The Ship of Theseus originated when Plutarch, a Greek biographer and essayist, posed the question in Life of Theseus from the late first century, whether a ship that had been restored by replacing every single wooden part remained the same ship. The same has been said of George Washington’s axe. If the handle has been replaced twice and the head once, is it still George Washington’s axe? The answer we want to give is yes, but what if it was replaced with a fiberglass handle?
The question of the axe is often asked in the community of car restorers or customizers. A car will be put on a new chassis with a new engine and drivetrain, new interior, sheet metal modifications to the body and voila, a new old car. Some of these creations look nothing like the original, some are just as they came off the showroom floor if not a little better and others look mostly original but with the ability to safely travel well above the posted speed limit. We do not have these sorts of craftsmen in the area of residential restoration, we have house flippers.
A house flipper would put a fiberglass handle on George Washington’s axe if they thought they could make a quick buck. Then they’d paint it gray or beige. They shop at the big box home center and buy whatever they feel is the best value and mix it all together and call it renovated. It all happens fast to avoid any additional interest payment and get cash flow back into the bank. Any house over 75 years old that has been touched by a big box shopping house flipper will need to have those changes undone. We may do things a little differently than we did 75 years ago but that doesn’t mean we aren’t capable of doing what they did 75 years ago. With the tools and equipment we have, we should be able to match quality quickly and efficiently. It’s a shame we choose not to.