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Best-Kept Secrets

Best-Kept Secrets: Emphasizing Period Charm

by Sofia Tuovinen

Best-Kept Secrets: Emphasizing Period Charm | Design*Sponge

Every time we get the opportunity to share a tour of a historic home here on Design*Sponge, my heart skips a beat. It has been a dream of mine for years to one day have the opportunity to bring an old, neglected property back to life, restoring and highlighting every little detail of craftsmanship that we really don’t see in modern builds. Renovating a historic home isn’t the easiest or fastest route to a dream home though — take the word of anyone who has experienced the process firsthand. To better understand what it actually takes to bring a period property back to its former glory, we reached out to owners of historic homes who have seen it all. Find out below their advice to anyone who is thinking about restoring a historic home, as well as their number one tip for emphasizing period charm. Clearly, a greenhorn like myself still has a lot to learn! —Sofia

 


Best Kept Secrets: Emphasizing Period Charm | Design*Sponge

Best-Kept Secrets: Emphasizing Period Charm | Design*Sponge
The living room at ‘The Blond Vic,” the historic Victorian home that Catherine and Bryan have been restoring for the last two years. The couple worked with Metrie to install era-appropriate panel molding on the ceiling and walls. They also added an intricate French mantel and ceiling medallion for additional historic charm. Painting everything the same color helped hide imperfections, like crooked ceilings and uneven walls. Portrait by Allie Lehman / @alliepal, interior photography by Catherine Williamson.

 

D*S: What is your best advice to someone wishing to restore a historic home?

Catherine & Bryan: “Look to the architecture and history of the home for inspiration. Let the shapes of the rooms, the ceiling height, the old doors, and hardwood floors lead the way, and embrace the old & the imperfect.”

D*S: What is your best tip for emphasizing period charm?

Catherine & Bryan: “We love adding molding. Whether it’s crown molding, panel molding, beefy baseboards or chair rail, molding adds lots of historic character to any space without costing a lot.”

 

Catherine & Bryan Williamson, Beginning in the Middle@beginninginthemiddle
A Historical Townhouse Filled with Charming Details in Columbus, OH

 


Best Kept Secrets: Emphasizing Period Charm | Design*Sponge

Best Kept Secrets: Emphasizing Period Charm | Design*Sponge
The original staircase light fixture was returned to Natasha’s historic family home after being auctioned off in the 1990s. Natasha has restored and emphasized her home’s period charm wherever possible. Photography by Natasha Meininger / @natasha.designs

 

D*S: What is your best advice to someone wishing to restore a historic home?

Natasha: “Expect the unexpected times ten and you will still end up with a few surprises. Be brave! Saving a historic home from disrepair is an admirable pursuit.”

D*S: What is your best tip for emphasizing period charm?

Natasha: “Keep what you can, millwork, hardware, original windows but do not despair if you can’t save every single thing. Be thoughtful in your decisions. When in doubt, call in a pro.”


Natasha Meininger, interior designer / @natasha.designs
A Historic Family Home Brought Back to Life

 


Best Kept Secrets: Emphasizing Period Charm | Design*Sponge

Best Kept Secrets: Emphasizing Period Charm | Design*Sponge

Kris and Shawn wanted to celebrate one of the most amazing details in their upstate New York farmhouse — the untouched American Chestnut woodwork. Portrait by Joe Rivera, interior photography by The Farmhouse Project

 

D*S: What is your best advice to someone wishing to restore a historic home?

Kris & Shawn: “Don’t do anything drastic right away! If you can, sleep on it and explore all options. Our restoration plans changed significantly from when we first got the keys, the house until 6 months to a year of living there. We’re so glad we didn’t make those initial changes. After living in the house for a bit, we let the house tell us what she wanted and it certainly wasn’t knocking down walls for an open floor plan!”

D*S: What is your best tip for emphasizing period charm?

Kris & Shawn: “Don’t be afraid of bringing back your historic home to its original period in furnishings. Unless your home was built in the 1950s, not everything needs to be mid-century modern in your house, although it’s a big trend nowadays. If your house was built in the 1800s, research that period and you’ll find some amazing style to be inspired by. You can totally mix this in with more modern pieces or furnishings from another period. How eclectic is that!?”


Kris and Shawn, The Farmhouse Project / @thefarmhouseproject

An Old Farmhouse Becomes the Project of a Lifetime

 


Best Kept Secrets: Emphasizing Period Charm | Design*Sponge Best Kept Secrets: Emphasizing Period Charm | Design*Sponge

KV wanted to emphasize the old fireplaces in the living room of her historic shotgun home. Portrait by @dabito, interior photography by KV Harper


D*S: What is your best advice to someone wishing to restore a historic home?

