Renovating A Historic House: What to Keep in Mind When Designing

Sep 13, 2018 | By Robert

Renovating a historic 1930 Tudor House in Phoenix, AZ

As our home renovation inches closer and closer to completion, and we make some last minute decisions, we are constantly wondering, “Did we do this house justice?” One question we’ve asked ourselves again and again along the way is, “does the space still feel historic?” Our house was built in 1930. Which pretty much means it was being built in the late 20’s, right? Crazy to think of that, but yes, our house is old. Ancient by Phoenix standards. So we’ve been very careful as we renovate to not lose the historic charm. So what should you keep in mind when renovating a historic house?

One thing we were very conscious of was to not open up the entire space. The open concept has become synonymous with modern new-builds as well as restoring historic homes. It’s just something we were’t comfortable going all in on. Yes, we certainly opened up some spaces, but we made sure to keep walls up to divide them. There is something still very charming about each room being it’s own. It’s cozy and comforting and keeps everyone together rather than spread out across the house. Our house has these dramatic archways when you walk in our front door that go to both the kitchen and dining room respectively, and we just didn’t want to lose that. We worked around it, made some big changes, but didn’t compromise on keeping the spaces separate from each other.

Renovating a historic 1930 Tudor House in Phoenix, AZ

^^Photo above shows where our old laundry room used to be. The dark (original) flooring is where the dining room used to end. Now we have an open flow to the kitchen without a complete open concept, keeping a more traditional dining room in place.

When your renovating a house and everything is being ripped apart and there is debris everywhere, it’s easy to add a few things to your list that you maybe didn’t think of at first. “This place is destroyed, so let’s just do it now, so we don’t have to deal with this mess again in the future.” We’ve uttered that line countless times along the way and we’re definitely guilty of tacking on a few extras as we got deeper into this project. We did not however, deviate from our original plan too much.

Renovating a historic 1930 Tudor House in Phoenix, AZ

^^The new vaulted ceiling in the master bedroom and French doors going out to the yard.

Truthfully in the end, there’s always going to be something else you could have done when renovating, but trying to stay focused on your original plan is super important. How do you want to live in the house? What makes your day to day easier? Etc. So what was important to us? Our bedroom and closet space got major upgrades in size (we needed that extra storage), and our dining room grew by about 5 feet thanks to the relocation of our laundry room (hello family dinners!), but we kept the style very clean and classic, inline with the original time of the home. In the end we want the space to feel fresh, and updated, verses and a modern flip.

Renovating a historic 1930 Tudor House in Phoenix, AZ

^^Obsessed with the custom range hood we decided to go with through the same cabinet company we’re working with, Affinity Kitchens. Still waiting on countertops, backsplash, lighting and the rest of the hardware to go in, but we’re getting close!

Our electrician was really pushing modern lighting. He suggested adding a light that would shine on our mantle to highlight a piece of artwork. He also suggested adding LED strip lights under our open shelving. He meant well. He’s great at what he does, but we needed to keep repeating, “too modern”. We are big candle people. We always have our taper candles lit around the house just for lighting, our dyptique candles lit for scent, and lamps sprinkled around for nice, warm lighting. We very rarely have the “house lights” on. We’re all about natural light during the day, and mood lighting at night. There was no need to go overboard with a laser light show up in here. Keeping the lights feeling a bit old-timey is crucial for us to keep the historic vibe, so that’s what we did.

Renovating a historic 1930 Tudor House in Phoenix, AZ

It’s crazy (and a bit alarming) to think that we’ve been out of our house for 5 months already. We still have a month or so before getting back in there, but it’s starting to get put back together again and we’re as giddy as you might imagine. Our guest house has been great and we can’t complain as we’re quite lucky to be able to stay on our property with no added expenses. Having said that…we’d be pretty happy to move back into our house…like….now! Be on the lookout for more home updates here, and follow along on Instagram and IG stories for sneak peeks of the whole renovation.

Have you guys had any experience with renovating a historic house?

*Check out more of our home renovation progress, here.
*Need more home inspiration, check out our decor posts here.

19 comments on “Renovating A Historic House: What to Keep in Mind When Designing”

    1. Thanks Megan – there have been a few things that have come up, like old electrical that wasn’t closed off properly from our previous contractor….and gas lines having to be rerouted, some AC issues, etc. All have been dealt with but they definitely were costly items to fix that we weren’t planning on. Maybe we’ll dive deeper about it in a post. 🙂

      Thanks so much for the comment!

  1. Ah! Such a good timing for this post!
    We’ve just started renovating our late 40’s apartment bathrooom here in São Paulo. Even though it’s just one room, all the obstacles were similar: finding porcelain and tiles from that era – or that look from that time -, saying “too modern” a lot, and being happy that we are able to stay in the apartment during the renovation.
    Super curious and excited about the outcome of your project 🙂

    1. Ah! So exciting! You’ll have to share a bit about it. I’m glad you mention things like tile…we definitely appreciate some modern design elements like specific tiles, and faucet options but sometimes its just not the right fit for your current project. Knowing what to include and lean more historic on can be challenging but you sound like you have all under control.

