Four Essential Rules of Historic Home Renovation

Posted by on Sunday, April 12th, 2020 at 9:33am.


 It’s the stuff of nightmares, but the payoff is worth it. Riverside and Avondale, and its patchwork of historic homes in every shape, condition and price, is a hotbed for buyers who are prepared to transform a charming vintage house into a modern, functional, worry free home.

But successful projects require a surgical approach. One surprise will uncover more surprises. In this enterprise, surprises equal dollars.  But when you’re done, there’s nothing more satisfying.  Riverside and Avondale offer a lot of opportunities to show your talents.

Rule #1: Keep the character.

Renovation creep can overtake a project. Before you know it, your sacrificing minute design details and architectural features you decide don’t make a real difference in the end. They do.  A doorway’s moulding, the baseboards in the dining room, the fireplace mantle will all be up for grabs once you start to cut corners and decide it would “just be cheaper to replace it.”

Rule #2: Determine what you can modernize, and what you can’t.

Taking a sledgehammer to the kitchen cabinets and countertops sounds cathartic, but if you don’t know the structural implications, it can be a disaster.  Never sacrifice structural integrity for the aesthetic. The new kitchen cabinets may weigh twice what the 1926 cabinets do.  It’s not just a countertop,  it’s everything behind and underneath it.  Moving your HVAC to the attic frees up space, but it’s not an attic that was designed for that. If an entirely new structural element must be added, only an engineer and a licensed contractor can ensure you’ll meet local codes. 

Rule #3: Know the Codes and Regulations

Historic neighborhhoods enforce guidelines, and can be rigid with the rules. One home veering from a prescribed look and feel reduces the quality, character and price of every historic home around it.  Windows, front porch railing, fascias and eaves, columns, roof shingles are all fair game for an eagle-eyed member of your Riverside Avondale Preservation (RAP) and other historic societies in other neighborhoods around Jacksonville, and you’re going to need them to be your friend, not your enemy. When the wrong detail is replaced with the wrong replacement, the historic renovation rules can mean big fines, and an order to tear down your expensive renovation and start over.

Rule #4: Get someone with experience to guide you.

Where do you get a replica of the window frame that’s melted away with age and weather?  Who’s good at re-tiling a bath that has 100 year old clawfoot tub?  Not your average tradesperson. They’re talented and they’re busy. You pick the most inexpensive and available tradeperson you found on the web, and the final product will show it.  Ask an expert where to source the right professionals, and how and where to get the right materials.


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