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IDEAS: True to the Past

Five ways to recapture the history of your space.

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"I tried to give it an old flavor but not really go back to the period," he says about his home, which he brought back to life by erasing its years as a rental property. But while he's done some Victorian-styled modernizing, he's also tried to not make too many updates. Instead of installing central heat and air (a difficult thing to do in a plaster-walled home), he uses a wood stove in the winter and draws the shades in the summer. "It's kind of interesting how you adjust your lifestyle to fit the house," he says.

Shoffner, who specializes in restoring old homes, offers a few tips for uncovering your home's true identity.

1. Look for ghosts.
Marks on walls will often reveal the way a room used to be. Maybe you can see that there used to be picture molding, for example, which can be reinstalled to capture the period feeling.

2. Find the facts.
Consult a book that shows the architecture of the time period of your house so you get an idea of what's correct. Shoffner suggests Dover Press, which reproduces old books on architecture and fashion, or old catalogs from Sears, Roebuck and Montgomery Ward to get a sense of what fixtures were available. Other ideas: Tour historic houses such as Maymont. Or watch old movies — set designers are usually meticulous in period pieces.

3. Get the right ingredients.


Even if you're doing something new, using the right ingredients can give your home an old character, like using wainscoting in a renovated bathroom. Years ago it was used because it was cheaper than plaster. Shoffner used wood from a small room in his house to make the kitchen cabinets because of the wood's patina.

4. Remove years of change.
A home's frame doesn't lie. If you're looking do a major renovation, remove the plaster walls and you can tell what was original to the home by looking for the unfinished beams. Today homes are built with finished beams.

5. Immerse yourself.
Collect furniture of the time period of the home and fill it with historically accurate details such as claw-foot tubs, pocket doors, pedestal sinks and hexagonal tile. Get rid of things you don't need. We have a lot more things today than what was available a century ago. Be clever with storage; put closets in attics and basements. HS

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