How to Decorate a Historic Home?

Decorating culturally significant properties demands painstaking attention. Professional interior decorators understand how taxing this gig is. If you’re an average homeowner, you may be completely clueless about how to decorate a historic home.

This project mainly revolves around nailing a particular aesthetic, but is it as sensitive as ensuring the properties’ structural integrity and safety? After all, such buildings also belong to the community — not just to the people whose names appear on the deeds. The room for error is slim because displaying an inappropriate item can taint what makes these homes one of a kind.

Why Do People Love Historic Homes?

People love historic homes for the same reason travelers gravitate toward quaint destinations and artifacts magnetize museumgoers. These properties have old-world character and feature impressive architectural details largely absent in contemporary structures.

More importantly, historic homes have a story to tell. They represent the period they’re from — tangible relics of a bygone era. These rare houses offer a glimpse into what it was like to live at a specific point in history.

Some people aspire to reside in historic homes and wake up surrounded by marvelous craftsmanship. Others want to gain a sense of continuity by being custodians of old houses, and helping preserve their historical significance for the present and next generations.

What Does It Mean to Live in a Historic Neighborhood?

Living in a historic neighborhood or district in the National Register of Historic Places only means you reside in an area the government deems worthy of preservation. Such a designation doesn’t stop you from making changes to your property. You could even tear it down unless it’s part of a project receiving federal funding.

If you own a historic home but don’t occupy it, you may repair, alter or add something to it, and claim a 20% tax credit on qualified expenses as defined by the IRS. State-level historic districts generally also do not restrict property alterations or prohibit demolition. However, there are exceptions to this rule.

However, strict regulations usually apply when living in a local historic district. You must seek government approval when planning to alter your home’s appearance.

How to Decorate a Historic Home — What to Know

Changing a historic home’s interior features isn’t as strict as modifying its exterior appearance. Still, you can’t approach it with reckless abandon. It would be unwise to do something you shouldn’t even if you can because it may diminish what makes such a property special.

The Past Looms Large

Dig up as much information about the property as you can, starting at the public library. You might find documents detailing its construction, history of ownership and the crucial events it witnessed. Books may even include images of what it originally looked like. Then, consult the local historical society to learn fascinating stories about it.

Use the insights you gleaned from your homework to inform your decision-making. Choosing the wrong accessories may cheapen its significance.

It’s All in the Details

Sweat the small stuff. Individual details make historic gems unique, and history buffs value them highly.

For instance, Beatlemaniacs fly to Liverpool to visit 20 Forthlin Road — Sir Paul McCartney’s childhood home. It’s where the Fab Four composed and rehearsed their earliest tunes. The National Trust dubs it as the birthplace of the Beatles. The place is fully furnished, aiding imagination to visualize John Lennon writing lyrics at the dinner table or George Harrison playing various instruments.

Admirers of the Great Emancipator go to Dearborn, Michigan, to see Abraham Lincoln’s infamous rocking chair — the very seat he was sitting in when assassinated on April 14, 1865, later bought by Henry Ford for $2,400. Curators and conservators have preserved the remaining fabric in the rocker’s deteriorating silk upholstery since it presumably contains the late president’s blood.

Big or small, details make historic homes historic. Identify what to emphasize based on what you learned from your research.

Rules May Be Breakable

Advise the local historic district commission about your decoration project to ensure your plan won’t violate any regulations. Familiarize yourself with the Standards for Rehabilitation to avoid inadvertently removing features or materials that may compromise the property’s significance.

Pull Off a Historic Decoration Project

Historic homes deserve attention to detail. Tread lightly, however small the changes you intend to make to beautify them without ruining their charm.