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Top tips for preserving the character of your older home when you renovate

Preserving the character of your older home when you renovate and modernize requires careful planning and extra effort, but the result is a space that’s unique and a joy to come home to.

Older homes have a warmth to them, so I always look to modernize in ways that preserve the sightlines and the integrity of the original space. As an experienced designer, I can help you determine what to save, what to discard, and what to accentuate.

Preserving the character of your older home when you renovate

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If you can, preserve beautiful, original trim and floors.

1. Elements to preserve

Floors: I love to preserve original wood floors — old floors are beautiful and it’s less wasteful to refinish than it is to replace. But if the floor is too damaged to salvage, I still recommend replacing old wood floors with new ones that match the sensibility of the house.

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Trim: The trim in older homes is so beautiful. For that reason, I spend a lot of time matching trim or custom making new trim that’s coherent throughout a house. On a related note, original crown moldings and coffered ceilings also add so much character if they can be preserved.

Brickwork: Interior brickwork looks so great on walls. And I often modernize the original brickwork around a fireplace by painting it.

Preserving the character of your older home when you renovate

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Modern tiles and a retro-modern tub lend a creative touch to this bathroom.

2. What to discard

Tiles: It’s usually impossible to save original tiles in a kitchen or bathroom because these are rooms clients are often making bigger and replacement tiles are impossible to find. This gives me the opportunity to get creative — to think about the esthetic we’re working towards and to picture what a house is calling for.

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Faucets and fixtures: Sometimes they can be preserved, but sometimes they’re just no longer functional or to code. Again, think of this as an opportunity to add modern elements that preserve the warmth and feel of your older home.

Preserving the character of your older home when you renovate

Well-designed built-ins add character and much-needed storage space to an older home. Pops of colour add warmth to this family room.

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3. What to add 

Thoughtful furnishings: I always pay close attention to what types of furniture will work in an older space. You want furniture that is functional but also celebrates the space. For instance, a claw-foot tub always looks good in the ensuite of an older home, and it’s fun to source modern lighting and furniture that still speaks to the era of a house.

More storage: Most older houses don’t have a lot of closet space, but I think of that as an opportunity to design built-in cabinetry and shelving that fits the home.

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More colour: Colour is hands down the easiest way to infuse any room with warmth and beauty. That might mean paint on the walls, artwork or a standout turquoise chair. There is no wrong or right when it comes to colour, though when contemplating shades for walls, I do look at the feel of a house, how much light each room gets, and how rooms transition into each other. If you enjoy colour, it can be so invigorating.

Related

Ten creative ways to use tile in your home

Top ten tips for updating an older home without losing its charm

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About the Author

Emma Doucet

Grassroots designer Emma Doucet says her passion for design was born in her grandpa’s workshop where she spent many hours wallpapering her dollhouse and changing the finishes. She has transformed a lifelong enthusiasm for good design into a busy 14-member business known for an aesthetic that’s both forward-looking and classical. You can reach her via You can reach her at grassrootsdesign.ca or on Facebook.

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