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.