Historic homes hold a certain appeal for many homebuyers that goes beyond detailed architecture and quality craftsmanship. The feeling an older home evokes can’t be recreated in new construction, making it an appealing choice for homeowners who appreciate history and don’t mind a little bit of work.
“Color completes the historic statement,” James Martin of The Color People says. “It can really explain a home’s architecture.”
But embarking on a renovation of a historic property can be a complicated process. Here are a few tips to help you know what to expect when bringing a home with “good bones” back to its former glory.
What Makes a “Historic” Home What qualifies a home as an historic property? Historic homes are at least 50 years old and usually maintain the majority of their original architectural details, says Kim Trent, executive director of Knox Heritage, a preservation group in Knoxville, Tenn. “They can be as elaborate as mansions or as simple as shotgun houses, but they all reflect the design and craftsmanship of the era in which they were built.”
But beyond the age of the house, there are intangible qualities in many historic homes.
"An historic house is one that is worth saving—it's not defined by age alone," National Spokesperson for the American Society of Interior Designers and Principal of Sharon McCormick Design, LLC Sharon McCormick says. McCormick owns a circa-1730s Colonial home that is on the National Register of Historic Places, a list maintained by the federal government of historically, architecturally and culturally significant properties. "For example, Phillip Johnson's Glass House was built in the late 1940s, which by age may not seem that historic, but it is architecturally and culturally significant."
Photo by James Martin. Copyright The Color People.
Do Your Homework Before You Buy One of the most common mistakes in historic renovations, says Frank Wickstead, owner of Atlanta-based Wickstead Works, which specializes in residential renovations, is buyers who don’t truly understand what it takes to complete a renovation on an historic home.
“The most common mistake I see people make is getting in over their heads, making a hasty decision to buy a home without first doing their research,” he says. Wickstead says this includes not only researching the house and estimating what the budget would be to make repairs and renovations but also learning about the neighborhood if the home is in an established historic district certified by the National Register of Historic Places.
“If you have a home in an established historic district, your plans will have to be approved by the neighborhood,” he says. “This can be a breeze or a nightmare depending on the neighborhood.”
Choose Your Team Wisely You don’t want to begin a historic home project without an architect, contractor and structural engineer you trust, Wickstead says, adding that forming the team before you even make the purchase can be a critical element in a successful project.