Thoughts on Updating an Older Home

On updating an old house 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!)—

On updating an old house 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!  

On updating an old houseThanks for reading! xo. Elsie 

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 🙂

  • 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…
    Best,
    Michelle from simplysantabarbara.blogspot.com

  • Whoa! Can you make a tutorial on how you styled those messy braids? SO pretty!!

  • 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!

    Keltie Knight

    http://www.dayandknightblog.com

  • 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!

    xxKeltie
    www.dayandknightblog.com

  • 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.

  • 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.

    -M
    www.violetroots.com

  • Love all of this! I’m totally a believer in feeling like your home should represent you and your lifestyle and be a place that you WANT to be in. A lot of people forget this while they rush to decorate and finish their homes!

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

    xx, Mel
    http://melinspired.com

  • 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.

  • we went through that in our previous home–a 1957, we ended up using a lot of mid century pieces but mixed it with modern. Now we live in a new home and have the opposite problem (no character, all of it has to be added in). ditto what everyone else said, cuute skirt!

  • I love the wooden hexagon planter. Where did you get that?! You have a great sense of style. It is clean and artistic but has personality all at the same time! What a gift!

  • We recently purchased a 1920’s bungalow – which is my favorite style home and I feel so lucky to have scored it. The kitchen is updated which is completely fine with me. What I know I won’t change are things like I won’t paint the natural wood trim throughout. I’ll always keep the built in china cabinet, and all the door hardware, and the wood floors that are still there. We’ve also been renovating the exterior since it was all one color, white, to really give it back it’s bungalow charm.

  • Our Denver-square Victorian was also built in 1885! I fully understand the challenges of living in and decorating an old home. The rooms are certainly not built for modern living! Being an artist and musician, we have very eclectic decorating taste. We do what we want for the most part, but it all seems to work. The one thing we would never screw with is all the original molding and stain glass windows. There are a couple spaces that we kept more traditional Victorian colors, like the dining room. We love our old house! You can see a lot of it here: http://theyearoflivingfabulously.com/2015/04/22/artist-house-tour-marie-m-vlasic-and-jiva-armetta-create-design-harmony-at-home/

  • I really want to find an old house like this one day and revamp everything inside – while keeping the character of course. It’s been a dream of mine for a long time.

  • You have a lovely home and I hope to one day have one of my own. But in the meantime. Where did you get that skirt?! Its GORGEOUS

  • As someone who’s only rented, I’ve never thought about what it would be like to go into a house and try to get a feel for if its style jives with mine. I’ve also never felt inspired to renovate, so I think I’d probably be the kind of person who looks for a house whose style already jives with mine without too many alterations. I think it’s awesome that you put so much thought into it! And I can’t wait to see what happens with your new place!

  • Great post! I live in a 1907 Victorian and am moving to a house built around 1820. I have always felt the obligation to decorate according to the period of the building of the house, but lately, I have felt constrained by that. In my new house, I’m going to relax it a bit. Of course, I will keep all the woodwork and windows, etc. — the things that are the bones of an old house — but when it comes to furniture, I’m going to ease up on the antiques. It’s quite liberating, don’t you think?

  • Great tips. (and I’m in Real Estate. :)) Buying a home is such a big investment and it’s good to choose a place you can really see yourself comfortable and creative in.
    ♥ Heather

  • A subject I think about often… we live on the family farm, in a house that’s probably mid to late 1800s. It’s not a fancy house at all. But I love it. I know it’s been modified a lot over the years but it hasn’t really been modernized, and I absolutely love that. I tend to be a stickler for being true to the house, and that if it doesn’t suit your style… maybe it’s the wrong house. I think you’ve raised some good points here! I agree that sometimes it’s good to wait and live in it and see if it grows on you. Not only does this approach give you time to think, it potentially saves you some money and work, and maybe keeps some building materials out of the landfill.

    Having said that, in our previous house, which we knew we’d sell at some point, I found myself thinking about what Mrs. Next-owner would want in the house. Well screw that.

    So now I’m in this slightly rickety totally imperfect farmhouse and refusing to change things like pull-chain lights in the bedrooms and latches rather than doorknobs. This house suits me.

