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Old houses need to keep up with the times

A historic home shouldn't look outdated, says Marni Jameson.
BY MARNI JAMESON Published: April 2, 2012

She still remembers those uncomfortable Victorian sofas stuffed with hay and horsehair. “They don't come close to the comfort of today's sofas,” she says.

“I don't want a hay-horse-hair sofa any more than I want a whalebone corset,” I tell her.

“That's why I believe in mixing vintage with new,” says Hughes, also the author of This Old House Salvage-Style Projects (Oxmoor House 2011).

Put new in the old

Putting new decor in an old space looks and feels better.

What's more, if you want to attract today's buyer, a timeless look is simply necessary. Here's how Hughes says to do it well:

Go modern with your movables. If you feel a responsibility to stick with the period, keep your installed items true to the architectural style, said Hughes. Paint colors, chandeliers, mantels, and cabinets should respect the period. Express more modern looks with movable items, such as furniture, art and rugs.

Decorate for the way you live. That may mean changing rooms meant for one purpose into another. My new old house had a small parlor-like living room off the front door, which I converted into a home office, a fixture in many homes today. “Some old homes have five bedrooms and one bathroom,” she says. “That makes no sense today.” Turn one bedroom into a great master bath.

Use furniture that stores. True to the period, the historic home has zero closets. I'm relying on armoires and chests for storage, but I also converted one small room into a closet by adding shelves and hanging racks. An installed closet system would not be against the law.

Give old stuff a new look. Hughes likes to salvage old furniture and architectural details like door frames, and paint them a high-gloss color. The combination instantly says old but new.

Go lighter and brighter. Old homes often have a lot of dark wood. Too much can be depressing. If you don't feel comfortable painting over it, inject life with bright artwork and light-colored furnishings.

Update appliances. “We have readers who wouldn't dream of putting a microwave in their period homes, but we don't go along with that,” said Hughes. “Technology evolves. I can assure you, the Victorians would have upgraded if they'd had the chance.”

Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press). Contact her through