Preserving the Past
Protecting the Future
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Winter is an excellent time for the owner of older homes to---

Mon, 12/30/2013 - 22:11

It is winter, again! Where did the summer go? For vintage home owners, there never seems to be enough time and resources to maintain, protect and preserve our homes.   Winter is a good time to plan for spring and summer exterior projects as well as complete the interior projects on that seemingly never ending to do list.


Research the history of your house.

Start with a visit to your local city hall and county recorder’s offices.  Check the plat map to determine the original information, building permits and previous owners of your property.  Visit your local library to find books about your house style.  Contact your local and state historical societies to learn more about your house and its architecture. Check your local newspaper’s archives. They may have stories or pictures that will help you trace your house’s or at the very least your neighborhood’s history.  For the internet savvy, check national historic or preservation societies. If want to replace wall paper, did you know there are several organizations dedicated to preserving the history of wall paper?  


Find your contractor.

Vintage home restoration when completed by a skilled professional is a time consuming and detailed process. Contractors who specialize in vintage home restoration can sometimes only complete 2 or3 houses each summer if working on whole house or other large projects.  Most contractors appreciate smaller projects to fill gaps between contracts. Getting a jump start on finding your contractor and placing your house on their job list is a wise use of these winter months. 


Make sure your contractor has the skills needed or access to the skilled craftsman to help you complete your restoration project.  Consider asking these three very unique questions.

·         If you want to brick or stone work projects completed, new stone will not match your old stone. Does your contractor know how to die the stone and match the mortar to the original or have a craftsman who can?

·         Is your contractor committed to having your woodwork or ironwork made to match your original wood work or ironwork? Or does he recommend that you replace your posts from the local home store?

·         Ask your contractor for references. Look at examples of their work. Vintage home owners love to show off their homes. They also understand the value of a good contractor.


Create the woodwork or iron work that you want to replace next year.

Old houses come with many surprises that may slow progress on your project.  Winter is a good time for your contractor to have your architectural components built so they are ready when he begins your project which will allow time for those unexpected delays.


For example, do you have a few posts on your porch that need to be replaced next summer?  Your contractor can arrange to have the posts duplicated with the same or similar type of wood during the winter months and have these pieces ready when he begins your project.  Also, independent craftsman will appreciate having your business during the winter months.  


Search for your missing components and develop a visual plan.

Use the winter months to plan and prepare for your restoration project. Scour your local salvage stores or Habitat for Humanity Re-Store, antique stores, and even thrift shops.  Collect samples from paint stores and from home and garden stores. Read architectural and home design magazines. Curl on your couch with scissors and note pads. Visit one or more of the many home, garden, and paint stores websites that let you play with multiple design elements. Use an internet website such as Pinterest to collect and build your collage of ideas.


Work with your contractor to design your restoration project.

Most people want blueprints to help them see their restoration vision.  Contractors have more time during the winter months to assist you with the design of your project. If you wait until next spring, you may find that your contractor has less time to devote to you and your project.


Complete interior home projects.

The options are unlimited. A few include:

  •  Does your home’s period appropriate furnishings and accessories need to be repaired or updated?  Search the thrift stores and antiques stores for period appropriate furniture. Reupholster furniture. Update hardware. Fix broken and loose parts and pieces.
  •  There is never enough storage space in old homes. You can add built in storage to your kitchen, dining rooms, bedrooms, and pantry. You can update cabinets, add book cases, or build shelving around your fireplace.
  •  Did you old home come with popcorn ceiling put in by a well-meaning previous owner. Scrape it off! Ceiling paper and tin ceilings are now affordable and carried in most home design stores.
  •  Tired of your old wallpaper or do you want a change in your wall covering? Did you know that the first wall paper was cloth attached by wires? There are many sources now for period specific wall coverings.
  •  Did your house once have pocket doors that you want to return to? You can update or add doors. Why not also add cornices and update moldings?
  •  Do you have plumbing that is no longer adequate or efficient?  Change your tub and sink faucets, or install new toilets, sinks, or tubs. 
  •  Old houses are often drafty, cold, and energy inefficient! Vintage homes need a few architectural details added for energy efficiency. Some Midwestern homeowners believe that a steel entry doors are adequate, but your old house (and utility bills) will be happier with storm doors.  

 Finally, be careful about cutting too many corners. There are areas in which you should be intentional about getting as much as you can for your dollar such as cabinets, doors and windows, and energy efficient appliances. And do I even need to say, plastic molding is a major no-no. A vintage home whose owner has planned, thoughtfully and carefully, for its restoration will become a lasting legacy for the owner and the neighborhood.

(Reprinted from Fall 2012 Home Magazine/Free Press Mankato, Mn.)