There is a certain pressure that comes with owning an older home to “be true to the era”. This is a subject of much debate. On one hand, it makes sense to try to match updates to the era the home was built in. On the other hand, what if you don’t like that style? Should you just do it out of obligation? At that point you’re paying for updates you don’t even love. Or maybe there’s a way to find a balance of both?
When we were shopping for our current home three years ago, we almost bought a cute mid-century ranch. But after sleeping on it, I felt like because of the style of the home, there would be too much pressure to decorate it “Mad Men style”. I didn’t totally want to commit to that, so we passed it up.
When we found our current home (built in 1885), I knew I could renovate it without guilt because it had been reconfigured many times and most of the updates were from the 1980s. Still there were some original parts of the home (floors and moulding mostly) that we loved and decided to keep or restore. Since we live in a historical neighborhood (and work in our studio house there too), we have often encountered opinions from our neighbors who believe these houses should be decorated in a very traditional style. This balance of how much to renovate and decorate within the era of the home is something we’ve talked about a lot, and today I want to open up the conversation to you all as well!
I definitely believe that there is a balance between leaving everything “old fashioned” and updating it to the point that it loses the things that make an older home special. But where is that line, and how do you create that balance?
Well, I have a few questions that might help (or at least serve as fun food for thought!)—
In my opinion, there are no rules when it comes to home decor. But I thought it would be fun to share some things I have learned from renovating our three older homes (my personal home, our studio home and our Habitat for Humanity home). Feel free to agree or disagree in the comments because this really is 100% opinion based solely on my experiences! 🙂
-Ask yourself, “Is it really original?”
Before you decide to keep a light fixture, built in or appliance because it’s “original”, do the research to find out how old it really is. A lot of my current home looked really “old fashioned” when we bought it (which could lead you to believe that it was original, right?), but after digging deeper, I found out most of the updates were done in the 1980s. Then I didn’t feel so bad about replacing the things that didn’t fit our style.
If you’re buying a home that was built before the 1930s, it was probably built without electricity (and that was added later). If your home was built before 1900, it was probably built without indoor toilets. So if you buy an older home, it’s safe to assume that it has been updated (and often reconfigured) many times. This is why it’s hard to find older homes with spacious kitchens and bathrooms.
Bottom line, don’t assume that something has a great amount of value just because it looks old. Do a little research first, and then you’ll know for sure!
-Ask yourself, “Does this fit my style and lifestyle?”
If a feature in your home doesn’t fit your personal style (especially if you strongly dislike it) or if it compromises the comfort of your family’s everyday lifestyle, those are important points to consider. I know you might feel guilty removing a stained glass window or a clawfoot tub, but if those things are going to keep you from practical, everyday advantages (like a more functional tub for children or a new window that lets in more light where you need it), then maybe it’s worth it to let them go.
A lot of people hold on to features they don’t like in their homes because they fear devaluing it or assume that the next owner will have very different taste. But here’s how I look at it—if you live in a home for five years with a feature you don’t like, wouldn’t you be REALLY bummed if you found out the next owner changed it immediately? You don’t have a time machine, so you can’t know if the next owner’s taste will line up with yours or not, but there is usually a 50/50 chance that if you feel strongly about an update, the next owner might agree. Bottom line, don’t make choices based on other people’s opinions. It’s your home, use it to live your best life right now.
-Ask yourself, “Is it possible this feature will grow on me?”
As someone who changes their mind a lot, I try to never say never and always leave room for change. While I might be anti granny floral wallpaper this year, I might grow to love it by next year. Granted, there are some things I am pretty sure will not grow on me (like shag carpet in the bathroom), but there are a lot of things that fall into a certain gray area. If a feature is on the line for you, consider living with it for a year or so before you decide whether to update. Sometimes time is the best was to gain clarity.
-Ask yourself, “Does this space make me feel creative and inspired?”
I told you above about the mid-century ranch we passed on because at the time I was very into reclaimed wood and colorful DIY updates. I didn’t feel like that was the best fit for that home. And basically I felt like the home was telling me how it “wanted” to be decorated and it wasn’t totally my style. If you are house shopping and you look at a home that makes you feel like you need to decorate it like someone else, maybe it’s just not the right house for you?
In our recent house shopping experience, we had an almost identical situation repeat itself, but with a different style home. Jeremy found a home that he loved (and I liked it a lot too), but it had recently been flipped and was decorated in a style that was fairly close to ours, but a little off. Most of the new features (fixtures, flooring, countertops, etc.) were pretty and things we’d love in other people’s homes, but not quite stuff we would pick out. So we decided to pass before even seeing it in person because we knew we’d have guilt changing out features that would maybe be perfect for somebody else. The bottom line was that it was making me feel a little stuck instead of creative and inspired. Beautiful home, but just not the right choice for us because we’re people who ENJOY the updating and before/after process. (We picked a fixer upper, of course!)
These are more points to consider than tips. I am excited to hear your thoughts and stories in the comments! Since I am getting ready to begin a whole new before/after renovation adventure (this time with a home from the 1970s!), this is an important topic to me.
I’m looking forward to hearing about how you have loved and “respected” your older homes while still making them the best-case-scenario for today!
Credits// Author: Elsie Larson. Photography: Laura Gummerman. Photos edited with A Beautiful Mess Actions.
My husband and I HATE cookie cutter. I prefer to put my own stamp on my home, but I also have to see some creativity in a home when I’m shopping – something that breaks the mold. So fear not, I’m sure your home would at least draw us.
This is kind of not on the subject, but I adore your skirt! Do you mind sharing where you got it from? Thanks 🙂
just wondering where this red skirt is from?
