Like its subject, ‘The Barn House’ worth the effort

  How much did I want to read “The Barn House” by Ed Zotti? Well, let’s put it this way: The book was sitting near the pool when one of our sudden wind gusts came up and there it went — all 370-plus pages — right into the drink. I didn’t have much hope, especially since it was a paperback, but fished it out and let it dry for about a week.
  I hadn’t actually sought out “The Barn House,” picking up a review copy at the office. What had caught my eye was the subhead: “Confessions of an Urban Rehabber.” My husband and I are hard-core home-reno types, and I thought it might be entertaining, maybe even instructional.
  Carefully — and not terribly optimistically — I started through the pages. They were wrinkled, some even shriveled. They were stuck together, and wavy, but somehow the binding held. I figured I’d get as far as I could, but Zotti had me peeling and smoothing and straightening all the way through.
  The subject house was a late-Victorian three-story rambler in urban Chicago. When Zotti found it, it was a mess. Every rehabber thinks everyone who went before him or her was an idiot — Zotti admits to this — but in this case it appears it was true. An ill-conceived alteration of the roofline in the ’30s gave the once-elegant facade a boxy look, and in the ’40s it had been subdivided into apartments, with plenty of sawing and painting of the original wood along the way.
  Zotti, whose interest in rehabbing had begun as a child working on his parents’ home, had a mammoth ordeal facing him, and it didn’t help that he’s a self-proclaimed member of the Brotherhood of the Right Way. He wears the label proudly but the reader can see that it may have been the source of some of the travails he faced while rehabbing the Barn House. It’s hard to believe, for example, that there wasn’t a competent HVAC contractor in the entire Chicago metro area, which is why Zotti had to teach himself to restore and improve the ancient radiator system.
  Aside from rehabbers, though, “The Barn House” should appeal to anyone who has an interest in urban history or the salvation of American cities. Zotti has a few strong opinions on those topics as well, and sees himself and his ilk as no less pioneers than those who settled the cities originally. He doesn’t view the city through a rosy haze, but feels strongly that the widespread blight, increased crime and other problems inherent to about-to-be-renewed urban areas are worth the effort.
  As, in the end, was “The Barn House.” 

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