unexpected renovation treat: a note from the past


I absolutely adore this story I just read in the newsletter of a local Seattle salvage company, Second Use. When the salvage team removed a lintel, they found a note dated 1973 and addressed to “Future Man” from Jack Barbour, the man who originally worked on the space. The website doesn’t share the whole story, which is that Jack was a first-generation American from Belgium who passed away 20 years ago. Before moving west, my husband and I did a major home remodel, and we did in fact leave notes (in our case, written on the boards that were later covered by drywall) detailing how we literally put sweat, tears and blood into the project — a board fell on my husband’s head mid-construction that required stitches! I love the idea that in 20 years’ time, someone might uncover our hello. If you renovate, do you leave notes for your own “Future Man”? — Mary T.

From our partners

You reminded me just in time to leave a note on the basement floor before our carpet is installed. I just ran down and scribbling how we’re about to become a family of 4. Thanks!

While finishing our basement, we found some old newspapers from the ’30s being used to stop drafty cracks (pics here: http://swedishfig.typepad.com/a_fig_in_sweden/2011/05/this-old-kit-house.html).

Our contractor put them back into the ceiling along with a current Portland paper. I think this way of connecting with future homeowners is so cool.


I love both stories (post and and Ginny’s) I hope I remember to do this.

That’s awesome! I try and leave notes inside of characters I make. They’ll most likely never, ever, be seen, but in the unlikely event someone should break a clay character I made it won’t be a completely horrible moment when they see the surprise inside. :D

Mary T.

Ginny, I love that. We actually found some notes on our current basement steps when we ripped out the carpet, but it wasn’t that exciting; it was just the dates that the carpeting had been put in. I love finding little treats. When we redid our old kitchen, we found newspapers from the 1960s. And a mummified squirrel. That’s another story…

Katie D.

Anybody ever read Chuck Palahniuk’s ‘Diary’? Finding notes in sealed up rooms was one of the major plot devices. It’s a great, twisted read! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diary_(novel)


Great article!!

If you want to leave notes for the not so far off future I recommend this link: http://makeprojects.com/Project/Light-Switch-Time-Capsule/445/1
Summary: Notes on the backs of lightswitch plates.

I also remember some rental houses in college having the names of residents, by year, written on the inside of a kitchen cabinet door.

As a remodeling contractor I rarely uncover notes or stashed items. I have discovered newspapers used for insulation which is always interesting. Furthermore, I did find a name and date under some wall paper once. What I uncover most commonly is lumber yard markings on the back side of boards. I’ve taken to collecting the ones I find. Most recently I found that the lumber in a garage was originally a shipping container for an GI’s belongings returning from Germany.

My wife and I did stash a cache of items in the wall of our bathroom when we gutted it. We included an invitation to our wedding (which was about 2 months prior) and a copy of the day’s newspaper. Figured it might be fun to leave that behind.


When I was a young teenager in the 1970s I had a room with a closet under a set of stairs. The closet was deep and I would sit in there and read with a flashlight. I wrote the names of my boyfriends on the walls. Some in hearts done in nailpolish. I married and moved out and the house was sold in 1983 and sometime after that I visited the neighborhood and met the new owner who knew all about my teenaged romances. She said she never could paint over my love notes.

Mary T.

These stories remind me also of a stay I had at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Stanley_Hotel) The Stanley is known for inspiring The Shining, but the coolest thing we found was one night when a linen storage closet was left open — the entire closet appeared to have once been a break room and it was signed by the summer staff for years and years, going back to the 1960s (including a few people who “hated it here,” ha). The best was, Donny and Marie stayed there in the ’70s and they signed it, too! The Stanley should really put that room on display.

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Not quite the same, but when my church was being constructed, members of the congregation wrote their favorite Bible verses on the concrete pad foundation which was later covered with carpet. This way, we would always be standing on the Word of God. It would be interesting to see the look on a future contractor’s face when they go to replace the carpet.


