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Renovate or Restore, Which is Right for You?

Updated on February 28, 2013
Marye Audet profile image

Marye Audet-White is an internationally known food writer, food editor for Texas Living, cookbook author, and food blogger.

All of your life, or most of it anyway, you have dreamed of living in an old house. The smell of the old wood, the special charm of a vintage home, the thrill of living in a home that has so many stories to tell; all of these things have been a siren call to you for years. And now, you have found it. No matter how, or where it is, or even what shape it is in. The truth is that you have caught the bug, the passion, the dreaded old house addiction.

You have researched and hunted and come away with a home that you can love. It is 1200 square feet, or 2200 square feet, or even 4200 square feet of potential. You are quite sure that all it needs is some tender loving care and a few hours with the dremmel and a paint brush will catapult your house to the cover of Victorian Homes.

Within weeks you have plunked down your money, signed your name five thousand times and taken possession of the old lady. Congratulations.

The circa 1910 light fixture I got on eBay. It matches the year and look of my house.
The circa 1910 light fixture I got on eBay. It matches the year and look of my house.

Renovate? Restore? Remodel?

Now you have to make some pretty serious choices. Are you going to restore, remodel, or renovate?


Restoring a home is to take it back to original condition or as close as you can get. In a real restoration you would use as many salvaged materials from the same era as you could. You might find a light fixture on eBay, as I did, that matches your home's original style. You might replace the replacement molding with era appropriate wood, or even replace all of the hollow core doors with real wood.

I am a big fan of restoration. To me there is nothing more beautiful than an old house restored to it's former glory.


Renovation is when you change things to make them more comfortable for you. For example, your home might have a small, narrow, butlers pantry. You decide that you are going to open that up into one big kitchen area even though the style of the house cries out for it to remain.

In renovation you consider the history of the house but are not ruled by it. You may install 1970s wall paper in the 1845 music room... or add computerized light switches... You create comfort within limits.


Remodeling is where you change things completely. Putting in hollow core doors, changing where the stairs are located...Remodeling, for the most part, is a sad commentary on the desires of the homeowner and his complete lack of history, and architectural appreciation. It works great with an out of date 1960's garrison style, but is not the best choice for a 1889 Queen Anne. And truly, fans of the 1960s garrison style architecture will be appalled as well.

Some Things to Consider


When deciding on your course of action, visit some home improvement stores to get an idea of the prices for different materials. Look and see what similar products to those in your home are selling for. can you afford the solid beech carved entry door that would go perfectly with your house or will you have to consider something less expensive?


This is a little different from finances but does tie in. How much work are you capable of turning out consistently? Can you rebuild porches? Carve trim? Put in cabinets? All this needs to be considered. It takes longer if you are doing it yourself but the rewards as far as personal satisfaction are terrific. Sometimes you may need to just put a modern pressed wood cabinet in because it is easier than shimming all the current cabinetry.

Current Condition.

What is the current state of the house? Can you get by with floating new plaster over the existing wall or are you going to have to replace it with modern drywall?

Time Factor.

Do you really have time to whittle all the cabinet knobs yourself because they would have been that way when the house was built? Would cabinet pulls from Home Depot work for you?


There are somethings that I just can't do in my home because one of the things I appreciate about old houses is the craftsmanship. Our house has vinyl siding on it currently, put there by the old owners. At some point it will all come off to reveal the beautiful bevel edged siding underneath. I want my home to be as original as possible.

Know Yourself

If you take a few moments to really search your self, looking for what you really like, what you really want, and what you are really drawn to, then you can avoid costly mistakes. It is better to do it right the first time than to go back and have to redo something that you don't like! Make a list of the things that you absolutely must have and the things you are willing to negotiate to help you determine your course of action. Ultimately you will be glad that you did.

Victorian Interiors

Reference Books for great Ideas


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    • Rmnathan profile image

      Rmnathan 10 years ago from Sharjah

      Marye Audet, Interesting hub. I too love old houses irrespective of whether those are western, eastern, chinese, indian of any other. During my childhood, I lived in an old house, which was about 150 years old, in Sri Lanka. That was a house with a central courtyard, and that style was popular in that region in the past.