Historic preservation is a rewarding experience that requires a love of history and an understanding of design. Before you begin the journey, it's essential to assess what to renovate or update and what to leave alone. That largely depends on the state of the property, but there are universal rules to follow and factors to consider when you tackle a period house.
The Exterior Part of the Equation
The exterior of the house or building is one of the most important aspects of the property. Many of the exterior details likely caught your attention and drew you to the property in the first place. The last thing you want to do is update the house so much that you eliminate historic nostalgia or the details that drew your eye in the first place.
Before beginning to renovate or update the building, it's wise to check out the rest of the neighborhood, as well. Typically, all of the buildings and homes in a historic neighborhood will have a similar aesthetic. Stucco siding or an unsightly deck could take away from the cohesiveness of the entire neighborhood. Inasmuch as you can, try to preserve the facade of the house as it applies to roofing, siding, and wood or wrought ironwork.
That being said, you can work with historic architects and designers to update features in a way that retains the structure's authenticity. Updating a property doesn't necessarily have to mean that you have to change the way it looks. You can simply upgrade certain items with modern equivalents made to look like the originals. You can also seek out authentic features from the original time period.
Let There Be Light
The lighting in older houses often leaves something to be desired. Owners of historic properties are then at a loss. Do you preserve the original appearance of the interior, or do you illuminate the space with modern lighting that may be too bright?
Fortunately, those aren't the only choices any longer. Many new, modern lights resemble vintage lighting options. You can always preserve the look of the lighting by opting for antique fixtures. Failing that, you can also invest in new fixtures that are deliberately designed to have a vintage patina.
The same is true for light bulbs. You don't necessarily want to outfit your home with old-fashioned filament bulbs, which blow out frequently and are costly to upkeep. However, it's possible to maintain an old look while using eco-friendly light bulbs. If you enjoy the charming appearance of an authentic Edison bulb, for example, you can light up your home with LED equivalents that come in a variety of color temperatures and brightness. That goes for period-inspired outdoor lighting, as well.
Pairing Safety and Historic Accuracy
Replacing door knobs and locks causes debate among preservationists and people who are interested in renovating historic properties. The hardware on exterior doors is often gorgeous, not to mention indicative of the period. Regrettably, it can be faulty, as well. You're left to decide if you want to risk a malfunctioning door lock or install new, glaringly modern knobs—right?
That's the thought, but you needn't go to extremes. Even if it means adding an additional lock and saving the original knob, you can carefully select a style and finish that evokes the time period and matches both the existing hardware and the overall appearance of the door.
Check the Pipes
Water damage is a disaster in historic spaces. No matter what, make sure you check the pipes. Peer up at the ceilings and tap on the walls to assess possible water damage, as well. There's no need to stick to authentic antique pipes. Upgrade for the sake and safety of the house.
Bathroom and Kitchen Updates
Most historic homeowners and preservationists agree that the bathroom(s) and kitchen are the rooms often in need of updating, but this can be a matter of preference. Plenty of folks appreciate kitchens and bathrooms with original features and fixtures, such as farmer's sinks or 1920s tile. In that case, you can still update your space. Search for preserved and refurbished appliances and decor to install in your home.
Otherwise, feel free to upgrade where you see fit. You may crave a glass-enclosed shower over an old clawfoot tub. The kitchen may be crying out for a dishwasher. As long as you strive to maintain the integrity of the architecture and introduce period-appropriate decor and knickknacks inside, you can embrace modern conveniences in the rooms that need them most.
What do you choose to retain and renovate when you take on a historic property? Let us know the features you try to keep and what you prefer to replace.