When renovating, do you go period or do you use modern items?

Our house was originally built probably around 1890 give or take a few years. (The records are shoddy). A Previous owner in its checkered history did a “renovation” which removed any period detail with a few exceptions such as the floors and the stair post and banisters. We had to replace everything except the post because they were pretty beat up and gauged. The bathrooms and kitchen were redone and any molding was ripped out. The radiators were removed, and forced air heat was installed. We’ve done a good amount of work in the kitchen and we’ve gone with modern items. We have done the same in the bathrooms. When I replaced the medicine cabinet, I went with something new as opposed to something period. When we replaced the cheap doors that the previous owner had installed, we went with some architectural salvage that I had scored from a renovation in the office building where I work. When we replaced the cheap contractor special 1980 vintage windows, we went with modern triple paned casement windows in the front and double paned

As we’ve been fixing things up, we have generally gone with new items. Some of my neighbors have gone the opposite route and have gone with period items from architectural salvage. One of my neighbors whose house was owned by someone who did absolutely nothing, still has the original bathroom from the 20s. She went with vintage style tile for her kitchen and has generally even replaced things with other bits of architectural salvage such as the back door. She has kept the original windows even though they are pretty inefficient.

What say all of you? Do you try to maintain the house as period as possible or do you go with modern items? Something in the middle?

I used a combination when I did mine. As in your situation, much was gone when I bought the house; for example the interior doors, including the pocket doors were gone. The front entry door was deemed unsalvageable by the guy who rebuilt doors. But much of the new stuff I used was chosen to match the old style. I had a new entry door built for the house; fortunately (since it was cheaper) I was able to use stock six-panel doors in the interior - still rather pricey, as they were nice, solid wood doors. I changed the first floor to an open floor plan, and had columns made to look like they were period. When we did the front porch - one of those 2-story porches - I designed it using my favorite features from the surviving porches amongst my neighbors. The new windows looked like old ones, but had intact glass and kept the weather out; a nice feature. I put in a big shower stall with two shower heads (that was nice), using new fixtures with old styling, like porcelain handles. And so on…

There were places in St. Louis where I could have bought vintage achitectural details and hired old-world craftsmen, but I didn’t have that kind of money. At least I didn’t destroy any vintage stuff, and I respected the character of the neighborhood. I wouldn’t buy a house that had historic features I didn’t like - I don’t want to mess up something that’s survived. I’ve seen a few old houses where the owners tried to turn them into something ultra-modern, and I think thats not only ugly, but an awful thing to do. But obviously, I have no problem with making the place habitable.

Replacing appliances and HVAC systems with modern systems is absolutely the way to go IMO, as is replacing windows and doors. It’s one thing to sit there in your home and show everyone your original-style single-pane leaky windows and anemic coal furnace, but it’s another thing entirely to be comfortable and safe in your home. Throughout history, with only some exceptions, people have upgraded even very elderly homes to take advantage of new technology - you see it all the time on shows like This Old Hosue - “They had a wood burner, replaced it with coal, then oil…now we’re putting in a heat pump.”

That doesn’t mean you can’t stylistically make things match the prior items but it’s somewhat difficult and/or expensive to do. Our house is only about 50 years old and we’re trying to maintain much of the look of the windows, for example, while replacing them with new ones (if we can EVER get a contractor to call us back).

Where it was feasible, we’ve tried to keep to the general Victorian feel of the house. We’ve put in solid wood six panel doors and we’ve used Victorian style trim on the doors which matches the original trim of the windows.

We used glass doorknobs on the bedrooms because we were lucky and scored some doors from a renovation in the building where I work, also Victorian.

I’ve spent some time at the architectural salvage places and a lot of it is really pricey.

Some things I would like to have redone. The previous owner redid the bathroom and it is nice enough that I’m not doing anything yet, but if I did I would probably do something a little more period, maybe get a claw foot tub.

I purchased an old fieldstone farmhouse c. 1850. After getting a contractor to chip off the lose parge and powerwash and repoint the stone, the house looked great outside. I tried to say with the ‘feel’ of the house whenever possible. The old windows let in so much cold air in the winter that I replaced them with Marvin brand wood windows. They were white aluminum clad outside which matched the white trim and I only sealed the inside with a clear coat of wood sealer. The new windows looked pretty good and were double paned with argon gas between the panes. Worth every dime, both as an energy saver and good looks. My first floor was severely dry rotted so I purchased sawmill cut wood in various widths and planed it and put in a random width plank floor. The different woods I used, oak, a little cherry and poplar, worked pretty well together. When I got to my kitchen and bathrooms, I went as modern as possible, using stainless steel appliances and the best countertops I could afford. The house looked good.

I try for a combo - anything to retain as many of the nice features as possible, as long as it does not sacrifice comfort, safety or energy-efficiency too much.

