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5 Worst Mistakes of Historic Homeowners (Part 5 The Details)

By The Craftsman on Jan 16, 2012

The "out-of-place" Ionic columns on our 1929 Bungalow

We've been talking about all the fun things that unknowing owners of historic homes can do to harm the investment they have made in their old home for a while now. We've covered the major areas like windows, floors, walls (plaster), and siding so you might be wondering what the last blunder is. This last one is a little less specific than the previous 4 mistakes but equally important and probably the quickest way to destroy a historic home's uniqueness.

The people who live in historic homes are a unique breed who enjoy the quirks and weird little nuances that come with most old homes. And if we're not careful it's those little details that we are quick to remove because they don't fit our view of what our house should be. I include myself in this too because I am quick to notice an out of place element and sometimes it's that very element that makes our home so unique.

The Details

The baseboards in our humble bungalow

The details of each historic home are usually unique to each home. I live in an historic district here in Orlando and have been inside many of the homes in my neighborhood. Most for work, some for friends and many because they're on sale and I can finally get a peak inside. You know you do it too! For some reason, every time I enter an old house my curious eyes immediately go to the baseboards. I'm always looking for something unique and baseboards never disappoint. I've noticed that almost every home in my neighborhood has a different style baseboard. Some are tall 8" or more while others are only 4" like mine. Some have shoe molding while others are bare. Some have an interesting profile on the top and others have a rounded or chamfered top. You see, most of my neighborhood was built from 1918-1930 and in that short period architects, builders, and homeowners designed completely different trim patterns for their homes. None of them are wrong (though in my opinion some are nicer than others), but each home has it's own unique trim. And while some trim is pretty basic and not of any historical interest some is extraordinarily rare! Do you know the difference? Most people don't until they do some research and speak with professionals.

Architectural Details

A "Clinker" Brick Chimney

To use my own home as another example of how I almost ripped out something incredibly unique I should talk about the porch columns on our bungalow. We live in a 1929 Vernacular Bungalow that is surrounded by plenty of other similar homes. Now as a guy who works on historic homes all the time I know what kind of porch columns are typical for a Craftsmanish Bungalow, and it is definitely not Greek inspired fluted, ionic columns. However, our Bungalow bucks the trend and proudly displays this showy type of column. When we purchased the home I assumed they were a later addition done by the same owners who felt our kitchen should be a tribute the bridge on Star Trek. I was ready to rip them out and "restore the porch to the way it should be" until my neighbor who has lived across the street since 1923 corrected me. He said that the original owners were big fans of Greek Revivals and though they didn't build the house with any other Greek touches this was their little nod to their Greek interests. The columns were indeed original and an important part of the story of our home that I would have destroyed had I not been corrected. Thank goodness for good neighbors!

What To Do

Moral of the story? Slow down. Do a little research by asking long time residents of the area. Speak to the local historic district if you have one. Mainly just take your time and spend a lot of time planning, especially with major subtractions or additions. Otherwise, you may unknowingly remove a valuable piece of your house. And once it's gone, it can never come back.

Areas of Concern

Before you start tearing things out of your historic house do a little research. Your house may be the only one with a particular species of wood trim that is very valuable. Or you may have a unique mosaic tile border that is hard to find. Below is a short list of some of the areas where unique attributes of homes typically show up to help you think twice before removing items. This is only the most typical areas we find. Every house has its special pieces that may or may not be irreplaceable. Remember you are living in an antique, and everything original in it is an antique as well, and therefore may be worth a considerable sum to try and replace

  • All trim work (baseboards, door and window casings, banisters, spindles, verge boards, picture rails, etc.)
  • Any tile mosaics (typically in bath or kitchens)
  • Unique exposed rafter tails (click the link for an example)
  • Porch columns and railings
  • Plaster work (ceiling medallions, unique textures, etc.)
  • Door and window hardware
  • Lighting/Plumbing fixtures (can be very valuable!)
  • Fireplaces (Mantles, clinker bricks, etc.)

 

Read the rest of the 5 Worst Mistakes of Historic Homeowners:

Part 1 Windows

Part 2 Floors

Part 3 Siding

Part 4 Plaster

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