It’s a tale as old as time: Woman buys old house for its unique charms only to get hammer happy and go ballistic on renovations. In an effort to preserve historical details (and savings accounts) for people everywhere, we called on Nicole Curtis, author, restoration expert and star of HGTV’s Rehab Addict, to share common renovation traps old-home buyers fall into—and to remind you that antiqueness is the very reason you bought the joint in the first place. Here, five things you shouldn't do when renovating an old home.
1. Don't Knock Down Dividing Walls
“There’s a reason your old home was built with a formal dining room,” explains Curtis. “There will come a time when you don't have a perfectly clean kitchen and you will be so happy you get to keep it out of company's sight.” Instead of tearing down walls, and stripping original integrity, she suggests redesigning with sleek, ceiling-height cabinets, adding in light (perhaps there’s room for an extra window or recessed lighting) and removing bulky appliances by tucking away a microwave and investing in a counter-depth fridge (about 6 inches more shallow than standard size options).
2. Don't Scrap Ancient Fixtures
“With an old house, you’ll be amazed by what some rigorous cleaning can do. I can’t stress enough how many times I thought something was a goner, just to spend a little more time with soap and water and have it become my favorite piece in the house.” Curtis insists that old porcelain pieces like discolored claw-foot tubs and pedestal sinks and grimy woodwork can be shined up to perfection with some elbow grease and a not-so-secret ingredient: vinegar.
3. Don't Replace The Windows
“In old homes, the first thing owners are told is to replace the windows. Not necessary,” says Curtis. She maintains that unlike most new windows and doors (which are typically fiberglass/vinyl), old glass windows and doors can be made weather tight and energy efficient with a bit of repair. Drafty windows can be fixed by using a blowtorch to heat up and remove old glaze, then you can seal it with new. Or for the less handy among us, they can be sent out to specialty firms that handle vintage window rehabilitation.
4. Don't Freak Out Over Creaks and Cracks
“Keep in mind that these homes were built with the best materials," says Curtis. "Like wood from trees that were easily 300 to 400 years old when milled. Wood today is about ten years old at most.” So while there may be spider cracks in the plaster—and a fifth stair that seems to creak no matter what you do—remember that your home has been put through a lot and is very much still standing. In other words, learn to love the crickety noise you make every time you walk to the bathroom.
5. Don't Gut All Vintage Details
Curtis is a strong proponent of making what you have work, and then accessorizing to your liking. “Take, for example, old Eisenhower pink tile that you find in 1950s homes. You think you hate it, but what you really hate is that the walls match the tile and the sink… it’s overkill.” Stay true to your home’s character and keep some original detail (maybe just the pink floors, for instance), but add a crisp shower curtain, new mirror and updated wall color. The space will feel totally refreshed, and you’ll save serious cash.