Design Tips

Refurbishing Old Homes: How to Avoid a Money Pit

By June 22, 2017 September 20th, 2017 No Comments

As a home decorator, you’ll meet a variety of different clients throughout your career. Some clients will prefer newer homes and condos, while others dream of restoring a huge, old house. When it comes to the latter, this is a romantic and exciting idea, but it requires a lot of work.

With historic homes, there are many things to keep in mind, such as old building materials, possible water damage, and other surprises along the way. You don’t want the restoration process to become exorbitantly expensive for your client.

So how do you go about refurbishing an old building as a home decorator? Follow this guide to help your clients create the home of their dreams while avoiding a total money pit!

Come up with a plan

By the time your design expertise has been sought out by clients, they’ve already taken the plunge and snatched up a grand old home. They’re probably thrilled, but don’t understand the magnitude of work required in order to make this space livable and safe.

This where you come in!

Design professionals know that interior decorating jobs, especially renovations, must start with an idea of the scope of work. In the early stages of meeting with your client, it is essential to take careful notes on why they want to refurbish their home, what they hope the house will look like, and how they intend to use it after the changes have been made.

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As important as it is for home decorators to be clear on the client’s intentions, it is just as important for your client to be clear on what the cost of the work will be – there are many considerations for old homes, including roofing, windows and masonry work, heating and electrical systems, and many, many coats of paint.

Clients will depend on your interior decorating knowledge to develop a plan that includes full pricing information, a list of work that needs to be done, and of course, their own expectations of the space. Making decisions early about which items need to be purchased and which areas will undergo large changes will help save money throughout the process.

Once you have this plan in place, work can begin!

Ask for help

As a home designer, you come to every new project armed with your skills and expertise (as well as your interior decorator certificate!). As knowledgeable as you are, you’re dealing with a very delicate situation – a client who wants to restore an old home without risking its historical charm. Reaching out to other professionals, like contractors and historians, is not a sign of weakness. In this case, having other experts on board who have restored old houses will help improve the final product!

Before enlisting any help, make a list of questions you have about the home and the client’s vision. Making the most of the time you have with other professionals is key – you’ll be able to get the assistance and expertise you need while not depending on others the entire time. If the kitchen boasts some beautiful, authentic cabinets, ask a contractor if this feature can be preserved. After all, your client was likely drawn to this particular home for its antiquated charm. If an area can be preserved instead of replaced, this will save your client a great deal of money.

However, brace yourself for the amount of items in the home that will unfortunately need replacing, such as plumbing fixtures and the roof. Restoring old homes is certainly not a cheap endeavor (though there are many ways to save money along the way).

Get to work

Once you have a home design plan in place, and have consulted the right people for tips and advice, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to work. This refurbishing project should be considered a renovation on a major scale, and as the interior decorator, you should treat it as such. This is a chaotic, stressful time for your clients as they will need to figure out how they’ll live in a space that is being drastically changed and essentially turned into a construction zone. There are several options that will keep homeowners safe and out of theway while work is being done, and ensure that they can remain comfortable.

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When working with an old home, there are two important points to keep in mind. Knowing these facts as a home decorator will help you provide the best advice to your client, and ultimately help them manage the overall restoration costs:

  • The majority of homes built before the 1940s were not insulated. Before beginning any restoration work, be sure to check exterior walls for a series of patched holes where insulation may have been located, as well as any filling around ceiling beams. These are the areas where insulation would have been, but unfortunately, this type of blown-in insulation can attract termites and cause structural damage.Don’t depend on this outdated type of insulation! Keep in mind that insulating your client’s home is going to be one of the largest costs of the overall project (to give you an idea, insulating an attic is around $1.20-$1.50 per square foot), and be sure to communicate that to them.If blown-in insulation is present, it’ll need to be totally removed, and the siding and sheathing re-installed. Once that’s done, advise your client on a few ways of keeping heat in the home, as old homes are notoriously drafty! For example, windows and doors need to be weather-proofed, the home needs to be professionally painted, and the attic needs to be properly insulated. Even though your client will need to spend a good deal of money to insulate the home, they will save money each month by tightening up the house so the heat does not escape.
  • Once you’ve begun refurbishing, they will already be aware of the costs involved – you want to make sure there are no big surprises! Although the project will be costly (and there’s no real way around that), a great way to keep spending under control is to focus the majority of the financial investment on the largest parts of the home, such as the insulation, roofing, and removing walls in certain rooms to open up the space.

  • Spending money on large changes is extremely effective, as your client will be able to see the progress for themselves. Once large changes are made, and the money has been spent, your client can take their time adding smaller details to the home like paint, plants, and mirrors to make it their own and maintain the overall charm.

Stay authentic!

Throughout the long process of refurbishing an old home, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture. Don’t forget that your client hired you to restore their historic home while maintaining its original charm!

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As you pore over home design plans with your client and make important decisions, keep in mind that the home’s original accents and fixtures are often the best features. For example, don’t rush to replace a door that seems old and creaky – that door is an important piece of the overall dwelling, and adding a lubricant to its hinges is all that’s required to keep it silent! If the master bathroom boasts a large, gilded mirror that has been in the house since it was built, apply a chemical cleanser instead of replacing it.

This historic character is what drew your client to the home in the first place, so where there’s an opportunity to restore and clean up old fixtures, do so!

Find out the best ways to package your home design services (and include refurbishing!) with these tips!


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