There’s something magical about historic houses. The understated, handcrafted architectural details whisper the lingering memories of generations past, transporting anyone who steps through the doors of these homes on a voyage to a different time period, as if they have jumped into the pages of a book.
In Gainesville’s case, the humble 20th century houses scattered around the city stand as physical reminders of the community’s vibrant culture and heritage. Although reviving a house to match its previous beauty can be a strenuous process, the ultimate reward is a home that commemorates the past and brings new meaning to both its inhabitants and the city.
Revitalizing older houses requires a balancing act. Too little refurbishment can be a safety issue when dilapidated structural components are not updated. Meanwhile, going overboard on remodeling can completely eliminate the buildings original characteristics and devalue the property. The key to a successful restoration is integrating modern functionality and luxury while preserving the homes authentic historic elements. Here are a few popular practices for updating older homes, which accentuate their inimitable architectural characteristics while making them comfortable and habitable for contemporary living.
1. Refinishing hardwood floors
Underneath weathered carpet and scratched old floors lies an opportunity. Polished wood floors evoke a rustic yet luxurious appeal that pays homage to the traditional wood floors of the past. Restore the houses original wood flooring through refinishing. This technique only takes a few days but can be labor-intensive. Before beginning, any fixtures in the room need to be covered to avoid potential damage by debris. If the existing floor is carpeted, pry it up and clean the underlying wood. It generally takes three sessions of sanding with varied levels of coarseness and detail to reach the desired layer of unblemished wood. After adding a finishing veneer of polyurethane, the resulting product is striking.
2. Modernizing the kitchen
While the kitchen has remained a cherished space for bonding with family and friends over food, kitchen appliances have been revolutionized by improved technologies. Most rooms in a historic house only need gentle renovations to restore their original features, but the kitchen needs to be completely updated to comply with modern functionality. Older kitchens often need to be expanded to make room for the larger appliances in today’s households, such as refrigerators and dishwashers. Homeowners subsequently use this necessary expansion as an opportunity to design gourmet kitchens, complete with wrap-around cabinetry, granite counter-tops and stainless-steel appliances. Juxtaposing a contemporary kitchen with the vintage charm of the house facilitates harmony between the houses classic and modern appearances.
3. Taking advantage of natural light with French doors
Depending on the age, its possible a house did not have central heat and air conditioning when it was originally built. In many cases, historic houses have abundant, large windows that opened to allow air to cool the home. Take advantage of all of the natural light and consider adding glass French doors internally. These doors add a statement design element to the house while allowing natural sunlight to carry through the rooms.
4. Restoring the courtyards
Historic houses often have attached courtyards and gardens which contain hand-carved stone fountains, pergolas and cast-iron benches. Once restored, these items act as perfect antique additions to any yard. Pieces like this often need a touch-up to repair damage from decades of weathering, which can be done professionally or as a do-it-yourself project, depending on the extent of the wear and the fragility of the object. Homeowners can patch cracks in cement fountains using epoxy and eliminate rust from corroded iron benches using remover without professional help. The result is a striking statement piece. Trimark Properties, a local real estate company that specializes in renovating historic houses near the University of Florida campus, used this approach when refurbishing a series of historic Gainesville homes, now known as the Heritage Oaks community. A stone fountain in the courtyard of the original 1930s buildings was fully restored and now acts as a beautiful, outdoor focal point. Trimark also restored a brick wall that surrounded the community and added lush landscaping and well-designed hardscaping, turning an ordinary courtyard into one with character and culture.
5. Highlighting the house’s unique design elements
The beauty of historic homes is often in the details of the ornate masonry and woodwork that is not often exhibited in the factory-made features of modern homes. Uphold this timeless craftsmanship by accentuating the aspects that make the house a historic treasure. For example, many historic houses include built-in shelving and curios, which can be restored by adding glass shelves or a fresh coat of paint. Most older houses also contain fireplaces, which can either be painted, refinished with new stones or emphasized by adding a mantle. For an eye-catching accent wall that adds texture and warmth, existing drywall can be removed to expose the bricks underneath. These unique features vary depending on the house and allow homeowners to utilize a creative approach to the restoration process. It is finding treasures like these in historic homes and giving them new purpose that makes renovation projects so alluring — and the prize of a cozy, modern house with vintage charm.
Photography Courtesy of Trimark Properties