Traditional touches: how to sympathetically restore an older property

There’s something special about old homes. From the ornate mouldings to the charming layouts, they have a character that can’t be replicated in new builds. When renovating an older property, it’s important to preserve its heritage and retain its traditional touches. This maintains the property’s sense of history while still bringing it up to modern living standards.

With careful renovation, you can have the best of both worlds – a home that functions for modern life but stays true to its origins. This article will provide tips on evaluating existing features and making choices that honour a home’s unique legacy. Follow these guiding principles and your older property can retain its traditional spirit while still meeting your needs. The result will be a comfortable, heritage-rich home.

Firstly, do your research

Researching the history of an older home is a key first step in planning a sympathetic restoration. This allows you to identify original or significant vintage features that should be preserved. There are several ways to go about learning about a property’s past.

One method is to check historical records such as old deeds, auction notices and council files for details on when the house was built and any later additions or alterations made over time. These documents can provide insight into what layouts and materials were originally used. Local studies libraries or historical societies often have photographic archives which may contain actual images of your property that show structures and details that could still exist today.

You can also look for clues about the home’s former style within the existing fabric of the house itself. Layers of old paint, tell-tale wallpaper marks or original fixtures can provide hints about a property’s original character. Taking the time to thoroughly research using all these methods will provide the knowledge needed to sensitively preserve, restore, or reinstate vintage features and charm as part of a heritage-respectful renovation.

A typical Georgian dining room.

Opt for a vintage colour scheme

When renovating a period property, selecting colours that are appropriate to the age and style of the home is key for maintaining its traditional spirit. Stay away from modern, vivid paint colours, which can feel jarringly out of sync in an older building. Instead, consider heritage colour palettes that will complement the vintage architecture. Earthy tones like beige, brown and olive-green help rooms feel warm and welcoming. Deep red or navy blue can make elegant heritage colour statements. For a Victorian house, rich jewel-inspired shades will suit the ornate decor.

Neutral, muted shades are a safe choice for most rooms, as they won’t clash with original features. Soft greys, taupe and off-whites are timeless options. Look at any existing older paint or wallpaper layers for clues to hues that were popular when your home was built.

Check archives or historic colour charts to pinpoint accurately dated shades your home would have showcased. Many major paint brands now have heritage colour ranges to explore. Test sample pots on walls and view at different times of day before finalising period-perfect palette choices.

Whatever colours you select, use a matte or flat finish paint. This has a traditional subtle sheen that feels appropriate to the age of your home, unlike harsh gloss. Careful research and testing will help reinvent your older property with authentic period paint colours.

Retain original wooden features

The original woodwork found in old homes adds vintage style through its craftsmanship and patina of age. When sympathetically restoring an older property, it’s important to retain and repair these wood details rather than replacing them.

Intact wood bannisters, hand-carved staircase newel posts, architraves, skirting boards, doors and cabinetry should be preserved where possible. Consult experts on restoring woodwork using traditional techniques like re-gluing loose joints or patching damaged sections. Avoid harsh sanding or stripping off layers of history.

Varnished wood often darkens over time. You can refresh it while maintaining the depth of the patina by cleaning gently and reapplying a clear sealant. If woodwork has been painted, consider a heritage coloured topcoat rather than stripping it back to bare wood which loses character.

Replace any missing or unsalvageable original wood details with new elements carved from reclaimed, sustainably sourced timber to match. Use real wood rather than modern synthetic alternatives. Follow any unusual historical woodworking techniques used, especially in much older properties such as Georgian or Tudor homes

Handle vintage woodwork with care during renovations to avoid causing damage. Take a light-touch approach to retain the authentic allure of time-mellowed traditional carpentry throughout your older home.

Restoring a wooden floor.

Replicate classic flooring styles

Original flooring deserves careful attention during heritage home renovations, as it often adds vintage appeal. Sanding timber floorboards back to smooth bare wood can ruin patinated surfaces that have developed a warm, aged look over generations. Instead, clean gently by hand to remove dirt and grime while retaining evidence of historical wear and tear.

Where floorboards are damaged or missing, source reclaimed wood planks to patch or replace sections in keeping with the old flooring. Traditional tongue-and-groove installation and unfinished waxed finishes will complement the existing boards.

For properties with original flagstone, terracotta tiles or patterned stone flooring, recreate any missing areas using new materials that closely match the colour, texture, size and shapes of the originals. Laying wall-to-wall carpeting or floating modern laminate floors over the top of antique flooring destroys heritage character. Seek to uncover and restore original period floors as showpieces, or at least replicate originals as much as possible


A beautifully restored Victorian hallway.

Take time to preserve the past 

Sympathetically restoring an older home takes sensitivity, patience and a passion for preserving the past. With detailed research, evaluation of existing features and careful design choices, you can reinvent a heritage property to suit modern lifestyles without sacrificing its traditional spirit.

Period homes have a unique charm woven into their very walls that should be treated with respect. The crumbling plaster, ageing wood and faded hues tell a story. When original details remain intact, they provide a tangible connection to those who lived there before us through the decades.

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