There are as many approaches to remodeling as there are old buildings, but these 12 projects strike a balancing act best summed up by architect Johnny Chu of JC Architecture: "It’s about what has been conserved and what has been added to allow for modern life in this historical context."
What started as an 1800s Brooklyn schoolhouse and the home of the Long Island Business College was converted into utilitarian lofts in the early 1980s. Then in 2015, Keren and Thomas Richter, co-founders of the design studio White Arrow, decided to remodel their unit and bring back the period details that had been lost along the way. The team designed Victorian millwork and dug around for tin tiles that would reflect the original. Salvaged and antique finds were juxtaposed with a modern assortment of furniture and accessories to complete the project.
"There’s a nice tension that exists in this renovation," says the couple’s architect, Kevin Greenberg of Space Exploration. "The building has exquisite original architectural details, and we kept the delicacy of that at the front of our minds."
When this 1899 Queen Anne Victorian was built in Pittsburgh, people had a different attitude towards kitchen design. The room, generally on the smaller side, was closed off from the rest of the house.
"We would have friends over, and we’d be like, ‘Okay, well, you guys enjoy yourselves, and we’re going to go into the kitchen for the next hour to clean up and get ready to serve,’" jokes Shawn Aversa, who lived here with his husband Jamie McAdams for seven years before opening the kitchen up. A rear addition, just shy of 400 square feet, with a soaring ceiling that peaks at 16 feet—and windows on every wall—transformed the pair’s previously dark and cramped cooking quarters.
"I almost think of it as cleaning an old painting: revealing the vivid color below the grime, but elevating the feeling of age," says architect Sky Lanigan of remodeling a century-old carriage house in San Francisco. To that end, Lanigan and Ian Read, both of the firm Medium Plenty, cleaned up the old Douglas fir floor and patched in new pieces for a collected effect, and rebuilt a rat-infested hayloft into a light-filled bedroom suite.
Originally built in the 1870s and "remuddled" many times since, the floor plan for this San Francisco house needed a more thoughtful intervention. Previous changes had created unfortunate results, such as a sightline to the powder room toilet from the dining room table, and a backyard crowded with too many stairs and little-used platforms.
Architect Malcolm Davis stepped in with a revised layout that segues effortlessly into a new backyard, thanks to sliding glass doors that meet at a corner in the kitchen. "Our biggest challenge was to create an indoor/outdoor living space where neither area was very big—but they could borrow square footage from each other," says Davis.
The transformation of a 1885 Victorian home in Portland found inspiration from an unexpected place: "We started with some vintage, ’70s French silk scarves that we found online and later had made into pillows," says interior designer Jessica Helgerson. "They felt glamorous and gorgeous, like our client, and those drove the color palette for the project."
Helgerson and the team proceeded to shine up the home’s historic attributes with shots of glamour here and there. "The existing details were so exquisite and the proportions so lovely we felt that we needed to proceed with caution with everything we did," says the firm. "The result is a space that does feel very modern and quite glamorous but with wonderful character and texture as the backdrop."
When a Taiwanese couple with three young children decided to turn an abandoned dormitory in Taipei City into their new home, there was a saving grace to be found among the rotting window frames, disappeared floors, and failed sewage system: "Luckily, the roof was still intact, so there weren’t many water leaks and it was a doable project," says architect Johnny Chu, founder of Taipei- and Philadelphia-based JC Architecture.
Chu proceeded to take a nuanced approach. "We didn’t want to come in and rip out the original elements," says Chu. "This building is about what has been conserved and what has been added to allow modern life in this historical context."
Some homes are head-scratchers. Such was the case with this Queen Anne home in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago. Built in 1885, the home had suffered a gut job in the ’60s, wherein much of its period detail was stripped out and a massive spiral staircase installed through three floors, sacrificing a second-floor bedroom in the process.
The home’s newest owners, a couple with three children, asked architect and interior designer Dane Rausch of Inhabit Interiors, who teamed up with architecture firm Booth Hansen, to instill a better balance of old and new. The team got to work, enhancing what was left of the historic elements with contemporary treatments. "The idea was that anything we brought in or added to the home, we would make it contemporary," says Rausch.
Walk through this 1860s farmhouse today, and you’d be hard-pressed to pinpoint what’s original and what’s been tweaked, so skillful is the work of Heide Hendricks and Rafe Churchill, who lead the firm Hendricks Churchill. Located on a seven-acre property in the Hudson Valley, the farmhouse needed updating, including two-and-a-half bathrooms, kitchen, mudroom, main bedroom suite, and all of the mechanical systems. Throughout the remodel, Hendricks and Churchill respect the home’s old bones while making it all the more suitable for modern life.
ARCHSTUDIO’s goals for this rehab project of a traditional compound in Beijing are simply stated: "To renovate the old and insert the new." Under that direction, the firm first restored the seven buildings and three courtyards present, rescuing them from their overgrown and trash-filled state. Next, they installed a curvilinear, glass-enclosed veranda that connects everything together and wraps the site.
If you like old houses, chances are you’ve come across The Gold Hive, the popular blog that Ashley Goldman created in 2015 to chronicle the purchase and years-long renovation of the "dirtiest" and "smelliest" 1915 Craftsman in San Diego. Goldman’s posts are always thoughtful meditations on balancing the historic structure with the needs for modern living, whether she’s sharing floor plan ideas, DIY tips for sealing marble countertops, or inspiring interiors from around the web.
Creating livable space from an attic in an old house is a challenge, as this 1912 Seattle home proved to designer Casey Keasler of Casework. Keasler was asked to fit four distinct functions into the 550 square feet tucked under a pitched roofline, including a new primary bedroom, en-suite bathroom, closet, and nursery. The first solution was to craft clever custom storage. Double-duty elements—like an open bookcase that works as a room divider and a hallway that’s also a dressing room—further maximize the available space, while a medley of materials and color keep the tableau light, bright, and distinctly un-attic-like.
In order to connect an aged cottage and dairy stable into a unified family home in Melbourne, the firm Robson Rak Architects designed a sleek brick and glass infill building to bring them together. The facades of the old buildings were restored while the new building sits in comfortable contrast and contains a plethora of living spaces, including an internal courtyard, dramatic glass-enclosed stairwell, kitchen, and dining room, as well as a second-floor primary suite and rooftop terrace.
Related Reading: 36 Stunning "Before & After" Modern Home Renovations
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