How to Renovate While Preserving the Character of Your Historic Home - Story Renovations

Whether you live in a 1960s mid-mod ranch or a traditional craftsman built in the 1910s, your home has a personality — and given that you’ve chosen to live there, you probably have an affinity for its unique style. So when you’re embarking on a renovation, it’s important to consider the home’s history and make thoughtful, relevant changes. 

Remodeling an old house on a budget can pose special challenges, from expensive construction surprises to difficult design decisions. Should you keep that quirky fireplace? Or cover it in favor of more practical brand new built-ins? Is updated electrical worth it? Or should you invest in new hardwood flooring instead? 

Unfortunately, there’s no clear-cut answer to most of these questions: it all comes down to personal preference. That said, when you’re renovating an old house, we always advise keeping in mind the original character of the home and preserving as many of its unique features as possible. When it comes to historic home remodeling, here’s our cheat sheet to what’s worth keeping and what can go without regret: 

 

What to Preserve

When you’re working with your contractor or designer, it can be helpful to have a list of the things you absolutely love about your home. These notes will inspire the remodel design and provide guardrails for what you want to maintain. Among the design elements worth keeping are any hand-crafted details and period-defining characteristics, like woodwork and metalwork. If you have any of the following in your old home, consider preserving or restoring them rather than demo-ing and replacing! 

 

  • Millwork & Trim
    Intricately carved woodwork like ceiling medallions and crown molding are a nod to the time period when your home was built and often can’t be replicated without a high price tag. When possible, hang on to the millwork in your historic home – these high-quality details are what add to the spirit of your space. Other custom woodwork like coffered ceilings and decorative trim are all worth preserving, too. 

 

  • Pocket Doors
    Pocket doors: they’re both pretty and practical! Even if you tend to prefer an open floor plan, pocket doors can offer versatility, creating defined spaces within the home — a particularly useful function in the work-from-home era. 

 

  • Hardwood Floors
    Hardwood floors are durable and can last for many years if maintained properly. Yes, your old floors might be creaky and unlevel in some spots – but they’re often one of the most charming parts of an old home. If your floors aren’t in excellent condition, they can be refinished and repaired to remove any grooves, stains, or surface imperfections. Most high-quality wood floors can be sanded and refinished six or seven times over their lifetime. And new hardwood flooring is usually more expensive than refinishing your existing wood floors – so not only are you preserving a bit of history in your home, but you’ll save money, too!

 

  • Fireplaces
    Old fireplaces often have standout characteristics, like an elaborately carved mantel, impressive masonry, or an oversized firebox. Keeping your fireplace can offer a practical way to heat your home (even today!) and generally will raise the value of your home if you ever choose to sell. If the fireplace isn’t functional – and can’t be or is too costly to be restored – consider using the firebox to display books, candles, or decorative logs. 

 

  • Original Tile
    If it’s in good shape, keeping that funky original tile can preserve a piece of your home’s history. Chances are good that you’ll want to update your kitchen tile and backsplash – especially if you’re making other kitchen upgrades – but a powder room or entryway can be the perfect spot to maintain the original look and feel of your home. 

 

What to Replace

Remodeling an old house means you’ll be saying goodbye to some of the most outdated aspects of your home – and, after all, that’s the point of the remodel, right? Here are a handful of fixtures worth upgrading that won’t negatively impact the character of your home: 

 

  • Windows
    Old houses usually have old windows. And while the wooden windows of the past may have charm, they’re not energy efficient, which can have a major impact on your wallet. So even if you’re remodeling an old home on a budget, it’s worth spending money on new, high-quality windows. If you can’t bring yourself to let the original wood windows go — or are aiming for a more environmentally friendly option — consider restoring them to improve insulation and repair drafts. And of course, if you live in a home with distinct stained glass or stylized period windows, don’t nix those! 

 

  • HVAC, Electrical & Plumbing
    If your HVAC, electrical, or plumbing systems haven’t been updated, a remodel is a great time to replace these core structures, either in-part or fully. Nixing that old knob-and-tube electrical wiring, installing a new furnace, or replacing decaying pipes can make your home more comfortable, safer, and more efficient. When doing a renovation, some of these updates might even be required in order for the new work to meet building code.

 

  • Appliances
    While that 1920s stove might be chock full of character, large appliances are an ideal upgrade to modernize your home. They improve your energy usage and will increase your home value for future buyers. Today’s appliances give you endless options, so even a brand new machine can fit into the personality of your space. 

 

  • Cabinetry
    Installing new kitchen cabinets is one of the highest impact remodel updates you can make. If you’re renovating an old house and wondering where to start, focus on your kitchen. There’s no need to go super modern if that style doesn’t fit with your home, but opting for an updated cabinet profile and/or color can totally change the feel of a space. Kitchen storage has evolved quite a bit in recent years, so upgrading your cabinets isn’t just aesthetic – you’ll likely be improving the functionality of your kitchen, too. It’s both a smart investment in the value of your home, as well as a practical improvement for your day-to-day life. 

Get Started on Your Remodel  

Ready to renovate your historic home? Let’s chat! Our team of expert designers will walk you through your options and make recommendations that will preserve all the charm of your home, while optimizing for functionality and modern amenities. Reach out here! 

 


Photos: Kaleidoscope Design