Historic homes: 5 tips to transform celebrated classics

Lifestyle | 11 Aug |

Historic homes that are full of character deserve to be preserved, says one Arizona designer, who’s showing fellow DIYers how to strike the perfect balance between restoration and renovation by offering design ideas that blend classic materials with contemporary elements, without diluting the original style.

Quickly becoming the go-to source for photo-worthy transformations in Metro Phoenix, James Judge is an expert in the historic home space as he’s single-handedly revived more homes than anyone else within the four streets that make up the Ashland Place Historic District, with close to a dozen over the past five years, plus – dozens more within other historic districts. Although great bones should never be replaced, Judge believes that you can modify, customize and preserve the history of the home, while also making it inherently more valuable with just a few, budget-friendly and creative solutions.

“While every major city typically has a celebrated historic district, Arizona often tends to level things in favor of new builds. However Central Phoenix is special and the city has worked hard to preserve and establish so many historic districts, but inevitably homes and streets can be missed. That’s why, I took it upon myself to garner historic status for Woodward Drive, and as a result, I was the first person in nearly 30 years to get this street added to the Ashland Place Historic District, providing protection for the remaining eight homes that date back to the 1930s,” said Judge. “There are so many ways to incorporate modern chic within an older home, and goal is to make people feel comfortable and empowered to take on a restoration project knowing that it will turn out amazing without breaking the bank.”

With a passion for turning houses into homes one judgement at a time, here are five of Judge’s best-kept design ideas he’s used in recent projects to update a historic abode in a modern way:

Make it Vintage: One’s trash is another’s treasure. Refurbishing old doors and furnishings is a great, cost-effective way to breathe life into something old while adding a new visual element to a space. “I often find that the doors in historic homes are mismatched because they have been changed or replaced over the years. Don’t let this stop you from being creative. Instead, look at your local thrift store or Craigslist for doors that match for a fraction of the cost. You can do the same for bathroom fixtures too. Cast iron tubs and bathroom sinks can easily be refinished to save money and also add to the charm factor.”

Focus on the History, Not the Trends: By choosing the right materials, you can easily preserve the original story of the home while also incorporating a few key design elements like lighting, fixtures and flooring. “Although wide-plank flooring is so popular right now, thin-wood planks often cost less, look more period appropriate and will uphold the home’s intended style. You also want to take cues from your existing finishes. For example, if the home has brass door knobs, embrace brass in other ways with lighting and hardware to create a unified style.”

Elevate the Old by Embracing the New: With historic homes filled with rich architectural details, you can bring the look full circle by combining old and new finishes. “One of my favorite things is to preserve the original cabinets within the home because they often have more character than what we see today. However, they’re also not as functional as what we need, so by adding custom cabinetry that matches the original style within the rest of the space you can create more storage and counterspace, giving the kitchen a high-end look while maintaining the integrity of its original design.

Add Trim Work to Build Character: Instead of stripping the home of its original features, try incorporating similar designs in the trim to make the space unique. “Adding period appropriate trim work is one of my favorite tips for creating character within a home. Tall baseboards, crown molding, accent wall trim and door frames are all great opportunities to explore. I also love to paint the trim work an accent color to draw attention and make it pop.”

Mimic Original Archways to Preserve Personality: Most historic residences are complete with a grand entrance and an archway that sets the tone for the rest of the home. “One thing that I love about older homes is that you can tell which era it was built in by the look and feel of the finishes, especially the archways. If you’re adding on to the home or doing a remodel, whether they’re scalloped, rounded or square, try and incorporate this look into new spaces in the home to unify the spaces. This will create more depths of personality while establishing continuity.”

Follow along with James Judge as he shares DIY tips, design-on-a-dime methods and overall inspiration for home-renovation goals at @thehousejudge. To work with James on an upcoming project, visit MrJamesJudge.com.

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