    Good luck with your move, and many happy home adventures!

  • We purchased our 1908 Craftsman home because of the gorgeous architectural details, including dark wood molding on the ceilings and around the windows and picture rail. When I was looking for inspiration pictures for painting I noticed that everyone either (A) painted their molding white or (B) painted their walls white. I am not a fan of white walls in my own home, I love color, but I couldn’t find many pictures on blogs or in magazines of dark molding with anything other than white walls.

    I decided to paint the rooms the colors that I wanted to, regardless of the dark molding. My living room is a deep grey and the dining room a jewel teal. The house has a mid-century swanky look that I love; it reminds me of being in a bar! I know that not everyone will love my style, but I think most discerning house hunters can see beyond wall paint, but they may not be able to see beyond poorly painted molding or gutted interiors.

    I can’t wait to see what you do with your new house, Elsie!

  • Haha so timely. I am definitely one of those people who believes you should stay true to the era and I was just totally taken aback when the contractor suggested I might want new cabinets instead of cutting the existing ones to fit our kitchen renovation.

    I have a 60s bungalow with all original fixtures and cabinets and mint green bath and definitely feel trapped into that one decorating option!

  • I’ve seen this skirt pop up in a few of her posts now and I can never find a mention of where it is from. I love it!!

  • As someone that is currently house hunting this is very interesting as my boyfriend and I have very conflicting views on older houses. He will only consider a new build but I really want that character that comes with an older property!
    There really is so much more to consider than I had even thought of!

    The Everyday Life of Rachel

  • Oh gosh, where to begin….Our first home was a1923 Tudor style cottage. It was full of charm, hardwood floors, crown moldings, large soaking tub, leaded windows, french doors. But it was very small, the kitchen was small and awkward, the only bathroom was on the second floor. There were no closets!!! and the walls were plaster and lathing???? Try putting a nail to hang paintings in the wall and the hammer just bounces back at you…We loved that house and happily dealt with the bad stuff, without renovating it, I did decorate it, but the “worse” thing I did was to paint the crown moldings a Metallic gold, a previous owner had painted them white, and the other woodwork was a very dark read: Patina walnut shade…so I thought painting them gold was a nice compromise. When we sold the house, the new owner loved it, but I heard all kinds of negative comments about it from our Broker.

    Our new house is Modern, with an open plan. Everything was white, walls, carpeting-EVERYTHING!! With lots of Brass and Smoke glasslike fixture which I didn’t like… I am now adding charm to this home, with wood floors, Bronze fixtures, and some Scandinavian design touches. I have Painted almost every room adding soft color, and bright pops where it feels right. I love this house too but…They both were so different. I guess I did what felt right for our lifestyle and the house, and it was and is a very intuitive process. I am decorating slowly because you have to figure out how you live in a new house. Your Lifestyle changes with your residence, and you live differently, so your choices are influenced by your environment.

  • My home was built in 1930 and I LOVE it including all the quirks like duct work in the coat closet. When we were looking for our home, it had to be an older home built between 1900 and 1940 for many reasons but a big one was how much we love everything about that time period (clothes, cars, history, décor). While I love finding things to “fit” the time period, I don’t feel obligated to do so, it is our HOME and should reflect my husband and I. If you think about it, would you feel obligated to keep the Southwest wallpaper in a home built in 1990? I think most would say no and we really shouldn’t think any differently about our older homes. Respect the home’s story but understand part of it’s story is now your own.

  • I always consider resale value in my renovations. I know I wont be living in my current home forever.

  • My family and I are currently renovating a 1901 farmhouse, and after working on that project for a year, I agree with your suggestions. We were lucky in that the people (and ultimately the bank) who owned our house previously had started renovating, making our decision to keep renovating much easier. As they only left one chunk of cabinetry in the entire kitchen, it gave us free reign to pick out what we really wanted,a room full of modern conveniences and light. At the same time, however, we have spent days haunting salvage yards searching for pieces to match the original trim to replace what is missing.

    As one of the oldest homes in the town where we live, we certainly get our fair share of community input, and there are people I am certain wish we would fill the house with period furniture and floral wallpaper. We are finding a happy medium that works for us, an eclectic mix of the old and new.

