For as much as I am engaged everyday in making 'new' spaces, many of the places that most stick in my memory and that I am consistently attracted to are once quite nice or fancy places that have seen better days. It is not the historical architectural language or details, but rather the sense of time passing and maybe the sense of mortality that these places exhibit. That these rooms were once so special, the need, desire or expense required to change them or erase them has been suppressed and these "grand" rooms still exist.
(It may also be the recognition and appreciation of the role of significantly more vertically proportioned spaces than we have come to build in the last 40 years or so.)
These spaces have "atmosphere" as I think Peter Zumthor would define it - they invoke an almost immediate reaction. However, beyond that they also show signs of occupation, over time, by many people, and as such, have a history of human lives, of joy and despair having played out by many people over many years.
In designing new spaces, I think many architects think only of the beauty and function of the rooms and building. There is not much discussion or conjecture on what is so profoundly out of the control of the architect - the lives that are going to be lived in these rooms. A kitchen is certainly a place to cook and clean, but it will also be the place that family frets over a child's school or the cost of next month's bills. A living room is a place for entertaining and relaxation, but it may also be where a baby took its first steps, where a boyfriend meets the parents for the first time.
These aged rooms show those signs, those scars, of the events and lives that have passed through them. They are not simply recorded in photos or journals, but are keenly felt in the air and space of the room. As an architect, I hope that the spaces that I make can accommodate these events, for they are inevitable and more than mere walls and ceilings and floors, make the real life of a house.
(Photos from the excellent book The Way We Live by Stafford Cliff and Giles de Chabaneix)