By Andy Meredith
Have you ever walked into an old house, looked around, and thought, “This would be great…if we could just knock out that wall”? I know I’ve had that exact thought and a few others just like it more than once since Candis and I started restoring houses together. Of course, then you get into problems with renovation versus restoration.
Some buyers will walk into a renovated house, take one look at a redesigned floor plan, and walk right back out. Others won’t care at all if your restoration is authentic to the time period of the house—they just want more natural light and more open space. So how can you decide which way to go? Do you keep the old floor plan just the way it is, even though it doesn’t make a lot of sense? Or do you risk ruining a beautiful restoration of a historic house just because you don’t like its original layout? Here are a few tips to help you figure it out and make the best choice for your restoration.
Look at Floor Plans for Similar Houses
While they weren’t designed to be cookie-cutter houses the way a lot of new construction is today, a lot of old houses were built with the same basic designs and plans and just a few modifications. So, if you have a wall that you hate and you think it really needs to go, do a little bit of research. You might find plans for a house with a similar floor plan but no offending wall. You might also find that it’s completely okay to cut a large arch in that wall to make a portal between the living room and dining room. Go to period plans and photos to find an appropriate solution to your floor plan problem.
Move Non-Load-Bearing Walls Just a Bit
You’re not going to ruin a restoration by opening up a narrow hallway, unless you mess with load-bearing walls. So, if you want to give your buyers a little more space to move around, go ahead and move those hallway walls out just a little bit. You might be surprised at how much an added foot of width can do to make it feel more spacious.
Don’t Be Tempted By an Open Kitchen Floor Plan
Now, here’s one thing not to do (at least in my opinion). Open kitchens look cool and can be really functional in newer houses with open floor plans in general. Your restoration is more than likely going to have a big, closed kitchen space that’s perfect just the way it is. Trying to update to an open floor plan for your kitchen is just going to feel like plopping a modern piece of architecture in the middle of a vintage house. It’s not going to work for most houses, and it’s going to make buyers uncomfortable.
Some updates are great—like stainless steel appliances, central heating and air, and insulation—but others are just going to look and feel strange. Before you make any permanent changes to the floor plan of one of your restorations, make sure that you’re going with a change that works with the house’s original design instead of against it.
Most buyers aren’t looking to move into museums or exact replicas of the original house, but they do want something that looks and feels like it came from that period (with the exception of a few modern conveniences). So, whatever you do, think very critically about whether or not your update is necessary and whether or not it really works with the house.