How to Renovate an Old House Without Ruining It

Update and modernize your old home without stripping it of its original characteristics.

Lauren Thomann is a business owner, antique dealer, and freelance writer/editor with 16 years of experience and a B.A. in English and Linguistics. She specializes in antiques—mainly Victorian through Mid Century—antique jewelry, old house renovations, and lifestyle and home-related content. Click the link to learn more.
row of three old houses with original characteristics

Renovating an old house can be a challenging process, as it usually involves making changes to an existing structure. In many cases, homeowners may want to update or modernize their homes but may also want to retain the original character and charm of the home. This can be a difficult balance to strike. It may be tempting to make significant changes that update the home but also remove or alter original features and characteristics. Here’s how you can strike an appropriate balance as someone who appreciates old houses and their historical value.

Where to Start

One way to approach this challenge is to research the home’s history. You need to understand its original design and features. This can provide valuable information and insight into the home’s character and aesthetic and help inform the renovation process.

For example, if the home has original architectural details, such as molding or trim, these should be retained and preserved whenever possible. Another key consideration is the materials used in the renovation. When updating or replacing materials, it’s important to use materials sympathetic to the home’s original character and design. If the house has original wood floors, consider using the same type of wood for any replacement flooring. Using a completely different material would defeat the purpose.

Renovation Tips for Sympathetic Design

Need a quick renovation checklist to follow? Here are some tips for renovating a home while still preserving its original characteristics:

  1. Research the history of the home. Before beginning any renovations, it’s important to research the history of the home and its original design and features. This can help to inform the renovation process and ensure that any changes are in line with the home’s original character. For instance, if your home was built during the Art Deco era, you might research 1920s floor tile patterns.
  2. Retain original features. Whenever possible, it’s important to retain original features of the home, such as architectural details, fixtures, and finishes. These original elements can add character and charm to a home, and should be preserved whenever possible.
  3. Use sympathetic materials. When replacing or updating materials, it’s important to use materials that are sympathetic to the home’s original design and character. For example, if the home has original wood floors, consider using the same type of wood for any replacement flooring. You can also replace any damaged antique tile with reproduction tile in the same style.
  4. Work with a preservation expert. If you are unsure about how to best preserve the original character of the home, consider working with a preservation expert. A preservation expert can provide guidance and advice on the best ways to renovate the home while still preserving its original character.
  5. Get input from the community. If the home is located in a historic district or has other community significance, it may be worthwhile to get input from the community on the renovation plans. This can help to ensure that the renovations are in line with the community’s values and expectations.

How a Preservation Expert Can Help

Working with a preservation expert can also be helpful when renovating a home while still preserving its original character. A preservation expert can guide and advise on the best ways to remodel the house and help ensure that the renovations align with the home’s original character and aesthetic.

Ultimately, the key to successfully renovating a home while still preserving its original character is approaching the process with care and attention to detail. By retaining original features and using sympathetic materials, it is possible to renovate a home while still preserving its original charm and character. If you need more help, work with a preservation expert and get input from the community.

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