10 Foolproof Ways To Update An Aging Home
Handsome bones, charming quirks, an intriguing backstory — there are plenty of reasons to love an older house. But whether you’ve got a sweet ’50s bungalow or grand century home, your place still has to work for contemporary living. Tired finishes won’t make the grade, and dark, closed-in rooms don’t exactly set the stage for entertaining. Thankfully, there are lots of ways to bring an aging house into the modern era without stripping its character. Here are 10 foolproof design tweaks from some of our favorite H&H spaces to update an older home.
Create a blank slate. Ornate wood trim, panelling and mantels are common in older homes — but they can feel stuffy. The solution? Not removing all that gorgeous detail, but toning things down with palate-cleansing white. Case in point: Decorator Elizabeth Margles’ handsome 100-year-old house in Toronto, with its bright and clean envelope — the perfect backdrop for modern furnishings.
Frame the view with black. Another smart idea from Elizabeth’s home: harness the power of graphic black. The inky mullions and frames of her kitchen’s french doors have a hip, almost industrial look, calling to mind the steel casement windows found in factories and lofts. And while a color choice like this is a bit higher on the commitment scale, the contrast really highlights the classic beauty of her millwork.
Add sculptural lighting. Prominent Toronto dermatologist Sandy Skotnicki’s neo-Georgian home has all the appeal of a new-build, thanks to contemporary artwork, furnishings and lighting. The fun, sculpture-like chandeliers are particularly important, ensuring the home’s grand hallways don’t skew too formal or imposing.
Have fun with faucets and hardware. Designer Sarah Hartill’s sweet family kitchen suits the charming vibe of her 1950s-era home — but a couple mod flourishes keep it firmly rooted in the present. A clean-lined black faucet and warm brass door hardware make impactful, on-trend additions to the room (and will be fairly simple to swap out if the mood strikes).
Embrace “imperfections.” There’s something decidedly modern about the way designer Danielle Nicholas Bryk opened up the walls of her circa-1912 kitchen, exposing its original bricks and beams. An unquestionably edgy move, it lends her Edwardian house urban cachet. (Just be sure to consult with an engineer before doing any digging in your own home.)
Make a fresher first impression. “When my husband and I bought our midtown Toronto home, we weren’t thinking ‘gut job,’” admits H&H senior editor Sally Armstrong. Still, their house’s staid entryway needed an updated, more inviting feel. Patterned tile offers a hit of modern style underfoot, while a sunny-yellow wallpaper instantly uplifts the space. “Now guests are greeted by a happy color at the front door,” says Sally.
Revamp a dated staircase. Another transitional space that’s easy to revive is a stairway. In this formerly tired ’70s cottage, designers Michelle Lloyd-Bermann and Christine Ralphs embraced a clean and streamlined look. Painting out the main staircase white, then adding a “runner” in a stormy grey, is a clever way to bring worn treads up to par.
Illuminate the heart of the home. Homeowners Colin Faulkner and Jane Francisco wanted to bring their circa-1911 kitchen up to date, so brightening up the compact space was top priority. Post-reno, their island is the ideal spot for casual dining, with a trio of glossy pendants suspended overhead. Custom cove lighting adds another layer of warmth, making the kitchen feel both cozy and luxe.
Let the sun shine in. Another foolproof way to reinvigorate the dark, postage-stamp kitchens so often found in older homes is to invest in oversized doors and windows. In this 100-year-old row house, designer Trish Johnston installed large, metal-framed patio doors, which let light flood into the 8-foot-wide kitchen. “The back doors were a splurge, but they really set tone,” says homeowner Rick Matthews. “In the summer, we’ll open them, and it’s like another room — the flow is seamless.”
Finally, give your façade a facelift. Don’t underestimate the power of curb appeal. Designer Sarah Hartill proved that a couple of subtle changes to paint, siding and landscaping can really change the look of a house — without throwing off the neighbourhood vernacular (slide the arrows above to see the transformation). Things to consider? Ditch crumbling stone cladding in favor of clean-lined paneling, swap out an old screen door for a more modern design, and opt for neat, squared-off planters and flowerbeds.