Historic Home Restoration : Expert Tips for Preserving Architecture of the Past So It Lasts for Future Generations

Historic Home Restoration : Expert Tips for Preserving Architecture of the Past So It Lasts for Future Generations

Historic home restoration experts Elizabeth and Ethan Finkelstein are the dynamic duo who started a humble Instagram account @CheapOldHouses in 2016. Today, their account has millions of avid followers. It led to a hit HGTV show, and a movement dedicated to preserving the charm of America’s affordable historic homes and restoring them.Elizabeth, who has a master’s degree in historic preservation, and her husband Ethan, have traveled the nation to search for real gems that offer a heartwarming tale of restoration. Their picturesque coffee table book Cheap Old Houses: An Unconventional Guide to Loving and Restoring a Forgotten Home shows how buyers of historic buildings preserve the past.

This blog post shares tips from their book for information purposes only. As B&B Consulting’s Owner and a Licensed Realtor and Broker, Rob Sales offers the expertise needed to buy and sell real estate properties. Please seek the proper outside legal and construction advice needed with any restoration project.

Historic Home Restoration: Getting Professional Help

Historic Home Restoration Yellow Construction Helmet House Blueprints Measuring Tape

You can minimize your historic home restoration costs by actively participating in labor and collaborating as a team. However, their book talks about knowing when to get outside help. For many projects, professional help is needed unless you, or someone you know, are trained and experienced in that specific area. Those used to taking on DIY projects should still consult with restoration professionals. Always take proper safety precautions.

Antique Appliances

When it comes to restoring the heart of your historic home – the kitchen – antique appliances can truly be the items that transport you back in time. The good news for historic home restoration enthusiasts is that there are specialized places where you can uncover the perfect period stove or refrigerator to complete your vintage kitchen look.

Historic Home Renovation Antique Kitchen Stove

Whether you’re looking for the opulence of a Victorian kitchen or the streamlined elegance of mid-century modern, these shops and dealers can help you find appliances that not only fit the period, but also come with historic charm and craftsmanship. You’ll discover stoves that feature ornate details and a timeless allure. There are refrigerators that exude a retro coolness that’s hard to replicate with modern day models.

Beyond their visual appeal, many of these vintage appliances are built to last, often outperforming their contemporary counterparts in both durability and style. So, if you’re on the hunt for that perfect period stove or fridge to complete your historic kitchen restoration, these specialized sources are your go-to places to turn your culinary dreams into reality.

The book recommends the following vintage appliance places:

Butler’s Pantries

Butler pantries, those charming and practical spaces nestled between the dining room and the kitchen in historic homes, hold a fascinating history. Originally hidden from guests’ view, they served as a sanctuary for the host’s culinary treasures.

Vintage Home Antique Butler's Pantry with Window

Today, there’s a growing desire to revive the butler’s pantry tradition, as homeowners seek efficient storage solutions for dishes, glassware, linens, and even modern kitchen gadgets like espresso makers and stand mixers. Bringing back the butler’s pantry not only adds nostalgia, but also helps maintain an organized and clutter-free main kitchen, making meal preparations much easier.

The resurgence of butler pantries isn’t just about practicality, it’s also about infusing historic homes with a touch of elegance. These multifunctional spaces provide the opportunity to showcase your finest tableware and serving platters, adding sophistication to your entertaining endeavors.

By embracing the butler’s pantry space, you’re not only honoring the legacy of these homes, but also creating a functional and stylish hub for hosting and culinary creativity. So, if you’re looking for a place where your kitchen gadgets and cherished fine dining plates can coexist harmoniously, consider restoring the beloved butler’s pantry in your historic home.

Color Palettes

When it comes to historic home restoration, choosing the right color palette can make all the difference in capturing the authentic charm of the past. Start your journey by delving into the rich history of your house, researching color palettes typical of its time period.

Historic Home Restoration Color Palette Paint Matching

Don’t be afraid to go back in time with sources like Better Homes & Gardens magazines, which have been providing color inspiration for over a century. For an even more precise match, consider taking a small sample of chipped paint from your home to your favorite paint supplier – they can work their magic in color matching.

