Historic homes hold unparalleled charm and potential. If you’ve never remodeled one before, however, you may feel uncertain about where to begin: What should you preserve and what should you replace? Which quirks compromise the integrity of your structure and which are okay to keep? Because remodeling a historic home is a bit different than other remodeling projects, you'll want to take a few extra steps ahead of time—to protect yourself and to protect the special house you plan to remodel. Let's highlight some of the things you'll want to know and do.
Watch: Features to Preserve in a Historic Home
When you approach remodeling your historic home, it’s tempting to want to fine tune flourishes first. For instance, you might come in with a plan for the gorgeous new shaker kitchen cabinets you’ll purchase or the original mantelpiece millwork you want to replicate in other areas of your home. These “extras” are fine to ideate, but they shouldn’t be the first thing you address.
Instead, prioritize maintenance. Check to ensure that your roofing, windows, floors, and masonry are all structurally sound, and be sure to immediately address any compromised areas. Don’t forget to check for radon, asbestos, and lead paint as well before tackling your long-term goals.
Watch for Water Damage
It’s always exciting to plan superficial elements—to refinish trim, to rebuild a mantelpiece for the fireplace, to reseal exposed brick finishes, etc. When remodeling a historic home, however, it’s essential to address potential structural issues, such as water damage to the sill plate, leaking roofs, decaying floorboards, crumbling masonry, etc.
One major maintenance concern we see when remodeling historic homes is water damage. Water damage can be spotted in obvious places, like in cabinets under sinks, but you’ll also want to examine your ceiling, your basement, and your sill plate. (Your sill plate is the horizontal structure to which all your walls are attached; if it’s exposed, you can see it running around the base of your home outside. Before you do anything else, check to make sure your sill isn’t rotten!)
Remember also that elements such as wiring and plumbing, which may have been built to standard building specifications when the home was first constructed, are likely no longer to code. To remodel your home, you’ll need to first update these according to best building practices. (In older homes, it’s especially important to check for radon poisoning, remove asbestos, and address issues related to lead paint poisoning.)
Check with Your City’s Planning Department before You Make a Change
Historic homes often belong to designated historic districts, which means that your city planning department may have set restrictions on the types of remodeling projects you can undertake. Before you make too many renovation plans, check to see whether your home is in a historic district. If it is, be sure to research which renovation guidelines govern this area, since many historic homes are guarded by law.
Before you paint your home’s exterior, add an addition, or make any other significant and visible changes, be sure to approve them with your city’s planning department.
Choose the Remodeling Plans That Make Sense for a Historic Home
It’s important to keep in mind that the cherished older house you’re planning to remodel is much more than just a shell—or a collection of rooms. There’s a specific architectural style—and physical structure—to the home. There may be some changes you have in mind that are not physically or structurally possible.
When it comes to style and look, it's important to respect the integrity of the existing design. You don't want to take on a project that will negate or disrupt the inherent design of your home. Don't be concerned! That doesn't mean you can't create a fresh new look (or even a more modern style) within a historic home. For instance, take a glance at some of the fresh and beautiful bathroom renovations we’ve done on historic homes in Atlanta recently. Or take some time to browse through the kitchen remodels we’ve done in some of Atlanta’s most beautiful historic homes. You’ll see styles that range from traditional to transitional, contemporary, or craftsman.
Respecting your home’s existing structure and design also doesn’t mean you can’t make additions. You can still add features that reflect your lifestyle and meet your needs. For instance, you may be able to easily add a wine cellar to your historic home. Or, you may want to make better use of your home’s basement (click here for four fantastic finished basement designs).
Finally, as you plan upgrades to your historic home, be sure to consider how your new designs work with your home’s original intent. It’s certainly fine to modernize function and introduce contemporary aesthetics, but you’ll be happier with your end result when these upgrades complement rather than clash with your home’s original aesthetic intent.
Of course, when you live in a historic home, you won’t be the first or even second owners of the home. Because of this, you’ll need to figure out how to enter the “conversation” your home’s previous custodians have held. Can you develop an enhancement they introduced? Can you correct a style statement they imposed? Identify each era of ownership and think carefully about how you will contribute to the conversation, and as you do so, consult with your historic home remodeling company design team for guidance.
Know What to Keep and What to Let Go
A big part of a successful remodel of a historic house is knowing which existing elements of the home add character and charm to the house, and which things are not as important to preserve. What's tricky about this is that some of these features and elements may not be obvious on the surface. They may have been covered up by previous owners who didn't know (or appreciate) what they had. Here's a post that takes a look at 9 older features to preserve in a historic home.
Choose the Right Contractor
Finally and most importantly, choose an Atlanta contractor who loves your historic home as much as you do and has a wealth of experience renovating older homes.
Unfortunately, some contractors assume that the best way to make an old home functional is to gut it and begin fresh instead of carefully restoring and preserving its historic features while modernizing its function. You selected your historic home because it offers a charm no modern building could replicate, so select a contractor who can help you highlight those intrinsic qualities.
Why Copper Sky May Be the Right Remodeling Contractor for You
Not every remodeler in the Atlanta area is the same. Copper Sky is not the right fit for every remodeling job. We are committed to preserving the historic charm of each home we work on while seamlessly outfitting those homes with every modern amenity to provide comfort and convenience. If that is important to you, I’d invite you to explore some of the things that make us stand apart from other home remodeling contractors in the area. Historic homes are unique—and we believe they deserve the attention, respect, and craftsmanship to preserve their special beauty and character.