So you’ve got your eye on that heavily gingerbreaded Victorian tucked away amid the trees on what was once a meticulously manicured lot. One hundred years of history, or perhaps more, lie behind its doors, enticing you to come in and take a look. You can just see a couple of wooden rocking chairs on the wrap around porch and a Christmas tree framed in the expansive bay window facing the street. The carved ceilings, decadent light fixtures and bathroom complete with claw-foot tub all call your name. Such is the charm of a vintage home.
But, Mr. or Ms. Homebuyer, are you prepared to look beyond that charm and investigate into just what 100 years of use, no matter how gentle, does to a vintage home? And, do you have the money and/or the skill to fix the problems that come up, not to mention the patience? Buying a vintage home and bringing it back to its glory days is admirable. But if you are adverse to hard work or worse, go into the venture with your eyes closed you will not have an easy time of it. If you need an example of what could happen take a couple of hours to see the movie “The Money Pit.” Yep, it’s a comedy, but it is rooted in fact.
Start with a Thorough Inspection
Get a professional inspection of your vintage home before anything else. Subsequent renovations and cosmetic repairs may conceal hidden items. Start with the foundation, checking for settling and/or wood rot, water or termite damage. You don’t want to be ripping up the floor or deck to install a new one and be facing a big, potentially expensive surprise.
In an older home water is not your friend. Check out the roof; make sure it is sound with no missing or torn up shingles and with the gutters and downspouts intact. If all is well you can put covers on the gutters, cutting down on your maintenance time. Go into the attic and check for signs of water damage and then into the home as well checking the ceiling, walls and the basement.
The electrical wiring in older homes is often not up to the task of 21st century living. In the olden days families may have had a radio and then later a TV and some lamps. Stoves were usually wood or gas, electric ones came later. But now we have computers, multiple TVs, stereo systems, all electric kitchens, spa tubs, well you get the picture. All of this spells electrical overload for a system designed even 40 or 50 years ago. You are most likely looking at a complete rewiring job to power your modern lifestyle safely. An inspection will give you a heads up on how dated your electrical system is.
Fixing Up That Beauty – Let There Be Light
While older homes do tend to have those lovely bay windows and even frosted or stained glass panels, some of the layouts don’t really take advantage of natural light. The high ceilings do help but if you have a room with four interior walls that doesn’t help much. One idea is to install transom windows. These are created by taking one wall of the room connecting to another room with windows and putting a bank of windows near the ceiling. This insures privacy but allows light in. Putting in frosted door panels also helps, as does painting the room in white or light colors.
There was a time when cooking was done in oversized fireplaces and in some vintage properties these structures still stand, usually right alongside modern appliances. If you have a large kitchen this can be quite charming and homey. But if that kitchen is on a lower level with little light and limited space that fireplace and associated chimney can overwhelm everything in the room. Consider taking it out and redoing the layout completely.
In the Victorian age the trend was to keep rooms separate and windows smaller because of heat loss. Once you have properly insulated your vintage home you will be able to heat it much more efficiently. This means you can open up rooms by knocking down walls and/or installing larger windows. No matter what floor your kitchen is on, chances are it could also benefit from larger windows, and more of them. Tearing down a wall to open up the kitchen and connect it directly to the dining room also makes the room more spacious. This is one way to combine the niceties of a modern kitchen with the ornate charm of your lovingly restored vintage home.