In today’s digital age, technology has your back. There are various color-reading apps available on your cell phone that can help you decipher the shades of the past. When it comes to finishes, remember that authenticity is key, particularly for early homes. Glossy finishes on interior walls may not have been common in the past, so opting for matte or eggshell finishes can add that extra touch of historical accuracy.

Lastly, don’t underestimate the power of old architecture catalogs for inspiration. These catalogs can provide valuable insights into period-appropriate colors and design elements, helping you re-create a look that’s true to your home’s heritage. Remember that choosing the right color palette is a key step in the captivating journey of historic home restoration.

Decorative Historic Tile

Discovering vintage tiles while doing historic home restoration is like finding hidden treasure. It also gives valuable insights into the home’s history. These tiles, with their unique designs, not only showcase craftsmanship from bygone eras, but also help us determine when the house was constructed and how its rooms were once used.

Historic Home Restoration Antique Tile

Tiles come in various shapes and sizes, making them a versatile choice for restoring historic interiors. One timeless practice is the use of decorative ceramic tiles in fireplace surrounds and hearths, a tradition spanning centuries. This approach allows homeowners to revive their spaces with intricate patterns and rich colors, breathing fresh life into rooms while paying homage to the architectural legacy of their beloved historic homes.

Embracing tile restoration is a vibrant way to celebrate the craftsmanship of the past.

The book recommends the following tile suppliers:

Farmhouse Sinks

Farmhouse sinks, with their deep and wide design, are not just a stylish addition to your historic home restoration project list; they’re incredibly functional too. These sinks were originally crafted for various purposes, from washing large pots and pans to providing ample space for farm chores. Today, they continue to serve as a versatile and eye-catching centerpiece in kitchens, adding a touch of timeless elegance to your historic home.

Historic Home Restoration Farmhouse Sink Green Cupboards

One of the remarkable benefits of a farmhouse sink is its generous capacity, which makes it perfect for accommodating even the most oversized cookware. Whether you’re tackling a mountain of dishes after a family feast or simply rinsing off garden-fresh produce, you’ll appreciate the spaciousness and depth that a farmhouse sink offers. Additionally, their classic design can seamlessly blend with various kitchen styles, ensuring your historic home retains its unique character while meeting modern-day practicality needs. Preserve the charm of your historic home while enjoying the convenience of a functional kitchen.

The book recommends the following:

Fireplaces and Woodstoves

The grandeur of vintage fireplaces can be returned during a historic home restoration.  These hearths, often adorned with exquisite mantels and intricate tiles, hold within them the echoes of centuries of warmth and countless stories shared by crackling flames. In the intricate and meticulous process of restoration, skilled artisans breathe new life into these timeless focal points, preserving their historical charm while ensuring they serve the needs of modern living.

Historic Home Restoration Fireplace

Each restored fireplace becomes a living testament to the exceptional craftsmanship of eras gone by, rekindling nostalgia and inviting us to gather around its hearth, just as generations before us once did. Yet, it’s crucial to remember that restoring these historic fireplaces is not just a project. It’s a labor of love, a dedication to safeguarding the heritage of your home. Approach this endeavor with patience, deep respect for historical accuracy, and readiness to seek professional guidance when needed.

Historic Home Restoration Wood Stove

In the realm of historic home restoration, woodstoves in historic buildings, such as cabins, also play a vital role in recreating the ambiance of the past. These rustic fixtures provide both warmth and a tangible link to the property’s history, efficiently heating spaces of up to 1,000 square feet. Surpassing traditional fireplaces in efficiency, woodstoves add character and functionality to the revitalized homes.

Lighting Including Historic Chandeliers

Historic lighting, exemplified by the elegance of antique chandeliers, is a true gem within antique homes. There’s simply nothing that can surpass the allure and authenticity of an original light fixture that has graced a bygone era. As you embark on the journey of historic home restoration, the excitement lies in recovering as many of these original fixtures and pieces as possible.

Historic Home Restoration Hanging Chandelier

The key is to scout for period-appropriate lighting solutions that seamlessly align with your home’s unique style. These fixtures not only illuminate your space, but also rekindle the historic ambiance, allowing your antique home to shine anew. With the right lighting choices, you’ll cast a warm and inviting glow that gracefully bridges the past and the present, ensuring that the legacy of your historic property continues to shine brightly.

