Old House Facets to Keep When Renovating

I want that door and floorboards. Photo of Mt. Bleak Historic House by vastateparkstaff/Flickr Creative CommonsWhen renovating a severely outdated home, think twice before you begin to demolish or replace all its elements. Some old-fashioned features may increase visual appeal and actually add value to the property. You just need to learn to look beyond the grime and worn-out appearance to appreciate the beauty of these old-home characteristics. 


One of the most cost-effective options in a remodeling plan is retaining original kitchen cabinets. Old cabinets are commonly made of hardwoods, with thick wood shelves – virtually indestructible. Heavily-painted cabinetry can be stripped and refinished with stains or paint. Minor repairs, including replacing a door or two or adding decorative trim, can be inexpensively completed by a cabinetmaker or finish carpenter.    

Vintage metal cabinets are hard to find, but in high demand. Styles from the early 1900s may have art deco chrome handles. Unfortunately, people see scratched, yellowed and worn enamel finishes and put them in the trash pile. There are several companies, including auto body shops, which sand and electrostatically paint them inside and out, restoring them to original condition, for less than half the cost of new cabinets.    


Decorative moldings are expensive to replace throughout a home. New styles try to copy old-time looks, but today's quality is not as fine. Painted moldings can be removed, stripped and repainted. If sections are damaged, look for replacement pieces that you could take out of old closets or side rooms that are less lived in, using new moldings there instead. If it’s a historical home, order custom-milled pieces to match existing molding, or find replacement pieces at architectural salvage companies.  

Wood Flooring

Old wide-planked pine floors are are highly desirable. You can recognize them because they are very hard and have a dark appearance. (New wide-planked floors are made from newer growth trees and are much yellower.) Slight defects lend charm and do not detract from its value. Damaged areas can be replaced by purchasing reclaimed pieces from specialty dealers. Word of caution: Have a reputable installer with experience and knowledge about old floors fix troubled areas where boards may have warped and cracked. If the floor is in good condition, sanding and recoating may be all that’s required to bring it up to showcase level. 

Stone or Brick Walls

No matter what kind of design style you prefer, an old stone or brick interior wall can enhance furniture and décor, or be incorporated as an accent wall. Brick and stone can be cleaned, repointed and sealed by a competent stone mason.

Stained Glass Windows

Leaded glass windows can be removed for restoration and reinstalled.    Small windows are especially beautiful placed between built-ins or above new windows as a way to introduce subtle color and visual interest into a room.

Antique Bathtubs & Sinks

Clawfoot tubs are deep and comfortable. In good condition, they're worth keeping; their value is increasing due to limited supply. If chipped and stained, they can be costly to have refinished by an expert, but the price is still comparable to the cost of a new tub. Same goes for porcelain sinks, especially those with free-standing legs or built-in utility tubs. They're cumbersome to relocate or reinstall, but are virtually indestructible and very attractive when graced with new retro-style faucets. Old soapstone sinks are also keepers despite nicks, dings and knife-sharpening grooves! Keep in mind that new cabinets can be designed to accommodate old sinks.


Why buy a "vintage-look" chandelier when you can have the real thing? Take old lighting fixtures down, clean and rewire them. (Rewiring kits can be purchased in most hardware stores.) Spray paint wrought iron and buy new globes if necessary. With a little TLC, you can create old-world ambiance in a room for only a few dollars.

Laura Foster-Bobroff is a Networx writer. 

Updated Otober 3, 2018.

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