      I’m super curious about your tile now! 🙂 Good luck with the rest of the renovation! It sounds like its going to be beautiful!

  2. Love reading this! My fiancé and I are trying to decide if we’re wanting a new build, fixer upper or something in between for our first home. How has the stress been throughout the process? I know renovating can be a challenge but so can living in a place you’re not happy with. Can’t wait to see the finished product!

    1. As people who find a lot of comfort in being home, (although we do love to travel) the waiting game can be tough. If you do decide to renovate, just know that if you’re stressed (which you probably will be because there are always some unforeseen hiccups) you have something so great to look forward to in the end. If you can live somewhere else during the renovation, I think that would alleviate a lot of the stress. Good luck with the house hunting process and everything that comes with it. Creating a space to call your own is very special.

  3. I renovated an early 1800’s row house in Fells Point, Maryland back in the 1980’s. It was so basic when I bought it that it only had one lightbulb hanging from the kitchen ceiling and no heat except for 2 fireplaces. It was quite an adventure, I kept the charm of the beautiful exposed brick and winding staircase and added full electricity and reliable heating system. Later I re-did a 200 year old farm house in Baltimore County. Can’t wait to see what I can get into now that I live in Arizona!!

    1. You are living our dream, Lynne. These properties sound absolutely beautiful. I love that you kept the exposed brick but added more functional elements for the home. Excited to hear you’re in AZ, please share what you’re up to next.

  4. It’s pretty sad and disappointing that you wouldn’t even once mention the fact that you worked with an architect in designing this home remodel. You didn’t concote this from some images you saw on Pinterest. I’m very disappointed that you wouldn’t mention this professional’s input and work throughout the process.

    1. Hi Dan,

      Thanks for your comment. We actually did not work with an architect on the design of our home. We did share our ideas with our contractor, his team, and draftsman along the way. Our draftsman, Ron Elliott, who we have mentioned numerous times on Instagram and here on the blog helped design the floor plan of our outdoor patio area and canopy (which we have yet to share as it isn’t complete). He created the floor plans to submit for approval to the city, and added a few elements (such as windows) that worked well with the style of the home (that we also called out on Instagram).

      The idea to remove certain walls in our home, add French doors, and add space to our bedroom/create a master closet, etc were completely our ideas and was the product of living with the home and making adjustments that worked for us. These were elements that were discussed with our contractor early on. We’ve mentioned it before, but we love our contractor and his team: Rob Withem from Loyal Construction Co. This post is about the thought process we consciously went through to keep our home’s historic charm throughout the renovation, as it can be extremely easy to knock everything down for an open concept, stray far from your original vision, or take on certain design elements (ie like the lighting choices we mentioned) that would feel too modern.

      In the past, we have called out any time anyone else contributed along the way whether it was our contractor, draftsman, or kitchen cabinetry specialists, or even a photographer. As we reveal spaces, we will always mention those who worked with us on the project, but we are still far from that happening.

      I hope this clears that up. Thanks again for your input. 🙂

      1. It does, I must have been confused as I was sure that you had said there was one in an earlier post. My bad, in that case.

        I applaud you for working within the old homes constraints and truly believe that respecting the original home’s envelope and layout as best as possible does reflect your deep understanding as to how this home was originally designed. I’m actually a proponent of using the salvageable bones in old homes with minor technology and functionality tweaks to really let the brilliance of the historic space shine.

        I do believe that many other flippers (jcon) and remodelers in the downtown area are placing the easy, insensitive bandaid to a larger problem that involves thought and real problem-solving skills. I look forward to seeing this space and the previously unrevealed space finished. I apologize for any prior irreverence, you deserve the credit and respect for your sensitivity in this matter.

        Believing in that dream with you,
        A frustrated local architect.

  5. This is gorgeous! We live in a historic home that was built by the mayor of Philadelphia in 1760! Crazy. The home is beautiful but countless obstacles when renovating. We hope to get out to AZ when it starts to get chilly here 🙂

  6. So lovely! Yes, I’ve had an experience (and a half) renovating an old house. I redid an 1892 Victorian cottage in Massachusetts. I started removing the wallpaper (after taking off the smoky mirrors!) from the wall, and found *nine* layers. It was like the History of Bad Taste, down to the original, pretty floral. I’m not sure I would have started if I’d know how hard it would be to take all that off. But it was done, and done right. Then I renovated the rest, but didn’t lose the Victorian charm or focus on the beautiful workmanship. We’re just the lucky stewards of these old places.

  7. Hi! Who did you use as your contractor? I’m looking to renovate my historic home in Phoenix and am looking for recommendations.

  8. Hello,

    Loved the way the kitchen turned out!! Where did you find the shelves (that replaced the cabinets)? 🙂

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