The book recommends the following vintage & antique lighting companies:

Pocket Doors

Restoring pocket doors in historic homes is like unlocking a hidden treasure that combines practicality and charm. These ingenious creations were the ultimate space manipulators, allowing homeowners to effortlessly expand or close off room openings as needed.

Historic Home Restoration Pocket Doors

With doors open, it was all about spaciousness and sociability, while closed doors offered an intimate and private ambiance. Not to mention, these movable walls played a crucial role in preserving warmth, a vital function in an era when fireplaces were the primary source of home heating, making them a true marvel of historic design.

Pocket doors are not just a piece of history; they’re a brilliant solution to maximize both function and aesthetics in your historic home. By restoring these beauties, you’re not only reviving a piece of the past, but also enhancing the flexibility and energy efficiency of your living spaces.

So, whether you’re hosting a grand event or cozying up by the fire, pocket doors can effortlessly adapt your historic home to meet the needs of you and your guests. Thus, this preserves the essence of a bygone era, while embracing modern-day comforts.

Restored Windows & Doors and Hardware & Floors

Restoring original features like windows, doors, hardware, and floors can be a tremendously rewarding journey. This endeavor not only enhances your historic home’s inherent charm, but also ensures it continues to shine brightly for generations to come.

Windows & Wavy Glass

When it comes to windows in your historic home restoration project list, it’s essential to strike a balance between preserving the original charm and ensuring energy efficiency. To achieve this delicate equilibrium, consider enlisting the expertise of skilled artisans who specialize in window restoration. They can meticulously repair, re-glaze, and repaint existing historic windows, allowing you to retain the authenticity of your home.

Historic Home Restoration Outside Wavy Glass

Additionally, when replacement is necessary, seek out period-appropriate windows from reputable suppliers who understand the nuances of historic architecture. These suppliers often offer custom-crafted windows that seamlessly blend with your home’s era, while meeting modern energy efficiency standards, ensuring your restoration project retains its historical integrity.

Wavy glass, a hallmark of historic windows, carries a unique legacy dating back to the 17th century. The older the window, the more pronounced its waves may be, adding to its character and charm. Remarkably, wavy glass windows have endured for decades, and in some cases even centuries.

Embracing the enduring beauty of wavy glass not only preserves the authentic look of your historic windows, but also honors the craftsmanship of a bygone era, making each window a living testament to the rich history of your home. The Window Preservation Alliance is where you can find all types of artisans devoted to preserving wavy glass windows.


For buyers embarking on the historic home restoration journey, the doors of your new abode are not just entrances, they’re entryways into the past. Restoring historic doors is about preserving the craftsmanship and character that define these architectural treasures.

Historic Home Restoration Front Door

Seek out experts who specialize in historic door restoration to meticulously repair and refinish these time-worn entryways. It’s a chance to breathe new life into age-old woodwork, ensuring that the intricate details, from ornate doorknobs to intricate carvings, shine once more.

Remember, historic doors aren’t just about aesthetics; they’re integral to the authenticity of your home. Their solid construction and enduring materials have withstood the test of time, and with careful restoration, they can continue to serve for generations to come.

So, embrace the opportunity to revitalize these remarkable features. With each creak of the restored hinge, you’ll feel the echoes of history welcoming you and your guests home.


In the intricate work of historic home restoration, it’s easy to overlook the hardware. From ornate doorknobs to vintage hinges and window latches, these small details can have a significant impact on your property’s authenticity and charm. To embark on this journey, consider engaging with experts in historic hardware restoration. These specialists can breathe new life into worn or tarnished pieces, preserving their intricate beauty while ensuring they function as they once did.

Historic Home Restoration Mid Century Modern Cupboard Door Handles

When replacement becomes necessary, the quest for period-appropriate hardware is an adventure in itself. Reputable suppliers and salvage yards offer a treasure trove of options, each a glimpse into a bygone era. Whether you’re looking for the elegance of Victorian knobs or the simplicity of mid-century modern handles, these sources can help you find the perfect match.

This attention to detail doesn’t just enhance the aesthetic appeal of your historic home; it’s a nod to its rich history that can leave a lasting impression on your paying guests. So, as you restore your historic abode, remember that it’s the small details that often leave the most significant impressions, allowing your guests to step back in time while enjoying modern comfort.


