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Elizabeth and Ethan Finkelstein launched the @cheapoldhouses Instagram account in 2016, delighting followers with the boundless possibilities of starting over with a fresh—albeit dusty—slate. Even if you don’t dream of rescuing a fixer-upper, the notion is endlessly enchanting and story-rich, which is why “Cheap Old Houses” is yet another successful HGTV series. For those of us who’d rather read than stream or scroll, enter its book form: Cheap Old Houses: An Unconventional Guide to Loving and Restoring a Forgotten Home, in which architecturally sound buildings priced beneath $150K are restored to livability. The Finkelsteins note that the buyers have “discovered astonishing purpose by devoting attention to a home that needs love,” a path to fulfillment I can totally get behind, despite my total lack of carpentry skills. There are how-tos sprinkled within (“Painted Woodwork: To Strip or Not to Strip?”) but the focus is on the amazing stories and images of a wide range of old buildings—from mansions to farmhouses to cabins, and even a hydropower station—and the people who gave them new life. The details and features that have survived in highly dilapidated structures are awe-inspiring but also educational: If you’ve wondered just what plaster-and-lath is, now you’ll know.

Cheap Old Houses takes the titular Instagram account and HGTV show to the page, showcasing former fixer-uppers transformed into enchanting, livable homes.
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HGTV’s “Home Town” creator Erin Napier’s Heirloom Rooms: Soulful Stories of Home, in which she tells stories of her own home renovations alongside anecdotes and home images from a bevy of friends. The book proceeds room by room, from front porch to back porch, with refreshingly unstaged shots of interiors, like an image of vintage cabinetry in which stacks of La Croix boxes are visible in a mirror. (Don’t get me wrong, though; there’s no shortage of enviable interiors that seem, well, at least a little bit staged.) In total, the book prompts readers to reflect on how memories and emotions are embedded in every nook of our domestic spaces. Napier wants us to think of our homes as living, breathing documents of our lives, and to treasure them as such, which is always a good idea.

In Heirloom Rooms, interior designer Erin Napier encourages us to think of our homes as living, breathing documents of our lives.
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Put the kettle on, wrap yourself in a blanket and peep interior designer Nina Freudenberger’s Mountain House: Studies in Elevated Design, where a 17th-century farmhouse in a Swiss valley rubs shoulders with a cozy cabin in California’s San Gabriel mountains; where a granite-and-concrete home tucked into a Portuguese hillside nestles up against a tiny, townhouse-like cabin in the Catskills of upstate New York; where snowy scenes of an Alpine chalet meet the verdant surroundings of Sonoma County. The structures here, found in 12 countries, are wildly different (though many are on the small side and evidence smart uses of space). What they hold in common is a visible sense of retreat; all seem to be in conversation with their surrounding landscapes. I don’t think there’s a spread within that doesn’t make me tremble a bit with sheer want. But to imagine occupying these spaces leads us to challenge ourselves to rise above such human impulses. After all, mountains “remind us of how small we really are, which makes them practically divine,” writes Freudenberger.

Nina Freudenberger’s Mountain House illustrates sumptuous interior designs that may make you tremble with sheer want.

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