6 Ways To Update A Historic Home

historic home in california

Historic homes are a blessing and a burden when it comes to home renovations. Here are 6 ways to approach a historic home improvement.


Many people feel that historic homes offer an intangible authentic quality that modern homes simply can’t achieve. But how do you decorate a historic home without it feeling cluttered, tiny, or dated?

These tips will help you balance your historic home’s cool architecture and unique features with modern design trends, so you can create a space that’s beautiful, updated, and functional.

1. Consider the right exterior colors

Brighter paint colors or wall textures have been common for some historic homes. But it doesn’t mean you want to overdo things with extreme paint colors in order to try and capture a bright and idealized version of the homes of the past.

Muted colors will complement historic architecture nicely, even if (hopefully if!) they are in other ranges beyond beige. For this, some research of the era can be helpful. Muted doesn’t mean boring; blues, purples, reds, and greens were all solid choices in Victorian homes. But, a muted version of this is just as effective.

Victorian homes san francisco

Many historical homes embraced vibrant colors during their heydays. Here are some colors that are vibrant, yet are muted too in order to avoid being too garish. Toned down colors also allow the details of the exteriors, of which there are many, to shine a bit more.

2. Create the illusion of space

Homes built recently tend to have high ceilings and large rooms, whereas older houses are a bit more conservative when it comes to space. Use any number of techniques, from painting the ceiling a lighter color to using lamps instead of overhead lights, to emphasize the space you do have. Use area rugs on hardwood floors, and don’t be afraid to hang things on the walls, either.

3. Accentuate unique features and details

One of the coolest things about historic homes is their architecture. Modern homes rarely have the wainscoting or the windows of period homes, and older houses also tend to have cool features like built-in closets with glass doors or secret cupboards. Even things like crown moldings and bannisters with intricate scrollwork help to give your space personality, and hearkens back to the era from which it comes.

Whatever features your house has, play them up. Use paint, wood finishing, or accent decorations to draw the eye to these awesome details.

victorian crown moldings and fixtures

(image: Home Trimwork)

4. Update the kitchen

Historic homes may have beautiful kitchen architecture or cool old features like walk-in pantries. Use the bones of the space to flesh out a new kitchen. A kitchen remodel is a good idea in any case as a way of adding value to any space, historic or not.

With a historic home, hiring an electrician and other professionals are good investments to help bring an old space up to date and make sure that structural and power needs are met. With old wiring and plumbing, you want to make sure you’ve got the experts on hand to advise you. Otherwise, a new kitchen in an older home is an asset even if you’re not looking to sell.

5. Mix old with new

A historic house may not always handle an overabundance of modern furnishings and decoration. You also don’t want to fill it with stuff that looks like it came from the last century, or your house will start to feel like an antique shop.

Find furniture and decorations with echoes of an earlier time period, like exposed wooden legs on couches or a vintage lace design on your pillows. Mix in simple modern trends and items for the perfect balance. Scour Pinterest for ideas on how to adjust some of the pieces you’ve already got. Do the same on Craigslist to see what’s out there in terms of period pieces that you could alter to suit your design purposes.

6. Think outside of the given design period

Jumping off from that last point, bringing your home into other design traditions can also boost its design potential. It’s an important balance to strike, but just because a home is of a certain era, it doesn’t mean you are completely bound to that era when it comes to making design decisions. Where it’s possible to overdo this and place design textures in your historic home that are not compatible as mentioned above , there are ways to add conceptual elements to the existing “frame” that your historic home represents without betraying it completely.

This is a great occasion to consult an expert interior designer. Even for the purposes of brainstorming and finding a good direction that will serve you and your space is worth the investment in the services of a professional designer who’s job it is to bring the potential of spaces to fruition.

Embrace the unique

Decorating a historic home is all about embracing the unique traits of the house while keeping everything updated. Historic homes offer great decor opportunities, especially when you let the architecture and time period inspire you without it limiting your imagination for new possibilities.


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