Old house an impossible dream? Fake it

Gina Pogol | Improvement Center Columnist | September 6, 2013

Do you dream of the day you can afford to own a charming old house? Not quite able to yet? If you long for a Georgian Colonial but wake up in a Georgia ranch house, you can just "fake it till you make it." Take heart.

Quick change artistry

Make your new house look old with these fast fixes.

  • Ditch stock hardware on cabinets, doors and drawers. That goes double for cheap, cheesy brass door knobs. Even modern cabinetry looks older with period hardware.
  • Rethink pleated window shades and blinds. Convenient? Yes. Practical? Absolutely. Old? No way! Old roller shades in classic fabrics make a big difference.
  • Lose the can lighting unless you live in a laboratory. For authenticity (and beauty), remove them altogether and use lamps. Alternatively, replace them with chandeliers or other vintage fixtures.
  • Plastic is not fantastic. Get rid of plastic switch plates and outlet covers. Put in inexpensive period-style replacements, or install a mix of interesting old ones. Houses that have evolved over decades or centuries are not matchy-matchy.
  • Replace your mass-produced entry door with an antique or salvaged one. Even cookie-cutter houses look instantly more interesting without the standard varnished-oak-door-with-frosted-and-etched-window. In many cases, an old door can be discretely retrofitted with home security features.
  • Swap out modern mirrors for antique or period reproduction versions.

The walls have years

Vast expanses of white drywall give modern homes all the warmth and charm of an operating room. Soften your space and make it more interesting with these alterations.

  • Repaint white trim. Try cream, like Grandma's kitchen. As white surfaces age, they acquire a patina and a yellow or pinkish tint.
  • Bead-board is a popular way to add homespun appeal. Install it right over imperfect walls or even ugly acoustic ceilings.
  • Mixing up the wainscoting on your walls adds warmth without artifice. Chair rails make it easy to age your space and get creative with painted effects like dadoes or wallpaper combinations.
  • Decorative moldings and baseboards are synonymous with classic homes. If you want a classic home, get thee some crown molding.
  • Almost any painted wall can be antiqued by coating it with a glaze and then rubbing it off. Or have a professional painter recreate the real thing with authentic colors and techniques.
  • Newish wood floors can be whitewashed, painted or stained to look well-loved. Warm things up with threadbare heirloom carpets or rugs.

Out with the new, in with the old

Some modern conveniences cannot be artificially aged, but you can replace them with retro versions.

  • Go back to the future with modern takes on retro kitchen equipment. Choose rustic wood stove replicas, 50's kitchen kitsch, pioneer-era ice boxes; even commercial-grade appliances can be obscured behind fusty facades.
  • Retool your plumbing with vintage faucets, sinks, drains, and tubs. Trade in gadgety jet tubs for claw-footed free standing models. Trade chrome and glass shower doors for cool curtains.
  • If you have wall-to-wall carpet, replace it with wood or stone flooring, or if you have a ballroom, put in polished hardwood, parquet or marble.

Recreating another age can be overwhelming, and it's smart to engage a set of professional eyes. It's not hard to find old house contractors, designers and decorators who love the past as much as you do.


About the Author

Gina Pogol has been writing about mortgage and finance since 1994. In addition to a decade in mortgage lending, she has worked as a business credit systems consultant for Experian and as an accountant for Deloitte. She graduated with High Distinction from the University of Nevada with a BS in Financial Management.