Reviving the floors in a historic home restoration is like uncovering a hidden treasure chest that holds the essence of your property’s rich history. For those aspiring to host paying guests, this process can significantly enhance the charm and allure of your home. First and foremost, seek professional advice to assess the condition of your floors. Experts can identify the type of wood, any hidden damage, or layers of old finishes that need removal.

Historic Home Restoration Wood Flooring

Once you’ve determined the state of your floors, the historic home restoration journey begins. Often, historic homes feature stunning hardwood floors that can be restored to their original splendor. Sanding and refinishing breathe new life into these aged surfaces, revealing intricate grain patterns and warm hues. For those with vintage tile or stone floors, experts can repair and clean these timeless surfaces, ensuring they stand the test of time.

Remember, the choice of finish is crucial – opt for period-appropriate sealants or waxes that maintain the authenticity of your home. By taking these steps, you not only enhance the aesthetics, but also preserve the historical value of your property, creating a captivating atmosphere that will impress your guests.

Stained Glass Windows

Stained glass windows in historic homes are both practical and beautiful. They acted as privacy screens, letting in soft light, while offering captivating patterns that added a touch of elegance. These windows were a statement of the homeowner’s taste and remain cherished features in historic homes today.

Historic Home Restoration Stained Glass Window

During a historic home restoration project, preserving stained glass windows is a labor of love. Skilled artisans clean, repair, and sometimes replicate the intricate designs, breathing new life into these fragile treasures. This restoration work not only safeguards the home’s history, but also revitalizes its unique charm for future generations to enjoy.

The book recommends the following websites:

  • First figural stained glass windows made in America in 1843 church in Pelham, NY
  • Oldest family-run stained glass studio, Judson Studios, Los Angeles, CA founded in 1897
  • “The Stained Glass Capital of America” in Winona, MN, a half-dozen stained glass specialty shops

Stairs That Make a Statement

Stairs in historic homes are more than just functional elements. They are a testament to craftsmanship and architectural artistry, which are an embodiment of the era in which they were built. These staircases have witnessed generations of residents ascending and descending, and their exquisite handiwork deserves to be preserved and celebrated. Proper refinishing is a crucial step in maintaining the integrity of these architectural gems.

Historic Home Restoration Antique Wooden Stairs

Preservation and restoration of historic stairs involve a delicate balance between maintaining their original character and ensuring they meet modern safety standards. Skilled craftspeople and preservationists bring their expertise to the table, carefully assessing the condition of the stairs, identifying structural issues or wear and tear, and meticulously refurbishing them.

The historic home restoration process can include tasks such as repairing or replacing damaged balusters, handrails, or treads, as well as refinishing the wood to bring out its original luster. The result is not merely a functional staircase, but a piece of history restored to its former glory, making a remarkable statement about the home’s heritage.

Preserving and restoring historic stairs is a labor of love, an opportunity to breathe new life into an architectural masterpiece that has graced a home for generations. It allows us to honor the craftsmanship of the past, while ensuring that these remarkable features continue to convey the house’s rich history for generations to come.

Vintage Wallpaper

One essential aspect of the restoration process is bringing vintage wallpaper back to life. Thankfully, in today’s age, there are companies dedicated to replicating the charming patterns and textures of yesteryears, making it easier than ever to restore a home’s original character. Whether you’re aiming to revive a Victorian parlor or a mid-century kitchen, these replicas can help recreate the ambiance of a bygone era, breathing new life into your cherished historic space.

Historic Home Restoration Vintage Wallpaper Pattern

When starting your vintage wallpaper restoration journey, begin by carefully assessing the condition of the existing wallpaper. If historic home restoration isn’t possible, explore the vast selection of authentic reproduction wallpaper available from specialized companies. These manufacturers painstakingly recreate historical designs, using techniques that match the era in question, ensuring an authentic appearance.

With the right wallpaper, your historic home will regain its original charm, allowing you to preserve its unique heritage for generations to come.

The book recommends the following vintage wallpaper companies:

Walls & Ceilings

Restoring the walls and ceilings of a historic home is a transformative journey that breathes new life into the framework of your dwelling. The process typically involves meticulous scraping to remove layers of old paint or plaster, followed by patching any imperfections and ultimately, the artistry of painting. Through this renewal, you’re not just revitalizing surfaces, but also preserving the home’s character and history.

