Updating a century home without sacrificing its charm

by Laura Bednar

There are many characteristics in an older house that make it a charming and unique space, but there are others that are outdated and can lead to a variety of issues. Done right, renovations to a century home don’t have to detract from its character and can enhance the foundation already in place.

A somewhat common update is lighting. Jeff Andrew, owner of the Garth Andrew design company, said older homes tend to have poor illumination and often feel dark and dismal. Adding recessed lighting can brighten up a space and will last longer, especially with LED light bulbs. Another way to lighten up the home is by adding lighter wallpaper to a room.

An update that can save a homeowner money is installing new windows. Andrew said older windows are usually not double paned and allow for heat loss. Sometimes older sliding glass doors have no insulation and window treatments like a pleated shade can preserve a room’s heat and control sun exposure to prevent furniture from fading.

Older homes also tend to have lower ceilings, and Andrew said lifting the ceiling will give the room “a more spacious feeling and make the area appear larger.” Refinishing hardwood floors is a less involved project. A quality professional finisher can match the floor color, regardless of age, according to Andrews.

From a safety standpoint, Andrew suggested opening up stairways and adding carpet over wooden steps to prevent a slip and fall.

“Some staircases are older and not safe because they are too high and too shallow,” he said.

Decorative insight

Updating the décor in a century home doesn’t have to mean all-new furniture. Sometimes all it takes is toning down the existing design scheme. Lanaya VanTilburg, interior designer at Ohio Hardwood Furniture, gave an example of a farmhouse, which is known for its dark greens, blues and plaids. To refresh the concept, use lighter shades of green or blue and a smaller plaid. Even accent pieces with hints of the farmhouse style on neutral colors will balance a fresh look with traditional design.

Andrew said switching out artwork on the wall can reinvigorate a space too.

“It adds a whole new perspective instead of painting the wall a new color,” he said.

VanTilburg said people expect older furniture in an older home, and this offers a “home-like quality.” However, she noted that you can mix certain furniture styles for a fresh look. For example, mid-century modern pieces fit well in a farmhouse. Smaller furniture in general will give an older home a fresh look. Other additions like a metal end table or adding a gold or brass finish to an existing piece can modernize any space, said VanTilburg.

In a Victorian home, the motif includes ornate details like curves, so adding furniture pieces with straight lines will clash. Some styles like transitional, which is in-between contemporary and traditional are versatile for many home types. Overall, VanTilburg said to pay attention to color when updating and make sure to keep the integrity of the space.

“Think about it as a whole, not as one room,” she said.

Both Andrew and VanTilburg agreed that the details of a century home are what should be highlighted. Architectural crown molding, baseboards and stained-glass windows should be left alone.

“The bones of the home need to stay as close to the original as possible,” said VanTilburg.

She added that there should be one to two antique pieces in every room of the house to serve as a talking point, such as artwork, a rug or entryway console.

“Not everything has to be new to keep people’s interest,” she said. ∞