By Kari Richardson, Special to the Tribune
October 25, 2013
From the blue porch ceiling to the missing 13th floor, home can be a superstitious place.
When builder George Dakis has a spec home to sell, one thing is always certain: There'll be yellow flowers outside. For years, Dakis, president of Lake Forest-based Fieldcrest Builders, has been decorating the exterior of his for-sale homes with plants in sunshine hues.
His mother started the practice years ago, when she and his father ran the family-owned business. And while Dakis can't be sure the yellow flowers have been a factor in Fieldcrest Builders' success, he's not about to mess with good luck.
"I don't know if it really works or not, but our business is still around," he said.
From breaking ground to getting settled to readying for sale, home-related superstitions abound. On move-in day, for example, "The Old Farmer's Almanac" advises entering with a new broom and some salt. Never enter a new home with an old broom, the almanac advises.
Or perhaps it's a quick sale you're after. Bury an upside-down statue of St. Joseph in the yard, lore says, and the home will be snapped up soon.
James Farmer, a garden designer, interior designer and author who lives in Georgia, is not one to scoff at superstition. When a contractor paints a living room the wrong color, the full moon might be to blame, he said.
And he almost always paints porch ceilings "haint blue," a soft blue-green shade that old Southern lore says keeps ghosts away. But the interior designer acknowledges that this habit reflects reverence for tradition more than serious concern about spirits. He remembers observing the blue tint of his grandmother's porch ceilings as a child.
"You may do something because your mama did it, and her mama did it, and your great-grandmama did it," he said.
Unlucky numbers. Would you buy a condo on the 13th floor of a high rise? Broker Fran Bailey of Baird & Warner's Gold Coast office said she can't remember any clients who wanted to avoid the number. Still, she said some buildings skirt the issue by "skipping" the 13th floor and going straight to 14.
She keeps a list of Chicago residential high-rises without a 13th floor on her blog, chicagometroarearealestate.com.
Bailey has noted another interesting trend: A proliferation of Chicago residential buildings with just 12 floors. "It makes you wonder how many buildings are only 12 stories high because the developer didn't want to deal with a 13th floor," she said.
But 13 isn't the only number people want to avoid. Different cultures have different unlucky numbers, said Christy Whelan, director of sales for West Chicago-based custom homebuilder Airhart Construction. She occasionally deals with requests from customers to avoid an address with a perceived unlucky digit.
Good-luck charms. The desire to give buildings magical protection is ages old. David Pickering, author of the "Dictionary of Superstitions," said ancient people offered sacrifices to calm deities or spirits that might be bothered by building.
"Animals — dead or alive — were once buried in the foundation of new buildings," Pickering wrote. "That changed through the centuries, with the place of animals being taken by shoes or coins."
Modern homeowners, too, are eager to get off on the right foot in their new residences. When Steve Sobkowiak, co-owner of Oakley Home Builders of Downers Grove, built his own home, he had each of his children initial the footing of the home and press a penny in the cement for good luck.
Dakis' customers are also eager to bestow good luck on their new homes. Years ago, he had a client ask him to seal some good-luck charms into a new home's foundation. Now he makes the offer to all of his clients.
He estimates that about half of them take him up on it, presenting a sealed baggie full of coins or other charms as construction begins.
And Steve Carr, of Steve Carr Builders & Developers in Naperville, said he's had customers name their homes or include a motto on a carved block near the front door. One motto he remembers was "Dei Gratia," the Latin words for "Grace of God."
Pickering chalks up the many building-related superstitions to the fact that construction was once quite dangerous, with life-threatening accidents common. Fortunately, advancements have made the process safer through the years, but many of the superstitions remain.
Today's biggest danger might be an unsteady market for buying and selling.
"The housing market has been full of such bad luck," Carr joked. "It's as if someone broke a mirror a few years back."
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