  • I second that – love the skirt (currently too poor for a home, so I’ll focus on the clothes :)) Where’d you get it?!

  • One of my best friend’s family house is a old house with beautiful details but they decided to renovate. Luckily, the back of the house was plain and didn’t have anything to preserve so they kept the front of the house as it was but the back of the house was built into a more modern style. I thought it was such a perfect solution! Photos of the house front he front and back are so different, it’s really cool! The inside of the house also mirrors this: front is kept as it was and the back is modern with a huge kitchen, ceiling to floor windows etc.

    I thought this was a really good compromise and solution!

  • I actually live in a national monument in the Netherlands (it is not correctly registered in the city building archives but I think it must be over 200 years old), so I am not allowed to change anything on the outside (meaning I also cannot get double glass in my windows, brr). The inside on the other hand has been completely renovated in the late 1980’s and although I really like having a kitchen and stuff like that, they also made a lowered ceiling and that is something I think no-one should ever do to a historic house. The storeys of this house were already low. On one of the floors I can now touch the ceiling without standing on my toes and I have friends who are not able to stand upright in our bathroom.

  • I’m currently renting an apartment built in the 1820s, so obviously I can’t really change anything but I actually really enjoy the juxtaposition of the older architecture with my arguably much more modern style. Having said that, I have a very modern kitchen and bathroom and the building has been refurbished many times on the inside. The only thing I’d like to change is the windows because they are beautiful floor to ceiling sash windows with a seaview but they’re single glazing because it’s a listed building so you’re not allowed to change anything on the outside.

  • I agree with all of this.

    On point one – so many people were horrified when I removed the fireplace in my last home. The flat was 120 years old but the fireplace only LOOKED old – it was actually a plug in electric one, screwed to the wall – and I really needed the storage space. Once it was gone, almost everyone admitted that the room worked better without it. Sometimes you have to trust your own instincts.

    My current home is also about 120 years old – it has a lot of original features and a lot of more recent (often incompetently done) renovations. I happen to love the old features but I’m not afraid to change things if they’re not working for me; a home needs to be loved and to make more comfortable for the people who live there. Daily life is different now from 120 years ago and I feel like a home isn’t living up to its potential if it is kept in an “original” state which makes modern day life more difficult.

  • I’m so excited to see how your new home shapes up, Elsie. I loved your 1880s one here, you really made it your own and let its subtle old character shine through.

    I grew up in a 1930s craftsman with a small addition that was built onto one side in the 70s. I’m in college so I’m still living here in it with my parents during the summer. I don’t think I ever want to live in a newer home! I’m just too sentimental–I love our old wavy glass windows and don’t know what I’d do without a laundry chute and pretty skeleton-key locks on all the doors. My personal favorite thing is when old homes are decorated in a minimalist industrial modern style, with pops of bold color, that highlights the original character of the house while making it feel contemporary. I just love the contrast between metal or bright color and old wood.

  • As I architect who loves old hoses i can almost agree on all of your points. Any home you live in must be made yours!
    But if you decide to change a feature that is original or almost original (like the 1930’s lightning in the 1900’s home) please make your change reversible! And don’t throw that stained glass window away, don’t destroy that tub, store it!

  • Its so cute! I wanna try this idea for our home too! its very advantage to have a white or light color in your house so you can do any designs anytime.

  • Hi Elsie! I am completely off the topic here… sorry for that and I am a bit shy to write this here too; I saw you and Jeremy in my dreams yesterday night and you two have come to India for a project. I visited your home, just to meet you guys and we had a friendly fair share of lots of thoughts and lunch. I tell you I enjoyed the dream which was detailed to every pin-point. Thanks for being my constant source of inspiration. God bless you both and hope to meet you two once in a lifetime… in reality 🙂

  • I love these thoughts! We’re most like going to be buying an older home when we buy, so these are great tips to keep in mind!

    Paige
    http://thehappyflammily.com

  • We just purchased an 1890s farmhouse after a year of searching for the right 100+ year old home. We are doing a lot of work on it, and most of this work is removing elements of bad renovations in the 70s and 80s and restoring some of the charming original elements (like uncovering and refinishing hardword floors and installing period trim).

