Opposites Attract: Historic Homes, Modern Furniture.


A historic apartment with a wonderful and modern interior, located in Paris, France. Photo via Airbnb.

Recently, I toured a house as a potential listing and I was blown away by the interior design. This was a historic home, and a lot of its original wood work, windows, and other architectural details survived. The furniture, however, was strikingly modern. Not only did it “work,” but it really looked great. The clean lines and the simplicity of the furniture allowed those one-of-a-kind historic details — which I thought were the main selling points of the home — to stand out. It seemed like a real win-win. The unique woodwork, high ceilings, and original elements were certainly on display, but so was the homeowner’s great modern taste.


Over-stuffed Charles Eastlake Interior Design Style, c. 1890. Photo via Hubpages.

This really successful juxtaposition of modern furniture and historic details got me to thinking about historic preservation and the Standards for Rehabilitation, which are a guide for preservationists and planners who make alterations to historic buildings. But you knew that! One key part of the ninth standard is, “The new work will be differentiated from the old and will be compatible with the historic materials, features, size, scale and proportion, and massing to protect the integrity of the property and its environment.” Basically, if you’re going to add something to a historic building, conventional wisdom says it’s best to honor, but not mimic, what’s already there. While the Standards are usually used in a more architectural application, I think this line of thinking applies pretty readily to furniture, décor, and staging of historic homes.

Think about it — originally, these Victorian-era homes would have been overstuffed with tons of furniture, rugs, drapes, plants, crazy patterned wallpaper, you name it. Charles Eastlake, a 19th-century British architect, wrote a book called Hints on Household Taste in 1862 which basically advised stylish homeowners that when it came to decorating, MORE WAS MORE.

For a while, this knick-knacky, jumbled aesthetic became synonymous with the “restoration” movement of the 20th century, when people thought “restoration” meant “put up some cabbage rose wallpaper and fill the home with a bunch of old crap.” While it’s generally good to consider and honor the era of your home’s construction when you’re renovating or redecorating, it doesn’t have to be so literal. Or expensive — all those antiquey knick-knacks add up! Better to buy one gorgeous Scandinavian dining table that fills a space with style on its own than thirteen Jenny Lind end tables with hand-tatted doilies.


Le Corbusier style Grand Confort Chairs in an ornate room at Place St. George

Adding sleek, modern furniture to a space that already comes with built-in texture in the way of historic millwork, plaster moldings, and ornate fireplaces brings those background elements out to play. These elements are now focal points in your home, not nice features that your guest will never notice because they’re hidden under seven layers of chintz.

Modern furniture, besides being objectively beautiful, lends itself to this application through its inherent simplicity. If Eastlake was all about “more is more,” the modernist aesthetic is absolutely “less is more.” Materials and characteristics of modern furniture, like laminated bent wood, steel, chrome, and the minimalist aesthetic lend themselves well to setting off the complex molding profiles, plaster, and floors of a historic character home. Modernist pieces in a historic room kind of do their own thing, in my opinion. They’re not competing with the historic space, but complementing its grandeur.

And minimalism isn’t the only brand of modernism. Bold colors and cool textures also do a lot of the same work in historic spaces. Take a tour of this historic apartment, featured in Design Milk, with modern style throughout. Apartment Therapy is another great resource for this kind of thing — they’re always posting inspirational house tours” of homes with old bones but hip aesthetic.

While it’s no secret that a lot of today’s buyers might be repelled by a stately Victorian house decorated to the nines in the style of Charles Eastlake, a house with simple furniture, of the right scale, with clean lines, will show off the original features of the home and attract buyers to the character they originally wanted. It’s chic, sure, but it also makes historic buildings more accessible.


By the way, this trend isn’t just confined to residential spaces. In fact, commercial interiors get redecorated all the time.  All the time. Think about all the historic office buildings in your city that have floor after floor of cubicles and commercial carpeting as far as the eye can see. But let’s not get too snarky – there are good examples, too.

Here in Chicago, we’ve got a bunch. One of the most recent is the Virgin Hotel, which opened last year inside the Old Dearborn Bank Building. I love that from the outside, it could very well still be a classic Chicago School office building, but the inside is a fun modernist surprise. And the juxtaposition of the sleek, spaceship-looking bar  against that textural historic coffered ceiling is to die for.

Who’s buying?

Let's discuss how successful this combo of old and new is over drinks? Photo via US Green Building Council.

Let’s discuss how successful this combo of old and new is over drinks? Photo via US Green Building Council.

Buying an Historic Home? What You Need to Know.

I Speak Vintage has heard quite a few horror stories from folks that have bought vintage or historic homes, only to be left holding the bag, as it were.  While historic homes have an appeal and charm for many buyers, there are certain restrictions and expenses (that’s an understatement)  you need to know about before signing on the dotted line.

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I Bought an Old House. H-E-L-P!

