Three Methods for Fixing Up an Old House

“He who loves an old house never loves in vain.” (Isabel La Howe Conant).

One of the best books on the market if you are fixing up a historic home is Renovating Old Houses (Nash, George, Taunton Press, 1998). Of course, there are many books on the market that will teach you a million different ways to rehabilitate old houses, but this one is a favorite among hands-on, do-it-yourself historic house enthusiasts.

In addition to providing a terrific hands-on book with invaluable advice for each aspect of renovation, Nash describes the three basic philosophies when it comes to working with old houses.


This approach is the strictest form of conserving a historic property and falls mainly in line with the Secretary of Interior Standards used for National Register of Historic Places listed buildings. Restoration in essence means “the processes by which a structure is stripped of all later additions and returned to its original condition.” (Nash). For example, if an original kitchen floor has had layers and layers of new flooring added over time, a true preservationist would remove later additions and restore the old floor to its original state. Preservation, like conservation, also implies a certain level of ‘museum’ level care.


The second tier in fixing up and old building is renovation, an approach which means that although the property owner acknowledges and appreciates the history of the building, some of the old will be adapted for the sake of the new. Nash puts it best: “Renovators are not afraid to make changes.” Opening up a wall to a former service wing hallway, or exposing a brick wall not originally visible are some examples of renovation. Air conditioning is also nice!


Often referred to in extremely poor cases as ‘remuddling’, remodeling can be a slippery slope for homeowners who choose to completely gut the interior (and/or exterior) or a historic building. If it means the difference between tearing down an old house and making it a modern, livable home, certainly remodeling is better than demolition. “It’s not possible to legislate good taste or mandate that only appropriately sensitive individuals be entrusted with the ownership of historic homes.” (Nash).

Whatever a homeowner’s choice for their method of fixing up a historic home, it is a worthy effort filled with intangible rewards. And it sure beats vinyl siding.

Good news, historic home lovers. The George Nash book has been revised and updated in 2003. The new edition is called Renovating Old Houses: Bringing New Life to Vintage Homes (Nash, George, Taunton 2003).

Read more about old house questions to ask.

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