Tips for Navigating Well-Loved Homes with Character
Lynchburg and the surrounding areas are full of timeworn homes full of potential. Whether it’s a colossal Victorian that neighbors a well-known historic street or a 19th-century farmhouse that’s been clearly well-loved and weathered, there are ways to unlock the potential of these old homes and bring them into the modern world—without sacrificing their charm.
Tackle the Big Needs First
If you’re in the process of renovating, restoring, or even maintaining an older home, it’s wise to start slow and truly look at the bigger picture. For example, if the old metal roof on the home is showing signs of wear or is already leaking, prioritize those crucial repairs first before moving on to smaller projects. It’s important to catch those issues while they’re smaller problems first, rather than waiting and potentially running into a larger problem that could cause wide-scale damage.
Once the bigger, immediate needs are taken care of, approach the home systematically by discovering the resolving problems one by one. Walk room by room with your phone’s Notes app or just with pen and paper and make note of every issue that you see. Is plaster cracking in the guest bedroom? Is the toilet randomly running throughout the day? Is there a light fixture that isn’t working? Are the wooden floorboards on your porch showing signs of rot or wear? Do all of the windows open with ease or do the old pulley systems need to be replaced?
Invest in Experts
Older homes and historic buildings are entirely different from new constructions—even the materials originally used are nowhere to be found in modern constructions today. For the most part, that is a positive. There’s a reason why people lament, “They don’t make them like they used to,” when referring to older buildings. The wood was infinitely stronger, and the metal or slate roofing materials used were meant to withstand the test of time—and they have.
However, it’s completely normal to feel intimidated by your older home. You want to do its “good, old bones” justice so it continues to last.
As you take time to explore the history of your home and identify the character-defining features that you want to keep, you can work with experts that you trust to keep those elements intact while updating any technology or infrastructure around them. For example, if your 100-year-old home has the original wavy glass in its windows, those may be elements that you want to keep—because they really don’t make them like they used to in that regard. However, those windows are often not as energy efficient, or they may need components replaced so they continue to raise and lower. Or, if you are renovating a midcentury that has loads of built-in cabinets but some of the doors no longer close the way that they should, an expert will help you by sourcing era-appropriate hardware that will restore them to their original glory.
If you happen to be more handy and want to tackle the work on your own, hire an expert—either an interior designer or a construction consultant—who has worked with homes from your era who will help you identify the special features in your home and point you toward the right direction for repairing them.
The average homeowner doesn’t have an HGTV-level renovation budget (but one can dream!), so when you’re planning your renovation plan, it’s important to set realistic estimates alongside each item. Whether you’re hiring an expert or handling the renovations on your own, it’s always wise to add 20% to your estimated total in case of a worst-case scenario. For example, if the construction team starts replacing the floorboards on your porch and notices termite damage on the support beams that they originally assumed were stable, those will be additional costs that you will incur.
As you’re making your renovation plan, consider what is an immediate need (like fixing the leaking roof), an important need, or simply something that is nice to have, and then prioritize your budget from there. Save the “nice to haves” for anything that is left over in the budget after the rest of the work is done.
And keep an eye out for any local or state government preservation incentives like tax credits that your property may qualify for!
Know When You Can Modernize
If your home still has its original coal-burning fireplaces, that doesn’t mean you have to rely on them to heat your home. You also don’t have to furnish your home in era-specific furniture that may not bring your joy or comfort.
The goal with renovating or restoring an older home should be about preserving the elements in your home that can adapt to modern needs. For example, if your home has the original tongue-and-groove longboard wood floors, don’t replace them with modern flooring if they’re still in good shape and can be restored. Or if your home has high ceilings with the original crown molding, factor its restoration into your budget rather than replacing it with newer materials.
Putting the time, energy, and money into salvaging these defining features will still maintain the character and history of your home without sacrificing modern conveniences. As you bring in those modern touches, like an updated electrical system or a new heating and cooling system, you can still be thoughtful of where they’re placed. New air conditioning returns may be carefully and inconspicuously placed so they don’t draw attention. Furniture can be laid out in a way that works with the home’s original floor plan but still works with how you live day-to-day.
Finally, focus on craft and quality as much as you can. The original builders of your home were experts with a deep knowledge of brick, wood, and plaster, so it’s important to focus on bringing in materials that maintain the same level of craftsmanship.