    When you choose to live in a historic home, I believe you have some degree of responsibility to respect the artistry and craftsmanship that is hard to come by in new homes. You are taking care of a piece of history, a building that will likely last far longer than you will. So while you may own the home for now, I wouldn’t recommend doing whatever you want like destroying the historical charm inside. I would recommend using historic design elements in the kitchen and bathroom areas (and keep original sinks and tubs or at least save them for the next owners), but decorating everything else in a modern fashion can also be lovely.

    P.S. It really looks like you have done a great job respecting your home’s historic elements!

  • So glad you are exploring this and thinking deeply about historical buildings and preservation – just this week I was appointed to my city’s historical commission. Our city has many old factories from the industrial revolution in New England, victorian homes, etc. and yes there are certainly aspects of homes especially to maintain if possible! Slate roofs, copper gutters, beautiful wood floors, old (and like you said, researched) fixtures, glass door knobs, stained glass, molding, banisters, fireplaces and mantles, tiles – once a part of history is taken away or destroyed – it’s gone and can never be made the same way again, so do be careful and thoughtful! Again, I truly love so much of what you and the ABM team do – thank you for all of the fun & inspiration!

    Warm Regards,
    Alexandra
    www.littlewildheart.com

  • I love this article! It’s so true, there is no right or wrong way to customize your home to fit your taste. I think it’s so important for people to stylize their home to their own taste rather than following the latest trend. Always surround yourself with things that SPARK JOY is my motto to home decorating 🙂 thanks to Kondo Marie!

    Juju Sprinkles
    http://www.jujusprinkles.com

  • My husband and I just bought our first home- a Victorian style home built in 1925- so this post is super relevant! Thanks for sharing your tips, Elsie! I LOVE the vintage feel of our house, but also don’t want to be afraid to fill it with our personality and change thing that need changed. Despite the many, many big decisions, I’m so excited to begin our remodel journey.

    I’ll be posting before and after shots periodically on by blog as well 😉

    Olivia

  • My house is unique in that thought it was built in 1962, it had only one owner!! The couple that we bought from moved in right after it was built and sold after the wife died and the husband moved into assisted living. So our rancher is about the only house in the neighborhood that hasn’t been redone lots of times already. This is great because a lot of the original fixtures are absolutely gorgeous and we’d never be able to find such good craftsmanship these days (Italian brass chandeliers and solid brass faceplates). We have a gorgeous textured Japanese wallpaper feature wall in our dining room that we’ll never strip. The fun part is updating around these original pieces in “harmless” ways–lighter colors on the wall, new draperies, ripping out carpets to reveal the original hardwoods.

  • Hi Elsie! I really enjoy your home posts. I’ve always wanted to live in an older home, so this will come in handy as I get older. I really enjoy what you’ve said about a space making your feel creative – that is absolutely essential to me. Thanks for the thoughts 🙂

    Brooke | brookewrote

  • I think this applies to classic cars, too! My husband and I are restoring my 1955 Chevy BelAir and have no problem upgrading it with some modern features (hello, AC!) because some played with it before us.

    Adi
    sweetcreationsbyadi.blogspot.com

  • I bought my current (and only) home 16 years ago. It is a custom 1950 ranch style home. I waited several years before remodelng beyond painting walls in the bedrooms and removing the tackiest wallpaper I have EVER encountered in one of the bedrooms. (it was dark brown with huge yellow and white flowers and simply could not stay in my home). After 5 years, the kitchen was remodeled because I couldn’t find replacement parts to keep the O’Keefe & Merritt stove functioning. Then, last winter, my turquoise blue bathtub stopped draining so we saved up a bit more moola and redid the bathroom. It should be finished next weekend and I can’t tell you how excited I am to take a bath in a white bathtub! I was lucky that my home has the wood floors that I was hoping for and custom built storage. I adore my home even if it is hard as HE** to find parts. I would advise anyone who buys an old(er) home to wait for the home to unfold its’ desires before recklessly charging ahead to make the home “yours” by remodeling it into a new home. Just my thoughts…

  • I was just going to ask the same!!!! Yes–please dish on the skirt!! 🙂

  • My fiance and I are buying our first home this week. A ranch style house in Nashville that was built in 1963! The house has good bones, but needs some redecorating FOR SURE. I’m so excited to make this house our own. We want to update, but not take away from its charm.

