If you have an old house, count yourself among the lucky few who get to inherit old architecture too. These pieces of history tell a story of times past and are hard to reproduce with authenticity. So if you have them in your home, enjoy their uniqueness and work them into your design plan. Here’s how.
What Types of Old Architecture Do You Have?
The old architecture you have in your home depends on when it was built and what the style is. Do a little digging. A lot of old houses fit into a specific design style, which shows up in both the interior and exterior of your home. Other houses can’t totally decide what they want to be, like our little country house from 1920. This house has plenty of old architecture, but all the features aren’t in the same style.
The goal should be to identify what a house is “trying” to be. This will help you figure out which old architecture to highlight. It’ll also help you determine if you have any inauthentic features added later that you don’t need to keep. Not everything old is good, but most features from before the 1950s are worth keeping.
Working With Original Woodwork
In the olden days (1940s and earlier), they made much better old architecture than they do now. If your house has substantial, hefty woodwork, you should save it. After this time period, the woodwork tended to be skinny and cheap-looking. After that, it was often not made of real wood.
If you have unpainted old wood from its original decade, I usually leave it and design around it. If you really hate it, it’s okay to paint it, but do some research first to make sure you’re not painting a fancy, valuable wood. That would be sad. Really sad.
That said, if you love painted woodwork, maybe some has already been painted in a different room. Then you can enjoy the painted-ness of that rather than ruining something that’s been preserved for generations.
Confession: I meant to leave our country home’s original 1920 woodwork unpainted—I really did. But then I put up some stunning Schumacher wallpaper and the woodwork is crying out to be painted. I think I’m going to give in. What do you think?
Saving Old Architecture
Other architectural details you might have are original wood paneling, which you can save if there’s not a lot of damage to the walls. I intended to save the beadboard in my house, but it had no insulation and holes cut through it everywhere.
If you can only save it in certain places, it’s still worth it. You can work with your home’s old architecture and make it part of your design. For example, I left the beadboard ceilings even when I couldn’t save it elsewhere.
Original windows are also worth saving because they add so much architectural interest. A lot of people update their windows by replacing original wood ones with cheap vinyl ones. If you still have original, authentic windows, check into ways to make them more energy-efficient before replacing them with something cheap.
Built-ins Add Character and Storage
Built-ins are among my favorite old-house features. Use the style of your built-ins as a jumping-off point for your vintage farmhouse style design. If they’re already painted, play around with color and highlight them in a fun way. If they’re unpainted and really old, I vote for keeping them their original color (unless you wallpapered and wish they matched better!).
If the built-ins from the 1950s or later, don’t feel bad about painting them, unless they’re mid century modern style. Mid century modern style is its own category, and painting these woods usually isn’t a good idea. However, most houses from the 1950s or later are more of a generic style and the wood can be painted.
Mantels and Banisters
I absolutely love old banisters and newel posts for old architecture. These come in a variety of styles, depending on the age and style of the house. You can buy salvaged ones if you don’t already have them. I replaced a builder-grade banister in my last house with a vintage salvaged one and it made a world of difference.
Other features that add old architecture include columns, mantels, doors and door knobs. If your house has these old architectural details but the style isn’t your favorite, don’t rip them out! Styles come and go, and if you have these features, past owners have preserved them for you throughout the decades. You may love them later.
Don’t Do What I Did
I made the mistake of ripping out a few original pieces of old architecture in the first two houses I owned. I didn’t love them and they weren’t in style at the moment. Then I realized later they were actually special features specific to the style of home and felt horrible about it. I would’ve kept them now, and wish I could’ve told my twenty-something self to calm down with the sledgehammer and quit watching HGTV.
If you’re lucky enough to have old architecture in your home, enjoy it! Highlight it as you decorate and get to know its history. You might even find out some interesting things that make you appreciate it even more.
Holly Thompson is the lead interior designer at Holly Thompson Homes in Franklin, TN. She loves making houses the best version of themselves. She is married to Dave, who is a contractor, realtor, and often works as her project manager. They own a fixer upper in the country, plus three kids and three cats. In her free time, Holly is working on her master’s degree in Interior Design and writes articles for American Farmhouse Style. In the rest of her free time, you’ll find her antiquing at estate sales, flea markets, and shops. All of those times involve coffee, to which Holly attributes her success in staying awake.
To see more of Holly’s handiwork and sound advice, see New Windows, Old House, How to Choose Floor Tile and How to Get Faux Marble Countertops. Of course, don’t forget to follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest to get your daily dose of farmhouse inspiration!