The only thing I found in my walls after a recent renovation were two empty cans of Schlitz beer dated 1973. One was a large can labeled “Tall Boy” and the other was a regular size. Talk about a cool find! Those cans were made tougher than spray paint cans are today…

My wife and I grew up living in the city. In our early 30’s we moved to an old farmhouse with our 3 young children. The farmhouse dates back to 1860 when we reseplaceed the deed. We had to do some renovations to the house and while we only found many layers of wallpaper, we decided to leave behind our own time capsule in the wall. Using a military-type metal ammo container, I enclosed a newspaper, handwritten notes and a cassette tape recording of each family member to whoever finds it. I have always wondered if the person who finds it will try to locate us. It has been nearly 25 years since I placed it in the wall. I hope it is found many years from now. I’ve also written a lot on the floors before it was carpeted or messages tacked within walls before drywall was installed. A nice surprise for the lucky finder.

When my parents stripped the wallpaper after moving into a new house, they found a previous owner had written ‘stop f***ing staring’ on the wall in massive letters, presumably to the neighbours across the way.

We tore down the “old house” on my grandmother’s property in the late 90s. There was tons of stuff in it as it had been used as a glorified storage shed for at least 30 years before that (I say that because it was already full of stuff by the time I was five and I was in my late 20s when we tore it down). So, there was all sorts of family stuff that we found, but what was really funny. Just hilarious? When we ripped up the floor? We found liquor bottles. Not one or two, dozens of them.

My grandmother was a strict, strict Southern Baptist. No alcohol in her house. But she lived in a house for at least 20 years, or so, that had nothing but alcohol bottles under the floor.


I did a kitchen renovation in 1997, the year both Princess Diana and Mother Theresa died. I put articles about both deaths in the wall before it was closed up.
When my husband and I bought our first home we hired a guy to remove wallpaper in the living room. The removal exposed a giant swastika on the wall.I turned to my (Jewish) husband and said “welcome to the neighborhood”).

Whenever I do a reno, I’ve left a mark somewhere. If its someone else’s home, I simply write my name a stud somewhere. For the few homes that I have own, I leave in a newspaper wrapped in a plastic bag. In our current house, when I finished the basement I placed magazines hidden behind the custom door and window moldings. There were spacings in behind large enough to roll up a few TIME magazines and even a National Geographic. Hopefully my work will be nice enough to last many years before it is torn out and remodeled. :)


Two years ago a leak in my kitchen resulted in damage to the ceiling in my finished basement. When I removed the drywall I noticed something written on one of the floor joists. I grabbed a flashlight and observed “F$%K you Dan” written on the board. Being that by name is Dan, I obviously took this personally! I am the third owner of the house, but the basement was finished by the first owner several years before I bought it. Very scary / ironic to say the least. Not wanting to keep the bad karma in the house, I scratched the message off and replaced it with “I Love You Dan” before replacing the ceiling.

Laurie in Georgia

When we moved out of state from the first house we ever owned and restored, my husband crawled deep in the crawl space and attached to a floor joist a plaque we had made at an office supply store. It said, “The McDaniels Loved This House, 2002-2008.” We were sad to leave, and it was comforting to know we had left a little of ourselves behind.


About a year after we moved into our present house we realized the insulation was inadequate. Husband went into the attic and found it stuffed with old newspapers from 1946! We saved what we could and it was a real eye opener. I don’t want to even type what was considered proper journalism then. Any minority was described in very unflattering ways and in HUGE LETTERS on the front page. Granted it was WWII, but still reading them in this day and age was a quite strange.

Love these stories. We remodeled our kitchen in 2003 and in the little pocket behind the lazy susan we dropped a note back there. We told them when we remodeled, how much it cost and listed the prices of things like gas, groceries for a week, new cars, etc. Let them know we were the original owners of the house and our first night in the house was our wedding night. We told them it stinks they didn’t like our kitchen but understand the need to make it their own. ;-)


I thought I should add a story I read in a newspaper here in Norway.

One of our oldest hotels recently renovated a building and found the typical greeting inside the wall along with a nice bottle of liquor. Remember, this is a family owned and operated hotel so the letter was written by their long gone relatives! It included details on who, when and what.

Now, finding a greeting like that is not uncommon, what happened next is more interesting. When the present day owners finished their own renovations in 2010 they decided to return the favor and included not just one bottle but at least one in each room! Of course they wrote their own letter describing who they were, what they renovated, how much it cost, the typical price of everyday items and such. I’m sure their descendants will appreciate both the letter and the gifts hidden in the walls!

My apologies for any inaccuracies, I only read it in the newspaper a few weeks ago. I believe it was the Walaker Hotel in Sogn, Norway.

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