed to come to the door,” Kelley said, recalling the colonial-style house. “It was a classic 1940s. The appliances were still intact, it was meticulously maintained, everything was ... frozen.”

In other words, a time capsule — one of those homes that have gone untouched for decades and given visitors the sensation of being in a decor-warp. In the wake of the last decade’s renovation boom, when home equity lines were easy to obtain, such homes have become increasingly rare. But some homeowners have managed to resist the urge to replace the yellow Formica counters or even buy a new couch.
Why a home remains stuck in the past is unclear. In some cases, the owners may have lacked the money or the desire to update; in others, they may have found a style they liked and seen no reason to change. Or a home may have become a memorial — albeit an unconscious one — to an earlier period in their lives.
“Lots of people become frozen to a time in their past,” said Gail Thoen, a psychologist who has done research on aging. The breakup of a marriage or the death of a spouse are two of the most common reasons people hang on to a particular time, she said, which is sometimes reflected in their environment.
A secure base
Leon Hoffman, a psychoanalyst, said a house can provide a ‘secure base’ — a bulwark against change. “Some people are more stuck in their ways,” Hoffman explained. “There’s a bit of anxiety about what the new stuff brings.”

Identifying exactly when a home became stuck is easier. “Pink-tile bathrooms, Dishmaster faucets, colours like aquamarine and sunbeam yellow — all very 1950s,” said Pam Kueber, who runs retrorenovation.com, a website devoted to midcentury design. Shag carpet and avocado appliances indicate the ’70s. Lava rock and ultrasuede? As ’80s as a Rubik’s Cube.

Kueber posts midcentury time capsules on her site, with photos provided by readers, often taken from real estate listings. In many cases, she said, the homes were occupied by elderly couples who were immensely proud of them. “I think the owners of these homes were tremendously invested in them emotionally, as well as financially,” she said. “They came from an era where a house was very hard won.”

Ray Schuldenfrei, a veteran real estate agent in Los Angeles who used to see preserved midcentury homes so often he became an expert on mosaic tile motifs of the 1950s (cactus was popular), said he thinks “we’re right at the cusp” of a decor extinction, as the World War II generation leaves many of these older homes, through downsizing or death. “With rare exceptions, unless the house is a classic, new owners usually gut and change,” he said.

At least they did until recently. With credit tight and mortgage-strapped Americans bunkering down, there may be a new generation of time capsules in the making, with garage-size family rooms and stainless steel appliances the early 21st-century equivalents of the conversation pit and the avocado refrigerator.

Meanwhile, there are still more than a few 20th-century time capsules around. Each of the following homes reflects a particular decade and aesthetic, from the 1950s to the 1980s, some of them once on the cutting edge of design. Why didn’t their owners keep up with the trends? The reasons are as varied as the spaces.

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