We buy old houses because we love their authenticity, history, and spirit. We buy them for their beautiful hand-crafted details and the equally astonishing surroundings. We don’t buy them for outdated kitchens, cramped bedrooms, nor the drafty windows. This is precisely why they often require building work and renovation, but is it possible to modernize them without losing their character?
It most definitely is. It is all about paying attention to details and being strategic about your master plan. If you’ve done your homework right you can easily update your old home to the comfort and convenience of the modern-day while remaining faithful to its historical authenticity and character.
Knowing and Understanding the Style of Your House
Of course, the first step is to know what style your home is. This is crucial since you need to understand the key elements of that style. Wood-paneled, drywall, or plaster walls? Lower or higher ceilings? Do windows have deep sills on the inside and how do their details look on the exterior? Is there a deep front porch and are there picture rails? How thick are the moldings? You need to pay attention to all the elements throughout your house and it’s advisable to invest some additional time in online research.
But you should also know that not all the details are equally important. For example, since Britain has one-third of its houses built before the First World War, a vast number of them are done in the Victorian style. These properties have many distinguishing characteristics – intricate detailing, elegant proportions, ornate architecture, etc. But what really sets them apart is their plasterwork, with cornices and ceiling roses adorning every room with their intricate details and designs. While the Victorian style dominates over in Britain, Australia, for example, has a variety of influences and styles present throughout its various cities. Victorian aesthetics dominate the terraced inner suburbs of Sydney, while Melbourne is full of stunning and characterful art deco houses. No matter which architectural style, the crucial factor to all of these properties is the need to preserve as much of the original house as possible.
Of course, it’s never possible to preserve it all, and this is precisely why the first step is to identify the key elements of your home’s style and what should be rescued and what can be done without. Afterward, you can work with your designer and determine which elements you want to keep consistent and which of them you can let go. Some things will surely change throughout the design process, but starting out with this general masterplan you’ll be able to reach decisions along the way which will be preserving your house’s feeling of history and authenticity.
Staying Within the Safe Zone
Probably the first thing you’ll want to do is to get rid of the paisley wallpaper and yellow walls, so the usual first step is to give your house a fresh coat of paint. Its impact will be impressive, while time and cost will be minuscule compared to it. If you’re not sure about the color choice, simply go with white – it will make the house look fresh and bright, remaining old-school.
You might have the urge to get rid of the old wooden floors next, but resist that urge and keep them where they are. Obviously, you want to inspect for rot or termite infestation, but if this is given the all-clear you’ll find it was worth the effort. Give them a good sanding down and you’ll discover that the wood underneath will once again be sparkling. If there’s a need for some additional attention you can paint them over, too.
Nothing boosts the character of the house than old furniture, so just give it an overhaul and makeover. Reupholster old couches and chairs with modern fabrics, leaving them sitting on their original legs. The same goes for vintage dining tables, stools, drawers, bedside and dressing tables – all these can be stunningly refreshed with either polishing or painting. Likewise, as a relatively cheap and effective method of bringing life to your furniture, new lampshades can do wonders for old table lamps. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t add some modern details in the mix as well. Don’t be afraid to experiment a little and see what kind of eclectic pieces might work with the historical elements.
You might think that some things are simply cringe-worthy and that they need to go – features like sash windows, decorative moldings, stained glass, etc. But that would be a mistake, since they make up at least 50% of the house’s charm. This is why they need to be highlighted and preserved accordingly. These features are usually neglected, but what they really need is good clean and polish. Admittedly, poorly insulated sash windows will need secondary glazing without hiding original period features, but it’s definitely worth it. If you keep the rest of the room(s) clean and simple, all these will turn to statement pieces and make a great impact.
When restoring classic houses it will quickly become apparent that these little details are equally as important as the bigger jobs required and that their impact can be just as noticeable and important to the whole. Maybe you need to refresh your doors and cupboards with a repaint, but you should definitely hold onto those railings that were carved to perfection and the charming door handles – they’re a perfect touch of old-school character that your house simply can’t do without.
We are by no means saying that owning and restoring a classic house will be an easy endeavor. Depending on the state of the property at the time of purchase, it is imperative to inspect and recognize the crucial elements that need doing and what kind of attention is needed to bring it back to its former glory. Preserving as much of the original details and features as possible is the way to go with any classic house restoration and whatever can be repainted, restored or polished, should.