9 Architect-Approved Tips for Renovating Historic Homes
#1 – Learn what you can about the home’s history
Try to find old photos and any information that you can find from past owners, historical societies, newspapers, libraries and other sources. The home’s age, historical significance, location, building materials and even something like cultural heritage will have bearing on the choices you will make, even down to the smallest details. For example, Michigan has a rich Dutch heritage, which might influence style choices you make.
#2 – Maintenance matters
Buildings that have been maintained but not altered are some of the best candidates for preservation. Ideally, the home has been maintained, but not redone, by previous owners. If something has been demolished or covered up you won’t be able to see the original history. The same goes for you! To preserve your investment, be sure to take care of regular maintenance.
#3 – Create your list of priorities
Know what features are most important to you and let your contractor know what are “must-have’s”, what are “nice-to-have’s”, and what your budget is. This will help ensure that the areas that matter most are taken care of. Remember, the house has stood this long, so putting off less important projects makes better financial sense than overburdening yourself trying to do everything now.
#4 – Find the right contractor for the job
Find a building contractor that respects history and craftsmanship. You’ll want to look for a building contractor (and architect if you’re planning on adding on or making structural changes) that has experience renovating old buildings and will honor the history of the home. Consider visiting some of the other historic projects they’ve done, and talk to past clients about their experience.
#5 – Carefully consider how much to modernize
A good way to preserve the history without sacrificing modern comforts is to add on to your home. There is a balance to restoring something so that you can see the history in it, and still have comfortable living conditions for your family. The best projects are a collaboration between you, your architect and the contractor.
#6 – Be creative
Remember that Home Depot may not carry historically accurate finishes for your home! Keep a lookout for creative, non-traditional finds for your home at flea markets, auctions, online, and even locally with neighbors. Fabrics and finishing touches such as metal & woodwork can add a lot of historic character to the home, even for rooms that are not being renovated.
#7 – Make sure you understand the cost
You’ll need to weigh the cost of the restoration against the reality of the building’s historic, personal and resale value. Be aware that to preserve the history of the home, you may have to go beyond a typical renovation, but always know at what point in your budget it will no longer makes economic sense.
#8 – Expect the unexpected
Like most other home renovation projects, plan for contingencies in your contract, and consider budgeting an extra 5-10 percent. Issues can come up on a historic building that no one would have expected, even when your architect & contractor do a good job of planning & bidding. Plus, you may decide at a certain point in a project that you only want to work on something once, and are willing to spend more to have it done right.
#9 – Plan for the future
Even though improvements are more cost-effective when they’re done as part of a bigger project, there’s always a to-do list in an old house. Be patient and remember that it’s not always possible to do everything at once, so do what you can, enjoy it, and add to it once you’re ready.