  • Love this! We currently live in a new townhouse (built in 2008, and my husband is the original owner–he had it before I met him) that’s the perfect size for our family of soon-to-be three, plus our two dogs. But we’ve known all along that at some point, we want to move further north in our state so we’ll both be closer to work and pretty much everything else we do. He’s started talking recently about looking into a foreclosure we can renovate together/getting an older house that has some history. I’ve been hesitant on the latter, because I don’t want the age of the house to dictate what we can do with it. Especially since around here, if a house is on the historic registry, there are limits. And I like lots of color! I know this is probably something we won’t actually move on for a couple of years, but this is a great list of things to keep in mind if we do go that route.

  • Elsie, thank you so much for writing this! It’s so nice to know I’m not alone in how I think about decorating/renovating almost every day 🙂

    My husband and I are renovating a 1912 bungalow that was completely decked out in 1970s décor when we moved in. The walls, curtains, doors, a lot of trim, etc. was mint green. Yikes. New carpet was put in the whole house right before we moved in (a nice, neutral white), but to your earlier point, the previous owner maybe shouldn’t have bothered since we took up the carpet and refinished the hard wood. When we did take up the carpet, though, we found carpet shards that were mint green too! haha.

    Our style is midcentury modern with grandma knickknacks, is the best way to describe it. We’re trying to keep the basic bones (moulding, built-ins, etc.) in tact, but we’re doing a lot of customizing in easy places, like painting the walls bright yellow. For bathrooms and tiling, we’re doing our best to marry the best of old, our style, and neutral enough that whoever has the house next will like. This means a lot of black and white penny tiles, which I honestly think look like they could have come with the house.

    These are really great tips to consider as we refinish the rest of the home. And, I can’t wait to see your new home renovations begin!!

  • I love that you thank people for reading, you’re so sweet!

    50 Beauty and Life HACKS Every Girl Should Know♡

  • I love these photos! I love the style its amazing and quirky! Keep up the good posts 🙂

    www.ajourneywithjo.com

  • The house I grew up in was built in 1926. It had been turned into a triplex when my parents purchased it, so the amount of renovation that went into turning it back in a family home took years. We lived in different parts of the house while others were being worked on, sometimes all of us in one room. My parents had to update everything because it had been chopped to bits. They chose farmhouse cabinetry for the kitchen, & added a bunch of built in shelves to other parts that looked like they could be original. I loved living in that house because it was so eclectic with how it turned out with renovations & decorations at the end of the day. They kept original single pane windows in most rooms, but outfitted the sunroom with new double paned casement windows. That’s one thing I find important about older homes is the energy efficiency aspects are lacking. I can remember either being freezing cold or burning up hot. Even though the original windows are beautiful, if I were to live in a house that old again, I would have to front the cost to change out the windows & pay for an energy audit to find out what else we could do. My husband & I live in a 1950’s bungalow, if we were planning on being there long-term, this is something we would do for comfort & long-term cost savings because our heating & cooling bills are not pretty!

  • Hi Korin! We bought them from this Etsy shop: https://www.etsy.com/shop/lightandladder 🙂 -Jacki

  • I have been thinking about this a lot lately since I bought a house 2 months ago that was built in 1928. A lot of it was original and some was updated (in the 80s!). One of the things we did decide to return to its original glory was the bathroom, even though it’s teeny, because I love the hex tiles and deep bathtub. We’ll be removing the 80’s sink and replacing it with a pedestal one even though some storage will be lost and I believe it will be both my style AND original to the house (a win/win!). We also just ripped up carpet and refinished the original fir floor in our bedroom, another case of restoring AND it matching our style. But when it comes to our kitchen, I’ve chosen new appliances, removed cabinets to make room for a dish washer and plan to put in butcher block counters eventually. Will that restore it to the original ’28 feel? No. Will it be functional for our lifestyle and be a style we enjoy? Absolutely.

  • I find it best to create a neutral base in an old home so that the original elements are highlighted. I also like to find fashion and art from the period of the house for inspiration.

