Change is bad. This is the mantra of lovers of all buildings historic. The fight to preserve the past and all it represents. Natural building materials and craftsmanship.
Without an appreciation of historic craftsmanship and what was involved in building a century ago, it is hard to fathom the desire to permanently reside and maintain an old home. Every dent tells a story. Worn floors show life and add character. A new home built today using laminate, linoleum and composite materials only look good once. Concrete materials made to look like stone chip and crack and need to be replaced. Natural stone chips, cracks and wears down but still manages to age gracefully. It’s what we love about old homes, they look better when they show life.
The challenge of restoring an old home comes when the need to update century old rooms to 21st century lifestyle standards. Where’s the laundry room? Master bath? Home office? Man Cave? Try to stay married by sticking the laundry room in a 6’ high basement with uninsulated, crumbling stone foundation walls.
Where to draw the line of modern comfort and old fashioned character is not always a black and white decision, but there are some definite no-nos. This picture shows a house built in 1840 with an attached 2 car garage (that don’t even match). Considering nobody was considering 2 car garages until this house was 100 years old, and nobody was building houses with an attached garage in 1840, this is a renovation that has detracted from its character. Even at the time the garage was added, this house would have been considered a classic and some thought should have gone into preserving its character. Without regard to the homes appearance, a garage was added for modern convenience at the expense of its curb appeal and value and now no longer looks like it was built in 1840.
Kitchens and baths will challenge any restorer of old houses. A simple rule to follow is, only use materials that were available to the builder at the time the house was built. However, these rooms were functional. Kitchens were small and out of sight. Quite a contrast with today where they have evolved into a gathering place for families. How does the anal retentive historic preservationist deal with that?
Usonian homes of the great architect Frank Lloyd Wright were designed with small kitchens and large living rooms. The question would be, if he were designing a Usonian home today, would he have a larger kitchen that opened up to the living room. Knowing that in a lot of ways he was ahead of his time, he might have been at the forefront of opening up the kitchen area. For all his faults personally, he was famous for making the living room quite suitable for entertaining friends and spending time with family, and knew where the homes gathering place would be.
If you can add a master bathroom and it looks like it’s been there 175 years, you accomplished something special. The same goes for changing the layout in the kitchen. Preserving an old home means keeping it original. If the materials stay the same, and respect is shown in maintaining the same level of craftsmanship, the spirit stays the same.