Historic Home Restoration Vintage Wall and Ceiling

As you painstakingly scrape and patch, each layer you unveil tells a story, revealing the passage of time and the different eras your home has witnessed. And when the final coat of paint is lovingly applied, it’s like a fresh chapter in your home’s rich narrative.

Restoring walls and ceilings not only revitalizes the aesthetics, but also ensures the structural integrity of your historic haven. It’s an essential step in maintaining its timeless allure, and when done right, it transforms your home into a splendid canvas of history, ready to welcome generations of guests with open arms.

Preserving History

Preserving historic structures is not just about restoring the past, it’s about casting a vision for the future. It’s the art of seeing the potential within aging walls and timeworn details, recognizing that these historic homes can continue to stand as living testaments to craftsmanship long after we’re gone.

Historic Home Restoration Detailed Woodwork Double Staircase

To achieve this, we must adopt a mindset of respect and resourcefulness, cherishing not only the architectural gems, but also the materials that comprise them. Through careful reuse, meticulous repair, and salvage, we not only breathe new life into our beloved historic homes.

We also contribute to a sustainable legacy that future generations can cherish. It’s a journey that combines the best of preservation, innovation, and deep appreciation for the enduring beauty of the past.

Benefits of Salvaging

Salvaging is a fascinating art, an exhilarating treasure hunt where history meets sustainability. It’s all about paying attention to the hidden gems in old homes – the vintage doorframes, the weathered doorknobs, and the stories they tell. The joy of salvaging lies not only in the thrill of discovery, but also in the knowledge that we’re helping the environment while preserving history.

Historic Home Restoration Front Door Brass Lion Knocker

When you speak with a seller about a salvage item, don’t be afraid to ask if they have more treasures to share. Some may even give them away for free, eager to see these relics find new homes and appreciation. Each piece salvaged is a victory for our planet, reducing landfill waste and our ecological footprint.

In the end, salvaging is a powerful way to make a positive impact. It honors craftsmanship, breathes new life into old materials, and champions environmental sustainability.

Historic Home Restoration: Recommended Books

Historic Home Restoration Home Library

A Field Guide to American Houses (Revised): The Definitive Guide to Identifying and Understanding America’s Domestic Architecture by Virginia Savage McAlester

Restoring Your Historic House: The Comprehensive Guide for Homeowners by Scott T. Hanson

The Elements of Style: A Practical Encyclopedia of Interior Architectural Details from 1845 to the Present by Steven Calloway

The Local Public Library

A local public library can be a treasure trove of information about a historic property in its town. Within its walls, you can uncover a wealth of resources, including local history books that delve into the property’s significance and ownership.

Historic Home Restoration Public Library Achives

Many libraries maintain archives filled with historical documents, photographs, and maps that shed light on the property’s past. You can also explore newspaper archives to find articles related to the property’s construction, renovations, or notable events that took place there.

Additionally, libraries often have city records, historical society connections, and knowledgeable local history librarians who can assist in your research. Don’t forget to check for photograph collections showcasing the property’s evolution and oral history interviews with residents who may have memories or stories to share.

When embarking on a quest to learn about a historic property, your local library offers diverse resources and expert guidance to help you uncover the property’s fascinating history. Best of all–it’s free to county residents.

Historic Home Restoration: Other Resources

Library of Congress Interior Photo

The Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

The Library of Congress is another resource, offering a vast collection of historic newspapers spanning from 1777 to 1963. Old maps like fire insurance maps and historical maps from the Library of Congress Geography and Map division provide valuable insights.

Your local tax-assessment office holds valuable ownership records and other property-related information. Take note of names, dates, and transactions to create a comprehensive history.

The Building Technology Heritage Library (BTHL) primarily comprises architectural trade catalogs, house plan books, and technical building guides from the United States and Canada, all dating back to before 1964. These trade catalogs serve as invaluable primary sources, offering insights into historical design and construction practices. They can play a pivotal role in preserving and conserving older structures.

Consider subscribing to ancestry.com or newspapers.com. Those websites, for a fee, give you access to census records, articles, and historical documents.

