Preserving the character of history

As anyone who has every renovated a home (or who just watches a lot of HGTV) knows, you gotta whip everything up into a great big mess before you can make it pretty again. We’re currently in the thick of this backwards-to-go-forwards demo stage at one of the projects we currently have chugging along in the Hudson Valley: the walls no longer exist, and the ceilings are being peeled back. Piles of wooden beams lay like fallen soldiers on the demo battlefield. Old cabinets, bookcases and vanities are huddled together in the middle of what used to be a room (you know, when there were actually walls) like refugees trying to escape. Intense.

Bye bye walls

The refugee pile

There are some elements of this huge and beautiful 19th century building that don’t need to fear for their life, though. “Character creators” we’ll call them: elements that are decidedly historic in nature, and gorgeous to boot. This is where a solid knowledge of architectural history and a finely tuned editing eye come into play. These two things can often be the most powerful tool in your toolbox when it comes to preserving the historic elements of your home.

Check out the stamped ornamental detailing on these Victorian tin ceiling tiles

The tin ceilings in the downstairs rooms, for example. These stamp-design beauties are way too good to get rid of, and while you can buy repros today, nothing beats the original. They are distinctly Victorian (i.e. when Americans were doing all they could to emulate European homes, but on a budget). They are a direct link to this building’s past. They’re safe.

The woodwork in the entry stretches all the way up to the ceiling

This beautifully detailed wood paneling is present throughout the entire building

The woodwork that outlines every doorway and runs along nearly every wall? That’s safe, too. The quality, the craftsmanship, and yes, the freaking gorgeousness of it all, will keep it squarely on the “do not disturb” list. Ornamental elements like this are yet another thing that you just don’t find in modern homes. They take a little extra time and a decent amount of know-how, so you can bet that once home building became like an assembly line production, personality-filled details like these were the first to go.

How lovely are these little hex tiles in the entry?

Probably my favorite ingredient in this architectural stew is these lovely little hex tiles that live in the entryway. Another decidedly Victorian component, and too darn charming to even think of nixing. The design is subtle yet lovely enough to warrant an effort to keep them safe while it seems like the whole world is crumbling down around them.

When you’re embarking on your own historic home restoration project, walk through your home and look at the standout elements. The details that give it flavor, point directly to its past, or that are made with true craftsmanship. Its these things that give your home its life and personality. Without them you’d just be living in another box made out of ticky tacky, all looking just the same.

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