For example, our house had leaded glass windows, in original condition - meaning that they were horribly inefficient; we often had ice forming on the inside of the windows in winter.

Rather than replacing the lot, we had them repaired and made into triple-pained windows (sandwiched between two sheets of glass). Kept the look of the windows and improved their performance enormously.

Like everything it os a trade-off - they still are not as efficient as modern windows, and the cost was high. But I do like the look of leaded glass.

The house I live in is not very old, maybe 50yrs, we think it was built on weekends by a couple of handy Joes who needed a lake place to fish. The lumpy concrete floor looks as though it was poured in batches mixed one bag at a time. OVerall it was a very nondescript homely little cottage. Nothing fancy, small windows, hollowcore doors, rotting cupboards and a strong musty smell permeated the place.

So as we are improving the place (completely new kitchen, new baths, new laundry area, and a 2 storey addition) we decided the house needed some vintage character. And that is when we started going antiqueing and picking up solid doors, an iron clawfoot tub, glass doorknobs, and a medicine cabinet. For outdoor lighting we went with old and new. Above the deck we have old (50’s) but new still in the box factory style lamp shades that had a big glass bulb surround, (it is gonna be trick to change out) and new sleek nautical style fixtures for next to the doors.

We also found in a crawl space a light fixture that might be original to the house. Nothing special, but unique today, but back then it probably came from AceHardware and was cheap.

Like our furnishings the house renovation is a mix of old and new components.

I agree with the idea of keeping a house to the times stylistically, but with modern necessities. Some time in the 90’s my post-War clone-a-home was updated cheaply. They replaced the lighting fixtures with cheesy brass ones or ugly ceiling fans, tore out the bathroom tiles and stuccoed the walls, half removed the kitchen and bathroom flooring and replaced with cheap vinyl flooring. The kitchen, while workable, is ugly with a glued on heavy plastic backsplash and stock cupboards that do not fit.

I cannot afford to replace the kitchen cupboards, but am planning on removing the vinyl and putting lineolum back down. I have the tile for the bathroom floor, but with only one bathroom in the house the timing of replacing it all is delicate (the subfloor needs to be replaced too). I have found lighting fixtures more appropriate to the era that are with my bro-in-law to be rewired.

(Alas, the one thing that should have been updated in the renovation - the furnace - was left alone)

Windows? Absolutely new - used casement (or whatever the original style), but get double pane, easy clean - tyhe works. They look close enough to original to maintaing look and feel.
Any surviving trim (esp exterior) - keep. If you want to change floorplan, and those lovely built-ins no longer belong there - find a place where they DO fit - major period pieces stay. Period.
Interior trim - absolutely. Ideally, strip and refinish. At the very least, have millwork made to match. Interior doors - if any of the originals echo a theme, absolutely keep them. If some generics are beyond help, at least use something whichfits the general period (6 panel a neat solution).
External door - esp. front - I say keep it. If too far gone: is it part of a common design theme? Have a new one - identical cosmetically - if some new, cool things can be included without changing appearane, cool.
Case in point: my 1919 Edwardian had a period-specific 9-pane doors (front, LY, DR, GR-Kit - no way were those going anywhere.
It had 2-piece baseboard and casing. I moved some walls, replaced 6 doors. In the hallway and the bedrooms, I matched the (massive) trim. In the new, modern time bathrooms, I used modern, minimalisttrim - mostly monetary, but the original stuff would have visually overpowered the tiny rooms.
Sorry for the rambling - bed time…

In a sense, my decision was easier because one of the previous owners had stripped put most of the period pieces anyhow. We went ahead and installed crown molding and molding around the doors. A previous owner had replaced the doors with cheap hollowcore doors as well.

Since the original windows were long gone, I decided to go with what was best for us in terms of energy efficiency and noise reduction. We tried to make everything look period within reason. If we ever redo the bathroom, I will go for some Victorian touches like a clawfoot tub.

Part of me would like to rip off the drywall ceiling in the kitchen to see how much of the original tin ceiling is in place and what kind of shape it is in, but that will get expensive and the tin ceiling may only be in a few places not the whole kitchen. My other concern is that exposing the tin ceiling will make the kitchen seem even darker.

Have you ever lived with a claw-foot? I did as a wee child. My overwhelming impression: not only are the actual claws a bitch to clean (esp the ones along the wall, but you have to clean UNDER the friggin’ tub - and claen soap scum at that. There is a reason those are hard to find! If you can find a rental with a surviving tub, try it for about 3 months - THEN decide if you still think they are all that good of an idea…

We always go with period, but it sounds like you were dealt a bad hand to begin with. If previous owners took out all the good stuff, you’d have to decide what you can reasonably afford to replace with new items that look old, which are usually more expensive than the old ones you refinish. Try to maintain the old with trim, doors, floors – the products that flow throughout the house. Do the best you can, that’s all you can do.