DIY Historic Home Improvements….Just Do It

A kitchen project can be tough for the average homeowner to say the least.

A kitchen project can be tough for the average homeowner to say the least.

Any homeowner, and especially the proud owner of an historic home, always seems to possess the never-ending home improvements list (this may also be known as the “honey-do list“). In fact,isn’t this list conveniently started for them by their dear home inspector as part of the home-buying process? Thanks, inspectors!

With springtime finally here, the joys of historic home ownership come to the front of our minds (check out this Encyclopedia Britannica blog on the history of spring cleaning). Whether to do-it-yourself or contract out is the first decision to be made–what are the pros and cons of each? If you are leaning towards DIY, here are some other things you may want to think about….

1) What are you comfortable doing?

This should be a no-brainer. You know your skill set better than anyone else.

2) What is realistic for you in terms of time and money?

Like a lot of things in life, home improvements are a balancing act. Think about this question honestly so that you don’t get in over your head, leaving yourself with that vexing half-finished project indefinitely.

3) How hard is it, really, to restore that window, repair that toilet, get that milled, fix that plaster, etc…?

Actually, some things are quite easy to do. Are you a newbie but willing to give it a go?

4) Where on earth do you find (…fill in hardware, lighting piece, whatever historic tidbit you need here…)?

There are a lot of local resources no matter where you live. And more and more are on the internet all the time. You can always ask us and we will do our best to help you. After all, we are trying to be a resource for all things “historic home-related”…

A butler's pantry fix. Time-consuming but worth it.

A butler’s pantry fix. Time-consuming but worth it.

Some of the easiest DIY work that the average Jane or John Doe historic homeowner can do with a little elbow grease and at minimal cost is woodwork restoration. Stripping and/or refinishing your woodwork also adds value since it is one of those characteristics that brings out more of the historic charm that you fell in love with when you bought the place. As Architect Frank Lloyd Wright (related link) eloquently said, “Wood is the most humanely intimate of all materials. Man loves his association with it, likes to feel it under his hand, sympathetic to his touch and to his eye”.

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959).

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959).

There are, of course, many ways to go about the task of refinishing woodwork depending on its current condition and whether it was ever painted, lacquered, or varnished. There are chemical strippers, natural strippers, electric sanders, and heat guns. Good ol’ sandpaper and steel wool. No matter the weapon of choice, though, the outcome will be sure to please–like the beautiful, refinished front door of Adam’s 1890s Queen Anne featured below. So, get moving on that home improvement project no matter what it is!

A very successful front door refinishing project.

A very successful front door refinishing project.