Tips for Renovating Your Period Home

September 10, 2019

There is something about period properties that speak to the very soul of homeownership. From E.M. Forster’s Howards End to Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, some of the best works of literature elucidate the special bond that exists between a period home and the family it helps raise, shape, and define. Whether they are Tudor, Victorian, or Edwardian, gabled or red-bricked, these are homes that take on a life of their own while touching those of all who enter its doors.

Novels like these help capture what’s so special about period homes, which in turn capture part of what’s so special about home ownership – namely, the continuity it represents. Renting and living in an apartment can feel cookie cutter and transitory. To invest in a home is to invest in your future. To make that home a period home is to join your present and future to the past, creating the kind of inter-generational bonds that evoke Forster’s famous ethos at the heart of Howards End: “Only connect.”

Even the most timeless homes are subject to the ravages of time, however. As a result, even the most changeless period homes need to change at least somewhat in the form of renovations and restorations, lest they be lost forever.

Thankfully, there’s a certain magic to this as well. One of the best things about owning a home is being able to customize it, and that’s especially true when it comes to period properties which already have a special aura about them. In Notre Dame de Paris, Victor Hugo famously declares that national monuments such as Notre Dame are special because everyone “brings their stone,” contributing the tiniest bit of themselves to something that will ultimately outlast but still preserve and define us all.

These renovation tips for period home renovation can thus be a great way to “bring your stone” and add to an already amazing home.

Seek an Architect’s Opinion

One thing you definitely don’t want to do is simply grab a saw and hammer and start hacking and hammering away. Period homes in particular can have special structural considerations which must be taken into account. The last thing you want to do is accidentally damage older, more delicate aspects of your period home’s structure, potentially permanently ruining its integrity.

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In addition, different homes from different periods not only have different structural needs, but are likewise built with different defining materials and characteristics. That’s, well, a lot of “difference” of which to keep track. An architect can help you keep all that straight and advise you as to both the current state of your structure and what you can do about it.

In the latter case, your architect can suggest both means of restoring your property and possibilities for renovating your period home.

Feed Off Your Property

In that same chapter where he declares that “everyone brings their own stone,” Hugo tells us that great works like Notre Dame result from national effort far more than individual genius. In fact, Hugo deplores individuals who try too hard to “leave their mark” by adding features to Notre Dame which are flashy but clash with its style and ethos.

The same holds true with regards to your home. You want to renovate and upgrade it, sure, but you don’t want those new additions to clash with what made your period home an enduring classic in the first place. You thus want to make sure that any upgrades you choose fit with, are inspired by, or otherwise grow organically out of your property’s existing design. In addition, you may also want to look at other period homes for inspiration, both in their original state and renovated with additions.

Stay True to Your Design Aesthetic

Closely related to that point, you’ll want to make sure that you stay true to your period property’s design aesthetic, or the new idea you are trying to achieve. If you have a lovely Tudor brick house, don’t suddenly start slapping steel all over the place. If your design concept is a modern minimalist take on an Edwardian home, don’t start off by introducing massive rustic design features.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with fusing design ideas, and we’ll talk about that in a moment. Even so, however, whatever your design concept is, it is vital that you remain consistent to it, and try to ensure that whatever your aesthetic is, it doesn’t completely erase or clash with your period home.

Fusing Old and New

One of the great rallying cries of Modernist Literature was to “make it new,” and that can be a great course to take when renovating your period home. This type of approach doesn’t seek to obliterate what came before, but rather to put a new spin on it or combine new design features to present it in a new light.
If it worked for Pablo Picasso and T.S. Eliot, it can work for you.

That being said, you don’t want your home to look like Guernica or a “Waste Land,” so you’ll need to be careful in fusing old and new design features and aesthetics. This is where talking to your architect can come in handy. Not only will they be able to give you aesthetic fusion ideas here, but they can help you from inadvertently creating something that clashes as well.

Addition by Subtraction

For as much as we love period homes, some things just belong in the past. It’s fun to imagine ourselves transported to the world of Jane Austen, replete with elegance and Regency balls, but the dirt floors which would’ve been a part of many cottages back then can stay two hundred years in the past, where they belong.

The same holds true with regards to your property. While you probably want to keep your period home looking and feeling authentic and historical overall, there’s no reason why you can’t get rid of features that are worn out and dilapidated, or which never worked well in the first place.

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Take attics and basements. The type of “décor,” or lack thereof, which would have been authentic to the period in which they were built decades ago probably isn’t all that attractive. Far too often, these spaces can feel like drafty crypts. A loft space refurbishment, complete with a fresh coat of paint and a brand-new décor scheme, can breathe new life into this space, transforming it into something better and adding value to your home – and all without compromising the stylistic or structural integrity of your period home.
Sometimes, the best period home renovation move you can make is addition by subtraction.

Experiment with New Color Palettes

Color is one of the defining features of any space, and it’s one you can play without compromising the architectural structure of a period home. Take the time to review different paint options. Look at pictures of the type of period home you own both in its own period as well as in modern reimaginings for inspiration.

Reuse Materials

Continuing our theme of trying to innovate while staying true to the historical roots of your property, you’ll want to consider reusing some of the materials you have on your property. There are many ways you can do this, depending on what type of period home you have and the materials you wish to reuse.

For example, if you’re handy with tools and you’re removing some wood paneling from an area, you might consider using that wood to fashion some furnishings or wall hangings. This can both show off your creativity and help you keep more of the old wood, glass, metal, and other elements of the old structure around. If you are looking to renovate your home authentically, this can be a great way to ensure that those materials stay in place. If you are looking to fuse that authentic style with new approaches, this can be a great way of accomplishing that as well.

And don’t forget the power of accessories. Rugs, throws, pillows, coffee tables, lamps, and other period-appropriate accoutrements can go a long way towards recreating the vibe these period homes gave off in their heyday.

Let There Be Light

Nothing helps turn back the clock and make an older space look bright and full of life once more than filling it with light. Preferably, you want this to be natural ambient light. That means adding windows and sliding glass doors, particularly to spaces which don’t have them.

That said, you still want to make sure to strike a balance between modernizing your home’s appearance and preserving its essence. You don’t want to add so many minimalistic sliding glass doors that the area loses some of its old-fashioned identity. A good solution here is to make sure that any windows you add are as close to the typical windowing style of your period home as possible.

You’ll also want to return to that earlier point about painting. Bright interior paint colors do a better job of reflecting light than darker ones, so keep that in mind when selecting paint schemes.
Armed with these tips, you’ll be ready to renovate and rekindle the spirit of your period home.

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