KV: “Find a design + build firm that specializes in historic home renovations. They will be the best resource on knowing what can and should be restored in the home. If you’re doing the work yourself, spend time at the historic salvage yards in your town, they are a good resource and great at giving advice. Don’t forget to buy all your reclaimed wood and doors from them too!”

D*S: What is your best tip for emphasizing period charm?

KV: “I always like to think about who lived in the home 50 years ago or 100 years ago. How did they spend their time in the home? It could be making a restored fireplace a focus point (without a TV of course) or creating a reading nook. I find emphasizing those elements usually [works and doesn’t] feel forced.”

 

KV Harper, Principal, Founder Kex Design + Build / @kexdesignbuild
A Shotgun Home that Celebrates Black History in New Orleans

 


Best Kept Secrets: Emphasizing Period Charm | Design*Sponge
Best Kept Secrets: Emphasizing Period Charm | Design*Sponge

Natalie has filled her Victorian-era home with vintage pieces from various decades for an eclectic and feel-good mix. Photography by Natalie Papier / @home_ec_op


D*S: What is your best advice to someone wishing to restore a historic home?
Natalie: “Don’t fight the character and vintage charm! Instead, add eclectic, vintage pieces to the space that highlight the quirks and charm of your historic home. Steer clear of too much on-trend elements as it feels like a disconnect to the home’s antique bones. Little modern touches go a long way when combined with traditional, older homes. Respect the time-earned character and add in your own personality with decor instead of large foundational changes (unless necessary).”

D*S: What is your best tip for emphasizing period charm?
Natalie: “Vintage loves vintage. It doesn’t need to match the traditional style of the home though. This is what makes a house look dated. By adding a mix of heirlooms and vintage pieces with character and combining with modern touches will elevate the home’s design without pinpointing the design to a specific era.”


Natalie Papier, Owner & Home Stylist at Home Ec. LLC / @home_ec_op

The Colorful New Chapter of a Charming Victorian

 


Best Kept Secrets: Emphasizing Period Charm | Design*Sponge Best Kept Secrets: Emphasizing Period Charm | Design*Sponge

In her family’s 200-year-old Scottish farmhouse, designer Wendy Morrison chose to accentuate historic details by playing with layers of old and new. The original door frames have been painted gold. Photography by Wendy Morrison / @wendymorrisondesign

 

D*S: What is your best advice to someone wishing to restore a historic home?

Wendy: “I would say live in it, observe the light and what features you love and that work for you. Old period homes can be rather cold and [drafty] and if it is listed you may not be able to upgrade beautiful old windows and doors… if this is the case you need to focus on other ways of keeping warm — color and textiles could help here along with some insulation of course (can you tell I live in Scotland?).”

D*S: What is your best tip for emphasizing period charm?

Wendy: “I would say the best tip by far is to play with the scale, this is where you get [the] most fun of living in a period home, high ceilings with deep cornicing detail. You make special touches by just painting woodwork or cornicing, picking out the details and then create richness with textiles and furnishings. Large, lovely period fire surrounds make excellent focal points for you to play with, large artwork or mirrors create [a] huge impact and it is very much the heart of the home especially so if it is somewhat [drafty]. Color is a great tool to play with, it can be used to create warmth and richness especially if you don’t have a huge budget. Play with styles, I do think period homes lend themselves very much to a mix of styles; it is a joy to mix contemporary pieces with traditional details and layer rich furnishings — this is what I love about a period home.”


Wendy Morrison, designer / @wendymorrisondesign

In Scotland, a Rug Designer’s 200-Year-Old Farmhouse

 


Best Kept Secrets: Emphasizing Period Charm | Design*Sponge Best Kept Secrets: Emphasizing Period Charm | Design*Sponge

Denise and Michael stained the original hardwood floors of their Victorian farmhouse. They have filled their historic home with an eclectic mix of vintage treasures. Photography by Denise Santiago & Michael Warrington.

 

D*S: What is your best advice to someone wishing to restore a historic home?

Denise & Michael: “First and foremost, take your time! Allow yourself to take a step back and fully appreciate all the charm and history before you get started. Also, don’t expect things to always go as planned. Sometimes your old home has its own set of plans and surprises. Go with the flow and allow things to come together organically.”

D*S: What is your best tip for emphasizing period charm?

Denise & Michael: “The best advice we can give is to appreciate any original features found within your home; make the attempt to preserve these characteristics as well as highlighting them with unique thrifted pieces.”


