Restoring A Home There Are Lots Of Design And Materials Decisions To MakeRestoring A Home There Are Lots Of Design And Materials Decisions To Make

When building a new home or renovating an old one, there are innumerable choices in commercially produced building and finishing materials; but when you want to restore an old home, particularly one built before standardized building materials were widely available, you may need help from a custom millworks. Stairways in old houses are narrow and steep, rooms are off square, and dimensions vary tremendously from home to home. How do you incorporate a modern, functional kitchen, for instance, into the design of a home restored to its original 1850s design?

You may have the expertise or the research capability to make the design decisions yourself; otherwise, hiring an architect who specializes in the restoration of antique buildings is a must. Many antique buildings, particularly in New England, were built and renovated over a period of centuries, with additions in different styles (sometimes compatible, sometimes not) tacked on to the original building. You probably don't want to remove the additions, particularly if they're a substantial part of the building; but do you restore them to their original state, or do you impose the style of the original building onto the addition? If embellishments were added to the original structure, do you keep them or get rid of them? If your house is a hodge-podge of different styles from different eras, can your architect incorporate a new design which will blend the warring styles together? And do you want him or her to do that, or are you enough of a restoration purist not to want to add modern elements to the design?

Antique buildings were most often created using materials locally available at the time of its construction; but some materials may have been imported from far away; by the nineteenth century, New England ruled the seas, importing goods, including exotic woods, from places as scattered as Ireland and Southeast Asia. Whether originating locally or abroad, these antique materials may or may not be readily available from local sources now.

Maple, oak, walnut, cherry, ash, hickory, mahogany - all may be found in an antique home, and all may need to be specially purchased. You or your architect will probably need to communicate with manufacturers of custom building materials; so be sure to choose a millworks company which has experts on staff who can provide design and specification assistance. These millworks companies should be able to provide custom milled wide plank flooring, individually designed stairs, historically accurate reproduction moldings, and special lengths and widths of lumber.

Antique homes offer a fascinating look into the history of a region and the lives of people who lived through various eras. The story of a particular house may span centuries of building, rebuilding, and renovations, making each home a unique connection to the past. Restoring one of these gems to its original beauty can not only extend its life to another generation of residents, it can contribute to the legacy of a region.

by Aldene Fredenburg
References and Bibliography

Aldene Fredenburg is a freelance writer living in southwestern New Hampshire and frequently contributes to Tips and Topics. She has published numerous articles in local and regional publications on a wide range of topics, including business, education, the arts, and local events. Her feature articles include an interview with independent documentary filmmaker Ken Burns and a feature on prisoners at the New Hampshire State Prison in Concord. She may be reached at

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