I just found her skirt while shopping at Dillard’s last night! It is Chelsea & Violet in the GB section ON SALE
I currently live in a 1970’s cottage by the sea in Santa Barbara, California. I do not feel guilty about changing ANYTHING. The 70’s homes often have “cheap” features. Mine certainly does. I do, however, like when owners have a respect for older, quality features in a home. If a clawfoot tub or stained glass window does not suit your taste, I believe you should remove it – but with great care, so that it can be salvaged. Perhaps those items can be stored in an attic or basement for future owners (or at least resold somewhere). The craftsmanship found in older architectural features is difficult to find these days. Just my two cents…
Michelle from simplysantabarbara.blogspot.com
Whoa! Can you make a tutorial on how you styled those messy braids? SO pretty!!
I was checking in for the same reason!
I don’t usually comment here too much, but I wanted to add that sometimes it’s important to remember this with apartments in your own way, too. My boyfriend and I actually just moved to Murfreesboro, TN (we’re living here a year and saving some money to get engaged and married and move to Nashville next year!) It’s a very exciting time of our lives and we picked a great apartment – all new construction with brand new everything. The problem is that the construction, while excellent quality and the best deal for us, is just nothing like my personal style at all. It has granite countertops (not the pretty white kind, the speckled dark kind.) It has dark cabinetry and I prefer light, bright spaces. There’s faux-travertine tile in the bathroom (I hate travertine), and all the walls are painted a sort of boring beige-white.
We can’t paint and we can’t change any of these things, and for the first week or so I found myself trying to decorate ‘with’ them. Like, I thought about being more stuffy or spa-like with the bathroom decor because it seemed to fit better with these fixtures. But then I realized… this is the stuff we’re taking with us to our next space too. So I have decided to decorate the apartment, not let it decorate itself!
I was curious about those as well! So cute! What size plants are best for those pots. I’d love to hang some in my home 🙂
Great post! I’m so distracted by your amazing skirt! Where is it from?
My husband and I talked about this and decided that whoever buys our house after us will have to be into the things we like….one of the things that was hard about buying a house was that everything was so cookie cutter, hoping the “weird” changes we make will draw in eclectic home buyers!
My house is new too. i’m working towards making it a little MORE old looking because it’s so clean and crisp. Using wallpaper and tiles and new furnishings!
We are looking to buy an older home , as they come with plenty of character and great size rooms ! Really enjoyed your blog! It’s great to add modern touches to an older home but keeping it classic still! You have a lovely home! 🙂 fairybumpkin.blogspot.co.uk
My husband and I bought a 1925 Colonial home in a historic neighborhood known for Craftsman architecture – weird enough having the odd man out on the block. Even though I’d been dreaming of an adorable Craftsman in this neighborhood for a decade, we fell in love with this place. It has every single thing I ever dreamed of when I thought of a home – built ins, a handcrafted staircase with incredible details, a huge windowseat, and EVERY SINGLE PIECE OF ORIGINAL WOODWORK (not one inch of it was ever painted).
Some terrible person had painted the original oak floors black (not kidding, painted them black. With paint.) so we refinished those before we moved in, and they’re perfect. But…my style tends toward modern, and I love black/white with pops of bright color, but I just cannot bring myself to paint over our perfectly patinaed woodwork, so I’ve spent several years figuring out how to marry modern and graphic with rich dark woodwork and wood floors. It’s a constant (and very, very slow) process.
The key for me is to move slowly, and forget about what I “know” when it comes to redecorating, and instead focus on what I love, and what looks right. Given that there’s only one bathroom and it’s on the second floor, and the kitchen and bathroom were obviously redone by a 12 year old with a library book, we’ve let go of the idea of future owners and just focused on making it space that makes us feel hugged. When its actually clean, I smile every time I come through the door.
OMG, yes- where did you get that skirt?!
We bought a house built in the 70s and people aren’t generally fussy about features from that Era but I still kind of wanted updates to look like they could have been original but also be classic enough that they don’t look “dated”. Some classic stuff that I love will always look dated to some people like brass fixtures and Saltillo tile, but I just constantly remind myself that my home is MY home and I am the only one who needs to love it, especially since we don’t plan on moving for at least 15 years.
I came to check the comments to see if anyone had asked this and gotten a reply. I’ve been looking for this skirt since it’s first appearance
That’s a really good way of looking at things. Just because it looks old doesn’t mean it’s original and you should make your home work for you regardless.
We bought a 1930s Tudor home in an up-and-coming neighborhood of Denver. The house had been cheaply flipped in 2000 (covering the original hardwood with laminate and tile, poor kitchen choices, and lots of horrible aesthetic work) while also creating an open floor plan and finishing the basement (yay!). Many of the homes in our neighborhood are being flipped by developers who are removing and selling everything with some cash value, taking the interiors down to the studs and replacing everything with traditional flipper materials. Not our taste and not true to the age of the home.
In re-flipping our home, our goal was to add some age appropriate character back into the home (choosing classic and timeless materials, ceramic tiles, tall baseboards, classic lighting fixtures) that match our taste and compliment current trends all without making the house feel like a cookie-cutter flip. Most of our updates are things you would find in fancier homes built at that time, so age appropriate but not neighborhood appropriate. Anything that is a permanent feature (built ins, baseboards, window casings) we’ve kept/re-installed. For the rest, we’ve had fun mixing in our mid mod pieces, affinity for Scandinavian color palettes, and boho fabrics and accents. Why not! A new home is a blank canvas that should eventually (and with a lot of hard work) reflect who you are. I think the best design is about how people feel when they are in it and not what they see when they walk into room.
It’s from Dillards 🙂 -Jacki