Q: Would you suggest replacing windows with more efficient ones even if the existing they are in good condition?
A: There is no question that modern window technology — such as Low-E glass, in which argon gas is sandwiched between panes to reduce heat loss — has made huge strides in energy efficiency. But there are other considerations in an antique home. You may not want to give up your home’s original windows both for their historic value and for other reasons. Consider that most antique windows are made of old-growth lumber, which is highly rot resistant (most new windows are in recently harvested pine that is highly porous). Older windows can often be repaired. Check out the section in my book on rehabbing antique windows. If you go that route, I’d also recommend using storm windows (look for the invisible ones) for added insulation.
Q: For someone trying to renovate their home in an eco-friendly way, what other recommendations do you have?
A: As mentioned above, salvaged materials are both eco-friendly and add character to your décor. When you repaint, whether outside or inside, use low-VOC paints. Try to conduct a home energy audit on your house to see where it is leaking the most energy. Your local utility should be able to advise you. Buy an energy efficient water heater or consider alternative heating methods like a tankless or solar water heater. We are lucky that in the last few years there are so many new green products for homes on the market, from recycled stone counters to formaldehyde-free wood products. Consider that the greenest materials are the ones that will last the longest, so try to buy the most durable options you can find.
Q: Many new homes today are built with open floor plans, where the living room and kitchen are basically one big room. Older homes like the ones you profile, have distinct rooms. It’s certainly a matter of preference, but do you think there’s an advantage to keeping the original layout or are most people tearing down walls?
A: Many people are drawn to old houses because of the traditional layout. They like having separate rooms for different purposes. It’s hard to have a space of your own in today’s modern open-plan households. That said, the homeowners in my book took a variety of approaches. In some cases, walls were opened up to create a feeling of airiness and space, and to bring in light. Another thing I saw over and over was the adaptation of rooms from one purpose to another. For instance, the formal parlors, with their soaring ceilings, are being turned into open kitchen/dining/living room arrangements with an almost loft-like feel. In houses built before the advent of plumbing, entire bedrooms are now giving way to roomy modern bathrooms.
Q: What advice would you offer to someone looking to get a more modern or contemporary look in a renovated home without gutting it completely?
A: First of all, I think contemporary furniture looks wonderful in an antique setting. The juxtaposition brings out the best features in both. The oldest house in my book, a 1763 Colonial in Philadelphia, was renovated and furnished by the owners of a modern furniture store, Minima, which is located in Old City. In the same home, you have eighteenth century marble mantels and wide pine floorboards together with cutting-edge furniture by Maarten Baas and Jasper Morrison. It looks fantastic. In another home, the back of the house has a two-story addition built of putty-glazed factory windows which brighten the entire home.
Q: And finally, what are your favorite stores for reclaimed or salvaged architectural elements? In NYC and beyond?
A: Just to cite a few from among the many listed in the resources guide at the back of my book: Island Girl Salvage in Illinois, Moon River Chattel in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and Gavin Historical Bricks in Iowa City.
Thanks again Ingrid, your book is beautiful and an excellent resource for those restoring a home or even those who would like to renovate with reclaimed and salvaged materials.
+ Ingrid Abramovitch
Photo Credit: Excerpted from RESTORING A HOUSE IN THE CITY by Ingrid Abramovitch (Artisan Books) Copyright 2009. Brian Park photographer
Author Photo by Nina Subin