Camp Washington Restoration: Exploring the 3 Rs

3071 Sidney Avenue as it looked in May 2019

This is the 8th post documenting Lead Agent Adam Sanregret’s home restoration project: 3071 Sidney Avenue in Cincinnati’s historic Camp Washington. As for Adam’s timeline, it’s quite good. He started his whole house project in May 2019 and he’s quickly wrapping things up. You can consider this post an intermission with the grand finale on the way… 

Like Adam, if you are considering an entire re-do of a historic house, the approach you take will impact the home’s finished character, total cost, and how long it is going to take you. 

So, what’s your approach? Are you going to restore, rehabilitate, or renovate your historic home? 

Restoration

Today, when people say “restore”, most often they mean rehabilitate. Restore is also the word frequently heard when people talk about any old house project. It’s a blanket term. Despite this, the word has a very specific meaning:

Restore (transitive verb): to bring back to or put back into a former or original state

By this definition, when you restore an old house, it means you returned its interior and exterior appearance to a particular date or period. In practice, this usually translates to the time when the house was built.

If you think about it, whole house restorations aren’t very common. Not only does the restoration remove additions or changes that are part of the home’s history, but it can also preclude modern inventions and conveniences—like electricity, modern plumbing and heating, and even dishwashers and air conditioning! 

If you didn’t open it needlessly, an ice box could keep food at near-freezing temperature from a couple of hours to several days as the ice slowly melts

For today’s historic homes, a whole house restoration—according to the strict definition of the word—is a bit impractical. Would you install knob and tube wiring in your home? Or, how about having both gas and electric running out of the same light fixture? You could still sit and enjoy your porch—while the ice in your icebox slowly melts.

Most restoration is limited to the details of a historic home. Here are some examples: 

  • Repairing old fixtures, or replacing them with salvage pieces and replicas
  • Ripping up wall-to-wall carpet to expose original wood floors
  • Removing asbestos or vinyl siding and restoring the original wood clapboard

Rehabilitate

When you rehabilitate an old house, you give it modern functionality yet still preserve important historic and architectural features. In a rehabilitated home, you will find modern electrical, mechanical, and plumbing systems, as well as a modern kitchen, and other things typical of the present-day. Examples include:

  • Updating the bathroom’s plumbing to current specifications but not touching the pedestal sink, toilet with a wall-mounted tank, or clawfoot tub
  • Installing period-appropriate kitchen cabinets plus a new dishwasher

Just an example of double pane replacement windows

Similar to the way that “restore” is used about any type of old house project, the word rehabilitate has a connotation. Think of a whole house rehab and you likely associate it with a “gut job”—when nearly all historic character is gone and everything is modern coated with a historic shell. Thus, we have the concept “new, old house”. 

Renovate

Renovation is the opposite of restoration. It looks towards the future, not the past. In old house terms, to renovate means “to make new or improve”. A renovation removes outdated building components or features and puts in new, modern ones. Examples of renovation include:

  • Replacing old windows with modern ones
  • Updating an out-of-date kitchen with new cabinets and fixtures
  • Remaking your entire bathroom from top to bottom

Which of the 3 Rs is Adam Doing?

Any historic home improvement project can incorporate more than one concept. You can install new plumbing in your bathroom (rehabilitation), as well as a salvaged clawfoot tub that enhances your home’s Victorian style and character (restoration). 

Partial demolition at 3071 Sidney Avenue

When Adam bought the nearly 2700-square-foot Second Empire home at 3071 Sidney Avenue, the interior was already partially demolished. It had no intact kitchen, bathrooms, utilities, and no insulation.

The home was built in 1885 with no interior plumbing. So, from the get-go, a full restoration back to that period was not part of Adam’s plans.

During the 1920s, the exterior was clad with asbestos-cement tiles and the front porch was heavily altered. It was during this time that plumbing was added, along with some floorplan changes to accommodate bathrooms. 

Adam’s overall plan was to turn what was originally a multi-generational home into a single-family home. This required a few floorplan changes. Because this is a new use for the home, it squarely fits with the definition of “renovation”. In contrast, however, Adam’s new electrical, mechanical, and plumbing systems fall under the category of “rehab”.

To retain as much original character as possible, Adam paid particular attention to the following historic features: 

  • Windows
  • Floors
  • Doors
  • Fireplaces
  • Moldings and other woodwork
  • Exterior architectural elements

Restored original floors and staircase

The work that Adam has done to date with the majority of these features does fit the definition of restoration. His goal was to take these elements back to the period when the home was built. One exception was the windows on the upper floors. Due to water damage and rot, he decided that the best thing to do was to replace them with new ones (renovate).

What approach is best for your historic home?

When deciding whether you should restore, rehabilitate, or renovate your historic home, there is no right or wrong answer. Understanding the history and present condition of your home, as well as your lifestyle needs, will ultimately determine your course of action. 

Stay tuned!

We hope you are enjoying Adam’s restoration journey! Here’s a link to our first post about the project if you’ve missed any. Adam is currently living in the home and busy finishing up the last touches. Stay tuned for the big reveal!

Up next:

 A Camp Washington Restoration: Welcome Home!