  • this is such an interesting post! my two cents: i think it’s TOTALLY fine to decorate your home however you see fit–because that doesn’t affect the bones of the home itself. BUT it does kind of hurt my heart when people change or destroy elements of an older home that can never be restored (i.e. moldings, intricate banisters, fireplaces, facades, etc.) I live in a turn of the century brownstone and am so thankful that so many original elements remained intact. On the other hand, we have other brownstones on our street that have been gutted (for no reason) and made totally modern. It’s tough, because obviously if it’s someone’s home, it’s ultimately their decision, but at the same time, i wonder why these people didn’t just buy something more modern/new if that’s their taste? When you change something that has been around for 100 years–whether or not it’s your personal taste–it feels like that person is destroying a piece of history.

    http://www.thesparklylife.com

  • I’ve always thought of older houses as fun (although expensive) projects that allow you to make a space your own without having to build a house from zero 🙂

    http://www.misadventuro.us

  • I moved into a 1963 ranch last year with all intentions of revamping the whole thing. It was mostly original (shag carpets, wood paneling, accordion doors), and I thought there is no way I can have a house like this, but truly after living there for just a month, I changed my tune. It’s part of the charm of the house and what makes it unique. Anyone can have butcher block counters or herringbone wood floors, but not everyone can have the 1960s realness (think Megan Draper’s California condo) that this house has. So I totally agree with settling in and seeing what sits well with you after some time. It really might surprise you.

  • Just a few months ago, my husband and I bought a house that was built in 1870. Through talks with the neighbors, we’ve been able to piece together some of the history. It was once the village pub, and the governor drank here quite often. I love that aspect of it! It’s fun to imagine all the stories these walls heard.

    Unfortunately, termites in the 1970s had themselves quite the feast, so we never really had the option of what original features to keep. As we’re starting to decorate, there are things that we’d love to imitate from the original period of the house, such as the crown molding and the flooring. But there is a great deal of freedom in knowing we can update other aspects without shame.

    I’m excited to bring the charm that so many are looking for with older homes while making it just right for our family.

  • Great tips! My husband and I are first time house owners and have a 1970s home. There’s a lot we can change but it’s hard to know where to start and if we will regret certain things. Thanks for your thoughts on this!!

    Liana
    www.thefrench75.ca

  • Hi Alyssa–totally agree with you! Which is maybe why my comment (the one DIRECTLY below this) says pretttty much the same thing, lol. What can I say–great minds. 🙂

  • Love this post, it’s interesting to hear views on home and style. I think having a old home looks lovely with modern aspects! – I love the modern quotes on the walls, the cacti and the yellow door. Yum!

    www.ohjanuary.blogspot.co.uk

  • It’s so funny that you mentioned the future home owner. My husband thinks I’m crazy to be concerned with future owners, and I’ve finally come around. Our home was built in 1948 and I love the cove ceilings and arch door ways, I HATE the bathroom. It was cheaply updated and it’s obvious the fixtures were put in quickly, they’re not even properly installed… It’s a small space and very cramped because of the configuration of fixtures. We dream of turning it into a shower room, or a least a large walk in shower instead of a tub. I was worried no one would buy it without a tub, then remembered we had no plans to move in the near future. So we’re planning to make it what we want, and worry about resale when and if that time comes.

  • These are my thoughts and feeling exactly! Thanks for sharing, Elsie!

  • Totally agree with everything here. I definitely believe in respecting the history of a home, but that shouldn’t have to mean living in a time capsule.

    I think one of the most important points you make here is–if you’re considering a historic home where the style isn’t for you but may be perfect for someone else, PLEASE JUST MOVE ON. Your home is lovely, and you have made it modern while retaining its valuable historical detail and charm. This is the balance to strive for. It hurts me BADLY to see people dismantle older homes in good condition for the sake of a “look.” In this vein, I would say to ask yourself before you buy, “Do I really want to live in an older home?” There are definitely trade-offs, and you have to know you want to accept and embrace the weirdness that come with the territory.

