5 Common Mistakes Homeowners Make When Restoring Old Houses
It can cost a pretty penny — so get it right the first time.
While restoring an old house can be the most rewarding thing in the world, it can also cost a pretty penny — so it’s best to get it right the first time. Avoid restoration regret by steering clear of these five common mistakes made by most rookie renovators.
They “assemble” rooms.
I wish I could take credit for coming up with a term for this concept, because it really hits the nail on the head. A few months ago, I had the honor of interviewing the fantastic Brent Hull of Hull Historical, whose show, Lone Star Restoration, aired last fall on HISTORY. Brent tipped me off to one of his biggest pet peeves in home restoration: The concept of “assembling” a room — or, in other words, sending your contractor to the Home Depot to cherry pick a bunch of different pieces that are later assembled to form a room.
Unfortunately, this is how most home renovations are done today. Why is this a problem? Because your room will fail to tell a cohesive story that fits with the rest of the house. You can avoid this mistake by studying your house and others of its era, working with its distinctive character, proportions, millwork and details, and designing a room as a cohesive whole that feels like an organic extension of the rest of your home.
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They get a little too period-perfect.
This certainly isn’t the worst mistake you can make, but it’s so common that it’s worth mentioning. Let’s say you bought a house from 1874. Time to start compulsively filling it with things from 1874, right?
Look around your house. Is everything you own from 2017? Certainly not. You probably have a fair number of hand-me-downs from your mother or your grandmother, or things you’ve collected over the course of your lifetime.
This, too, would this have been the case for a family living in 1874 (and in some ways even more so, because furnishings were less disposable and more expensive back then). It’s for this reason that I’m not a fan of decorating a home only with a specific date in mind. It’ll feel like a museum, not a home. There’s magic in the mixing.
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They modernize the kitchen and bathroom.
If you’re like most homeowners, you’ve probably wanted to renovate your bathroom and kitchen since the day you moved in. And my guess is that you don’t hate your kitchen because it’s as old as the house, but because it’s so very 1983. Bathrooms and kitchens are updated more frequently than any other rooms in the house, and it takes a smart homeowner to know how to renovate them correctly.
My friend Amy, who owns an incredible Victorian house, is currently engaged in a long research project to try to determine how to make her “new” bathroom fit the style of her 1894 home while still offering a level of comfortability that would fit today’s standards. Fifty years from now, that bathroom will still work with the house — and that’s what I call a smart renovation.
They get sucked into the “replacement” mindset.
The world today is much, much different than it was when your historical home was constructed. In general, appliances and house components are cheaper and much more disposable than they once were, and thus are not built to last as long as things made way back when. In many cases, parts of your home were custom-made to fit inside your home, and no mass-produced replacement part could possibly do the job as effectively. That said, you should restore rather than replace whenever possible — especially when it comes to your old wooden windows, which are most prone to premature replacement.
Bottom line: If it was built with your house and speaks to its unique story, make sure you explore every possible option before replacing it with something newer.
They forget about the future.
Contrary to what most people believe, renovating an old house is not about the past as much as it is about the future.
Ask yourself this question: 50 years from now, when someone buys this house, will it look timeless? Will it be functioning as it should? Will I have cared for those unique attributes that first attracted me (and probably ever other buyer since) to the home? Will future owners be happy that I did all that I could do to honor the home’s integrity and uniqueness? Or will they look around and see a lot of “2017”?
If your goal is to bring your house up to today’s standards, you’re likely to latch onto current trends that might look dated in just a few years. Since you don’t know what will be trending fifty years from now, designing with the future in mind is a much safer bet — it forces you to take a good, hard look at your house and make decisions based on respecting its unique character and ensuring its timelessness.