Denise Santiago & Michael Warrington

In Pennsylvania, a Victorian Farmhouse is Renovated with Love

 


Best-Kept Secrets: Emphasizing Period Charm | Design*Sponge

Charlotte and her family’s Federal-style Connecticut house had stood neglected before the family moved in and restored the home room by room. Now, it’s a bright and welcoming home where every historic detail has been lovingly preserved and emphasized. Photography by Charlotte Smith / @atcharlotteshouse


D*S: What is your best advice to someone wishing to restore a historic home?

Charlotte: “Be realistic and get experts involved. We’ve learned that the aesthetic changes are much more exciting and easier to convey to future buyers, but typically historic homes are a bit like icebergs and there’s way more work to be done beneath the surface that’s not nearly as satisfying: new roof, replacing windows, waterproofing basements, insulation, etc. Experts familiar with historic homes will be critical when it comes to what needs to get done and what it will cost.”

D*S: What is your best tip for emphasizing period charm?

Charlotte: “I think sometimes [contrasting] with more modern elements can be an unexpected way to emphasize the historic. A gorgeous historic space with intricate plaster moldings and charming wooden floors might stand out more with sleek contemporary furniture as decor, for example.”


Charlotte Smith, Blogger At Charlotte’s House / @atcharlotteshouse

Playful and Layered Design in a Family’s Historic Connecticut Home

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Comments

  • My first home was an antique colonial.

    Before you start looking at historic homes, take time to learn about foundations and what signs of trouble look like. Also take a good hard look at the foundation and sill for signs of rot from the dampness endemic to the dirt basements and fieldstone walls in many historic homes. This type of work is insanely expensive, and it can be hard to find people who do it competently.

    Once you buy keep in mind that every project will cost more and take longer than you think, and it will be as much or more repair work than decorating. Due to aging materials, renovations and repairs will never be “done.” The amount of maintenance I have to do on my 1950s house is nothing compared to what I had to do to keep my antiques up to snuff.

    These houses are the stuff of dreams, but you have to be committed to them.

  • Great stories from people who appreciate the charm and character of older homes! There aren’t enough of us out there, unfortunately, and it breaks my heart when I seen irreplaceable homes torn down or “remuddled” beyond recognition. We started our home journey in German Village (just like Catherine and Bryan!) and loved every minute of the ten years we spent making that house our home.

    We treasure homes that come from a time when designers, builders, and homeowners had a more innate understanding of what makes a house beautiful and interesting – thanks for introducing us to a few more!

  • I like the helpful info you provide in your Blog.
    Really explains everything in detail.
    The Blog is very interesting and effective.
    Thank you for sharing informative article.

  • Absolutely wonderful! I love every room and every corner! So warm, sophisticated and inviting! One doesn’t;t have to go full-force vintage and antiques, but a nice balance is key to keeping it elegant.

  • Thanks for sharing tips from these creative restorers and preservers of built heritage! We are lucky enough to live in a Welsh farmhouse (oldest part is about 1630, with 1700s additions) which was restored with huge sensitivity and skill by the previous owners. We are committed to carrying on in the ongoing repairs and maintenance in the same spirit. The best words of advice from the previous owner: ‘If you try to impose something on the house, it will bite you. If you work with the house, it will reward you’. Things we especially appreciate that they did: 1. Historically appropriate materials. All the plasterwork is lime plaster. No flat plasterboard or flat modern plaster. All of the paints are limewash or clay-based paints. The stonework was re-pointed with lime mortar. This makes the house breathable (especially important in the Welsh climate), hypoallergenic and environmentally friendly. The colours are vibrant and yet mellow at the same time. We are using linseed paint for all of the external woodwork, and for a timber-clad barn. If your use of historically appropriate methods and materials could be a problem with building code, get advice from a knowledgeable historic preservation society for help in negotiating this. 2. While the previous owners made some sensitive additions (like converting a lean-to coal store into a kitchen), they did no knocking-through of walls to make things open-plan. Since even the internal walls are a couple of feet thick in places, this was wise! 3. Salvage/reclaimed material in the details: the previous owners of our house replaced any broken window panes with old glass – it is delightful looking through the thick, slightly wavy glass. We have sourced a supply of old wavy glass to cut on site as and when we need to make repairs to window panes.

    Finally, if you aren’t lucky enough to live in an old house, there might be elements you can use to create the mellow atmosphere of an old building, without ‘faking it’: you can use lime plaster and lime, clay, or linseed paints. You can use environmentally friendly natural materials like cork, linoleum or wooden flooring. You could get a local blacksmith to make modern but handcrafted hardware for your windows and doors.