    As for me, I own two older homes–a 1930 bungalow in Phelps Grove and a 1921 bungalow in Rountree. We just moved into the new place and are trying to restore some of the details lost in prior renovations (uncovering original hardwoods, adding period style trim, etc). I think I will always live in an older home–it’s just more fun, especially if you are a reno masochist. 🙂

    One final note–all of this too long comment is just on the subject of renovations. When it comes to decorating, I say DO YOU.

  • As someone who is not a homeowner yet, this concern never really crossed my mind. That being said, I’ve always loved the idea of living in an older home, and I can understand why you’d want to be thoughtful about any permanent changes you make!

    Cat
    http://oddlylovely.com

  • i live in a turn of the century victorian house, and my pendulum often swings between total restoration/preservation and lightening up a bit. i think you should do whatever you want to make the home comfortable for you, but respect the big three: natural woodwork, stained glass, and at least one clawfoot tub. stained glass is a precious jewel, natural stained woodwork when painted will always need scraping/repainting and will be terrible to strip and restore. let the grain shine, ok? and finally, clawfoot tubs are straight up awesome. feel free to add a shower at any time, but keep the tub. seriously. i think people will avoid renovation mistakes if they choose a house that is fundamentally to their liking. if you are a fan of white painted woodwork, buy a 30s-40s era colonial. also, decide on a house that needs your personally-chosen additions, rather than a long list of things you need to remove to be happy . . . unless, of course, it is a sick bargain. regardless, if a home is well-maintained and cared for, you can’t really go wrong.

  • i want to know how to get some of those cute little hanging planters? Do you have a link to either buy or DIY them?
    Cheers,
    ~Korin

  • I always struggle with decorating old homes…it’s definitely hard to find that balance. But, on a side note, I adore that yellow door!!
    www.sweetlytattered.com

  • We bought our current 1930s home last year. And while looking at the photos on zillow, I thought I would paint all the original moulding white. After living in it just a few months, I decided against it. Some rooms had to have the moulding painted (ugh, brick red!!) but I’m happy to leave the rest natural. Have fun with your new home!

  • My BF and I just bought our 1910 home in Denver, CO. The charm is seeping out of the walls, it’s beautiful. And then we decided to knock out a wall… and add a larger closet… and add new lighting… and oh you know, reno the kitchen.

    We bought in February and we move in in about two weeks. We just got walls, actually. We’re lucky we are on the same page with the house, I love updates (lighting and paint, etc), but I ADORE charm. You can’t cover charm with a generic kitchen backsplash, it’s just not right. It’s been a balance of keeping the green tiled fireplace, but adding a better color to the walls, or compromising the OG dark molding to brighten the place up (painting it white will murder me and give me life). Either way, it’s a devastatingly painful process, but I lit up seeing drywall go up, made my heart flutter.

  • We live in a house that was built in 1910 and it has lots of beautiful original features like stained glass windows, ornate ceiling roses etc. We’ve found that decorating it in a modern, clean but not too shiny or minimalist style lets the original features shine and works perfectly. I think the important thing is to take the time to find a style that works for you and the house and avoiding anything that looks like it’s completely off the shelf.

  • We are renovating a 1884 Queen Anne Victorian for resale in Columbus Ohio. While the outside has a lot of the really cool features that make this house interesting the inside had been chopped and divided and rechopped so many time that it had lost its “historicness”. We went with a plan that payed homage to the home’s time period but brought it to modern sensibilities. We completely gutted the whole thing (walls and all!) to give it the floorplan that a new homebuyer would want. We even put a laundry room on the second floor! We do not feel guilty about this at all! So I say keep the cool historic bits and make your home YOUR home! Why would you make choices for some “future” homeowner anyway?

  • My current home experience is kind of the opposite in that our house is pretty new (built 2009). We recently moved from a charming contemporary craftsman house into what can only be described as a Tuscan-style mcmansion. I. KNOW. We had our reasons, and the house is beautiful in many respects. However, I’m struggling to dial down its Real-Housewives-of-New-Jersey features, going for a much more rustic vibe. This may or may not include removing the cement pillars in the entry (blech, blech, blech). Right now it just feels like I’m fighting against the house rather than accepting what it is. Anyway, I have no tips for you. Just wanted to say that this post resonated with me.

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