By Design

When sleuthing helps you care for your historic home

by Patricia Cove
Posted 3/14/24

Maintaining a home’s historic significance takes time, patience and often a lot of research.

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By Design

When sleuthing helps you care for your historic home


Philadelphia is a city of historical importance. Many smaller communities within the city have received National Historic District status. Homeowners take great pride in their historic residences and work to preserve their character and integrity.

Maintaining a home’s historic significance takes time, patience and often a lot of research. There are specific characteristics of older buildings that are extremely important to their original appearance. These play very important roles in maintaining the integrity and authenticity of a building’s significance.

Understanding a term like "true divided lights," for example, will maintain the appropriate appearance of replacement windows. Researching slate vs. asphalt vs. standing seam will help you decide what roof is most appropriate. Deteriorating shutters may need to be replaced, restored, or removed. It's important to determine whether paint colors are original or just a combination someone liked in 1970. Restoring a historic building requires serious consideration of these questions.

When it comes to the interior, choosing the best designs can become even more challenging. The trends of decades past that encouraged obscuring, or even worse, removing interior architectural features have gone the way of drop ceilings. Today, an interior that still contains rich architectural detail like deep moldings, paneling, plasterwork, exposed beams, and original fireplace mantels captures the interest of those who appreciate the craftsmanship and historical reference these features represent. Owners of such buildings spend much time studying the significance of these details and learning how to incorporate them into their interior designs.

Interior designers and architects are often versed in the various architectural styles inherent to specific periods. They can confirm that the interior elements coincide with the architectural style of the house. If the building has not been previously renovated, the interior trims, doors, cabinetry, and architectural detail should match the exterior architectural style. Even if a piece of trim or woodwork has been damaged, some companies specialize in reproducing important design elements. This enables the owner to maintain the style that will be critical to the integrity of the building and ensure its authentic character.

There are also companies that can identify paint layers or wallpapers that have been painted over. They can reproduce historic patterns and colors that were on the walls 200 years ago. They can also identify and date the wood on an original random-width floor. Businesses can replace a missing cabinet hinge from the 1700s.

Although owning a historic home may seem daunting, it is the care and maintenance of such buildings that create the atmosphere many of us choose to live in. The desire to learn about and understand the elements that make up historic architecture keeps the character of our National Historic District in place.

Patricia Cove is the principal of Architectural Interiors and Design in Chestnut Hill. She can be reached through her website: