How to Renovate a Historic Home Without Losing Its Charm

an historic home interior with a couch and painting

The home renovation process varies depending on how much you want to change and spend. When it comes to renovating a historic home, there’s an extra consideration: the property’s natural character.

Many people are reluctant to make changes to a historic home for fear of losing the property’s character. Maintaining the historical integrity of a dwelling while bringing it into the present can be a delicate balancing act. Still, it can be done with some careful planning and a touch of creativity.

Read on for our tips on how to renovate a historic home without losing its charm.

1. Brush Up on the History

Before you get too deep into planning remodels, you’ll want to do some research. Check the home’s condition with a home inspection and the cost of your ideas, and try to learn as much as you can about your home and its history. There may be strict regulations governing what changes you can make or special building permits that must be applied for.

In some cases, you might not be able to make any changes at all. It’s always best to err on the side of caution and check with your local historical society before making any significant changes. If you’re cleared to renovate, consider taking inspiration from other homes built in the same time period.

You can also talk with an expert such as an architect to learn about what might have been popular when your home was first built. By understanding the history of your home, you can make choices that will be sympathetic to its original design.

2. Preserve the Structure

a man standing in a partially renovated house

If you are thinking about making changes to the structure of your historic home, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons carefully. On the one hand, you may be able to improve the function of the space by removing walls or adding new rooms.

On the other hand, you could be jeopardizing the home’s integrity and erasing the heart of its history. Unless the house has structural issues, most agree it’s best to keep the original “bones” of a historic home intact. This is because the architecture of the home—everything from the interior walls to the exterior—makes it unique and special.

You might not think of walls as adding character, but they influence the floor plan, which directly impacts how the home is used. Floors, ceilings, and rooflines also help to define the home’s architectural style.

3. Keep Major Changes to What’s Necessary

It’s easy to make a lengthy list of what to update in a home. But if you want to preserve its history, you’ll need to be strategic. Anything that’s necessary for your safety and comfort in the house (like the HVAC system, plumbing, wiring, etc.) will need to be addressed.

Many of these are updates that will just be felt, not seen, which is a bonus. This doesn’t mean that you can’t make changes you want to make, rather than ones out of necessity. If there’s a part of the home that you’d like to add for yourself or future residents, start with something small.

How about adding some more storage, replacing old windows, or updating your lighting? More minor changes like these won’t significantly impact the home’s history, which means you can enjoy both it and a touch of modernity.

4. Emulate the Original Where Possible

a man and woman contractor on a building site discussing a project

Sometimes you can’t get around having to modernize a historic home. Even when you have to make changes, it’s still easy to give a nod back to the original work by emulating it, such as having contractors match trim or woodwork. You might also want to investigate what kind of materials were used in the original construction.

Along with imitating the original structure in necessary changes, you can also use the historical pieces of the home to inspire any additions. It’s helpful to take some time to study the original features and see what it is that you like about them.

Is it the symmetry? The attention to detail? Once you’ve pinpointed what you want to replicate, it will be easier to get started.


Updating a historic home while keeping its charm can be a daunting task. But if you do your research and take things one step at a time, it can be a gratifying experience.

By keeping major changes to what’s necessary, trying to emulate the original as much as possible, and picking modern changes that complement the older pieces, you can update your home without losing its historic appeal.

If you own a historic home in Philadelphia or Pittsburgh but don’t want to take on the renovation project, give us a call. We buy houses, multi-family developments, and restaurants in Pennsylvania.

Our company renovates houses throughout Pennsylvania. We love working with historic homes and preserving the beauty of the architecture. Learn more about selling to an investor or contact us today for your cash offer.