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How to Restore a Historic Home Without Gutting It

How to Restore a Historic Home Without Gutting It

historic home with stone fireplace and exposed wood ceiling beams

From tiny homes to six-bedroom estates, you don’t need to gut your whole home to make it feel fresh again. Here’s how to restore a historic home without completely gutting it.

Blogger Tiffany of Painted Roots Home has spent the last decade renovating her three-story, 218-year-old Colonial farmhouse in Pennsylvania. Through trial and error and a keen sense of adventure, she’s picked up some tips and tricks for how to renovate without compromising too much of the original structure.

historic home kitchen

Start Small

Tiffany says the biggest mistake you can make when you restore a historic home is to create too large a project to achieve your goals or, if you’re working with a historic property, not researching what’s appropriate for the time period. 

If your design becomes too overbearing and fancy, chances are you’ve landed outside of what would feel cozy or appropriate for the time period of the original structure.

historic home with stone fireplace and wood ceiling
Jute rugs from local auctions help outline room zones in the living and sitting rooms, maintaining a natural flow between the two spaces. An upholsterer helped the Tiffany upcycle drop cloths to cover wingback chairs and an antique ottoman, matching period style while protecting the pieces from little fingers.

For example, if you’re moving into a 100-year-old home with no central cooling or heating, you’ll eventually want to add an HVAC system. But try to come up with a hiding spot for vents, ducts and the unit itself instead of cutting into the home’s original walls or ceiling beams.

“I can’t say we’re perfectionists at it, sometimes you just have to do what works for your family,” Tiffany says. “But the simpler you keep it, the easier it is.”

bathroom in historic home with shiplap and hexagonal tile
The second floor bathroom is one room that Tiffany did gut to restore a historic home. She kept the new pieces vintage though, like the vanity, charming period tile patterns, original tub and an unorthodox but seamless blend of fixtures. “People say they would have never mixed all these shades of gold and silver, but then they tell me it looks great!” Tiffany says.

Do One Thing at a Time

Alongside starting small is to stick with one renovation project at a time. This can be harder than it seems when you want to restore a historic home. For example, you may want to update the bathroom, but once you start, you realize you need to repipe the whole house.

The beauty of living in a home you own is that it doesn’t all have to be finished at once. “Once you live in a space for a while, you find what you like over the years and can tweak your original design,” Tiffany says. Take it slow, prioritize what needs to happen first, and enjoy the progress of the restoration.

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Living room with yellow pillows, gray sofa and wall paneling for boho farmhouse style.

historic home exterior in Pennsylvannia
Tiffany has poured years of work into interior updates, but has also completed quite a few renovations to the exterior and landscaping. She and her husband rebuilt and painted the exterior shutters to look historic, installed a stone walkway, repainted the property’s barns and cleaned up overgrown trees and shrubbery.

Focus on Curb Appeal

It’s amazing what a good exterior project can do for the look of your home, and the way you feel about your progress as you restore a historic home. Tiffany says that focusing on curb appeal can give your home a facelift and eschew a months-long gutting process. She advocates for frequenting local auctions or Facebook Marketplace for materials, which lends a hand to your budget.

“Use your imagination: If it works in the space, fits your family’s function and provides historic character, just go with it!” Tiffany says.

historic home with stone fireplace and exposed wood ceiling beams
When approaching her interior color palette, Tiffany kept the walls of her home white to let the natural wood beams and stone fireplaces shine, while incorporating textures and patterns into the décor. “If I love the items I’ve chosen, I leave them, but if I make mistakes, then changing pillows, curtains and rugs is easier than painting a wall,” Tiffany says.

If you love historic farmhouses, you’ll appreciate this Historic Folk Victorian Home Revival and our ongoing Project House in Minden, Lousiana. Of course, don’t forget to follow us on InstagramFacebook and Pinterest to get your daily dose of farmhouse inspiration!

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