Collecting Information & Sharing Your Historic Property

As a historic home buyer embarks on the exciting journey of restoring their cherished property, detailed record-keeping cannot be overstated. Every step taken to uncover the hidden stories about your historic abode is a testament to your commitment to preserving its rich heritage. To ensure your historic home restoration research endures and remains accessible for years to come, it’s essential to keep all the collected information neatly organized in a secure place.

You’re Part of the Property’s Legacy

Historic Home Restoration Deed Record Books

In essence, you become a custodian of the property’s legacy, and your careful record-keeping ensures that the stories, mysteries, and historical insights you’ve uncovered continue to resonate with generations to come. So, as you embark on this rewarding journey of historic home restoration, remember that your efforts are not just about the present; they are a timeless gift to the future, keeping the spirit and stories of your historic home alive for posterity.

Make Note of Important Details

Taking diligent notes about the names of colors, patterns, companies, and experts involved in the historic home restoration of a historic property is of paramount importance. These details serve as a vital roadmap, not only for your own reference, but also for anyone involved in the preservation process, or for future generations interested in maintaining the property’s authenticity.

Paint Color Book and Architectural House Blueprints

By recording this information, you ensure that the unique character and historical accuracy of your home are upheld. Additionally, it simplifies the process of sourcing materials, seeking expert advice, and maintaining the property in the years to come, making it an invaluable resource for the ongoing care of your historic treasure.

Create a Photo Album or Scrapbook

Vintage Home Antique Photo Album

Consider creating a dedicated scrapbook or photo album, complete with sheet protectors, to safeguard your discoveries. This act of preservation not only ensures your findings remain intact, but also serves as an inviting window into the property’s past for future guests and homeowners. Your dedication to uncovering the past becomes a treasured part of the property’s history itself, breathing life into the stories and narratives that have unfolded within its walls over the years.

Hosting Paying Guests During The Restoration

For homebuyers undertaking the ambitious task of historic home restoration, hosting paying guests during the restoration process can be a smart move, helping offset renovation costs while sharing the unique charm of their historic home. However, ensuring the safety and comfort of both guests and workers is paramount in such scenarios. Guests should know at the time of booking that you are in the process of restoring your property so they are not surprised.

Set Clear Boundaries

Historic Home Restoration Staff Only Hanging Door Sign

First and foremost, establish clear boundaries by restricting access to certain areas of the house that are undergoing renovation. This not only safeguards the guests, but also allows workers to carry out their tasks without interference. Clearly mark off or lock doors to these off-limits areas, and communicate these restrictions clearly to your guests.

Implement Safety Measures

Historic Home Restoration Yellow Wooden Caution Barrier

Implement safety measures, such as clear signage, secure barriers, and well-lit pathways, to guide guests safely around the property. Make sure that any potential hazards, like construction materials or tools, are securely stored away from guest areas. Additionally, schedule historic home restoration work during hours when guests are least likely to be present or when it causes minimal disruption to their stay.

Incorporate Safety Features & Regularly Inspect to Mitigate Risks

Red First Aid Kit

Incorporate safety features such as smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, and first-aid kits in accessible locations throughout the property. Ensure your historic home restoration team adheres to safety regulations and has the necessary certifications for their tasks. Regularly inspect the work areas to identify and mitigate potential safety risks.

Smooth and Safe Restoration & Pleasant Guest Experience

By carefully managing and prioritizing safety precautions, historic homeowners can create an enjoyable experience for their paying guests, while ensuring that the restoration process proceeds smoothly and without incident. This way, both the historic charm of the property and the safety of all occupants are effectively preserved during the journey of revitalizing a historic gem.

B&B Consulting

Remember that your dedication is an investment in the future. The charm you unearth, the stories you uncover, and the authenticity you preserve will resonate with those who walk through your doors long after you’re gone.

Historic Home Restoration Victorian Style House

Hosting paying guests allows others to share the magic you’ve uncovered, providing not only financial benefits, but also the opportunity to educate and inspire others about the beauty of historic properties. Countless others will be touched by your property’s charm and character. You’re not just preserving the past in a historic home restoration project; you’re shaping the future for generations.

If you’re looking to buy or sell a historic property, contact licensed realtor Rob Sales of B&B Consulting. Rob welcomes you to contact him for a complimentary conversation.