Design Dilemma: Sensitive, not Silly Renovations
One of the biggest existential challenges architects and designers face is the inevitable tension between restoration and updating. Is it okay to take an Victorian home with intimate rooms and knock down walls to open up the space? Or is that, somehow, sacro-sanct? Is it okay to gussy up a 50’s ranch house with crown moldings and trim when none existed to begin with? Above, a modest 1940’s fisherman’s cottage in the Catskills has been renovated into a loft-like modernist dream. Is that okay?
In truth, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to renovation. You can change or keep whatever you want. And yet, we’ve all seen renovations that seem obviously wrong, out-of-kilter and sometimes just outright tasteless. If you’re looking at making a few changes in your own space, how can you know if you’re about to do something that will make people cringe in 10 or 15 years, or even tomorrow?
1) First, recognize what your home is, and what it isn’t. Live in a 50s ranch house? Your home will never be a turreted Victorian, an industrial loft or a Tuscan villa. So stay true to the spirit of your home. Work with what you’ve got without violating your home’s essence.
2) Don’t feel like your home’s historical era is so important that you can’t make any changes. This is the other side of the coin.Â Although you may live in a 100-year-old home you probably don’t want to be living with candles, gas lamps and ice boxes. Technological innovations and lifestyle changes inevitably mean that our homes must grow and change with us. If you refuse to make any changes in an effort to maintain architectural integrity, then your home again risks looking like an inauthentic period piece. It is possible to respect your home’s essential quality while updating and modernizing your home for now. In fact, some modern renovations in old homes involvingÂ actually highlight period architectural details.
3) Walk the fine line. A sensitive renovation means you’ll improve on space and usage issues in your home, while maintaining elements that make your home unique. In the after and before photos shown above, a homeowner knocked down the walls of her 1940’s fisherman’s cottage to open up the space and bring in light and views. However, she didn’t go as far as she might have. She chose to maintain the original wood paneling (painted white) in her home in deference to the traditions and materials of the area in which the cottage is found.
4) Consider the setting. A lot of renovations go wrong when homeowners don’t properly consider the context. Whatever changes you make should integrate seamlessly into a home,Â neighborhood and/or building. When a renovation sticks out as too much, too jarring or too fantastical for its setting, then its probably not a great renovation.
5) Value those things that are difficult to find and expensive to reproduce today. If your home comes with beautiful wide-plank oak floors but what you really want is concrete, consider the bald truth of the matter that wide plank floors may be more precious and difficult to find today than concrete. Always give precedence to artisanal work that can often be preserved and integrated into a new renovation.
6) Don’t renovate based on trends alone. Don’t knock down walls just to have an open space because open space is in. It’s got to work in the context of your home and it has to fit your lifestyle. When renovations diverge from the original style of a home, they should still work in a way that feels natural, not forced. Err on the side of timelessness.
7) Remember, tradition is different from convention. Good renovations follow a tradition of some sort. They respect the past without trying to mindlessly imitate it.
Image: New York Times