One of the best parts of renovating an older home is to lovingly recreate that home’s original ambience. Whether it’s a palatial Federal Era townhouse or a humble Aladdin catalog home, or even a Mid-Century Modern, restoring a home is one of the most satisfying experiences many people ever have. So with the holidays coming up, you may be wondering what to get your favorite renovators – or for yourself as you feather your own nest.
Lighting and hardware are a crucial part of any home, and can make or break the integrity of the presentation. You wouldn’t hang a Mondrian inspired pendant in an Art Nouveau living room, and historic preservation would stage a riot on your doorstep if your porch lighting was a Victorian sconce on a Streamline Modern. So what can you do to make the season bright? Help warm that home with some of the little details that often get overlooked in favor of the big picture. Hardware, lighting, and little details can make all the difference between a sorta-kinda look and a hands down wow.
Do Your Research!
Period homes often fall into particular architectural styles, and after long neglect can need significant restoration and renovation. Often there are major expenses involved in bringing a home’s electrical, plumbing, and HVAC systems up to snuff for insurance purposes, as well as correcting problems with roofing, porches, flooring, and even the foundations. Once the home is brought up to code, the detail work begins.
Do online research starting with the address of the home, you’d be surprised how many localities have photos of homes at different periods. This can give you an overall image of how the exterior used to look, and how it might have been altered in the intervening decades. This Old House reminds homeowners that over time other owners may have given the house a facelift to update the style, or knocked off a handsome porch when it was too costly to replace.
Catalogs and ladies’ magazines of the period are often a great help in showing how a home looked in the period in which it was built. You can even find a nearly complete collection of catalogs for Aladdin homes online courtesy of Central Michigan University. In other places you can find The Ladies’ Home Journal, Godey’s, and even Sears catalogs. Your Google skills are going to get a workout, but you’ll end up having a lot of fun. These vintage sources can give you an idea of popular color schemes, kitchen and bath fixtures, even table cloths and napkins. Remember, the Sears-Roebuck catalog was the Amazon of the day, and millions of people bought everything for their house (including the house!) from that catalog.
Here are some of the most popular home styles, and their approximate years.
- Saltbox: A New England style, principally in use from the 1600s to 1700s.
- Georgian: Popular throughout the colonies from 1700 to around 1780.
- Federal: Post-Revolutionary War from about to 1820 – first ‘American’ style based on English Adamesque.
- Greek Revival: 1825 to 1860, very popular as the new democracy took hold.
- Gothic Revival: 1840 to 1860, an import from England, very popular with a highly decorated and formal style.
- Italianate: 1840 to 1885, English in origin by way of the Grand Tour, based on the look of rural Italian homes.
- Second Empire: 1855 to 1885, based upon styles from the reign of France’s Napoleon III.
- Queen Anne: Asymmetrical and ornate style popular from 1880 to 1910 and often what people mean when they say Victorian.
- Cape Cod: Small one story homes popular from 1920 well into the post-war fifties.
There are also the aforementioned Mid-Century Modern, Art Deco, Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau, Bungalow, Prairie, Mediterranean, and other movements that were more or less popular, or that came into and fell out of fashion, much like the huge but featureless McMansions of the 1990s and 2000s are giving way to the smaller house movement. Research carefully, especially with respect to historic homes, before you undertake any renovations that could affect the historic status of the home.
Say Yes to the Gift
Renovators and fixit uppers can be very reticent about asking for gifts. They don’t want to come right out and ask for the doorknobs that are perfect for that five-panel, or the tea set that will make the sideboard pop. If you use a Gift Guide from Lumens, you might be able to do some guesswork as to what your renovators might like, or what might fit with their renovations. Convince them, if you can, to sign up and make wish lists, gift registries, and project planners that they can share. It not only keeps them organized, but lets you get better clues as to their needs and wants.