Happy New Year!brownstone

It’s been a busy season and DYSV is back on track. Holiday parties, family gatherings, long overdue get-togethers with friends, and office parties has spurred lots and lots of talk about all things old, vintage and historic – as far as homes and buildings go, anyway.     I have talked with so many friends, colleagues, and clients over the holidays about old houses, historic homes and vintage buildings and there has been an overwhelming similarity in experiences.   There are just too darn many buyers that did not know what kind of a jam they were getting themselves into – and that’s not right!  Let’s do a little something about that.

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Friday Filing: Rural Property

"I don’t want to live in a museum." - Daryl Hall      source

“I don’t want to live in a museum.” – Daryl Hall

In rural America property rights are different and people maintain their properties with however much or however little money they care to. Someone like Darrel Hall of Hall & Oates has money to do an extensive restoration like he did on his rural New York home. Hall hosts a monthly web series from a Great Room that he built to connect two historic barns that he brought in from a different state. He also modernized the kitchen with high-end appliances and arrangements to entertain a crowd. This is a house that a lot of people might dream of living in. Some may think it is a bad idea to move two historic barns from the 18th century away from where they were first built. Others, like this article suggests, think it is a good idea to breathe new life into a barn that may very well be left to fall or burn down.

Any significant historical building in a rural area should be documented and inspected for further significance. If it is an important building your State Historic Preservation Officer can help you get it on the National Register of Historic Places. Once your building is on the National Register it opens you up to a variety of tax breaks.

Someone like Daryl Hall may not be concerned with tax breaks. Other historic homeowners might be interested to learn that Nation Register listing opens them up to tax breaks based on the money that they invest in their property. Some states incentivize historic preservation more than others and offer a variety of tax breaks that can help with the cost of maintenance and improvement on a historic property.  No state is trying to tell you what to do with your property but they will encourage you to maintain the exterior if you are listed on the National Register. You can do whatever you want to on the interior to make the home fit your needs and to improve its value.

The cover photo of Field Guide to New England Barns and Farm Buildings by Thomas Visser.

The cover photo of Field Guide to New England Barns and Farm Buildings by Thomas Visser.

One would hope that owners would be sensitive with something like a barn from the 1700s – we don’t have many buildings in this country that are older than that. The goal is not to turn historic buildings into museums but rather places that can be appreciated for the stories they tell and their place in history, all while being used and appreciated by their owners.

A professor of the Historic Preservation program at the University of Vermont wrote a fascinating book titled Field Guide to New England Barns and Farm Buildings. The variety of barn styles and how they tell the stories of the immigrants who built them, bringing their various construction techniques from the old world, is a rich history you wouldn’t necessarily think such a vernacular building type would carry.

Have a deeper interest in preserving barns? This link will give you all the technical information that you need to know to preserve them.

Another major legal matter concerning rural property are easements. An easement of a driveway or lease road is often granted in order to gain access to neighboring land in which the shortest route is through part of an adjacent property. This happens often with oil companies and other natural resource companies and it is often the biggest intrusion on rural property owners.

In the city there are various ordinances and codes in place which bring the city and the property owner together. Due to the density of people in and around buildings, the city must have some control over building owners in order to ensure safety. If the building is a landmark it is expected that the exterior will be maintained and the facade is regularly inspected to make sure pieces of the building aren’t going to fall off an hit someone.

The point comes back to location. Owning property in the city sets you up for much more scrutinization from local interest groups and nearby property owners, not to mention the local government. There is much more freedom and room for creative interpretation in rural areas simply because there are not as many eyes on property out there.

Don’t like old houses? Don’t buy one. Simple.

I just read this post and it was so simple and thought provoking that I felt it worthy of re-posting and passing along.

Six Reasons Why More Americans Should Care About Saving Old Homes

I recently read Marni Jameson’s column about the historic Capen House in Winter Park, Florida. In it, she laments that a historic house – and a recently restored one at that – may be torn down to make way for a new, more contemporary home on the lot. She includes portions of an interview with Nicole Curtis, host of HGTV’s Rehab Addict, about the house. The gem from that was Curtis’ advice to buyers who intend to destroy a historic house in order to build anew on the lot:  ”If you don’t like old houses, don’t buy one. Find some vacant land and build there.”

Another historic house gone…a rash of tear downs across Chicago’s North Shore has preservationists growing increasingly concerned.

Curtis also gave six reasons why more Americans should care about saving old homes. I thought they were so on target, I’m posting them here and hoping they may be read throughout the land, and certainly throughout real estate circles. They also nicely coincide with Adventures in Preservation‘s guiding principles – another reason to share them here.

Six Reasons Why More Americans Should Care About Saving Old Homes

  • Because tearing them down is wrecking our history. Countries rich in culture value history and buildings. “In Italy and France, you see 300-year-old buildings housing subways,” she said. “They make them work, they don’t tear them down.”
  • Because it’s bad for our Earth. Most of the wreckage will not be salvaged. All that glass and plaster goes into landfills.
  • Because you can never replicate these houses once they’re gone. The woodwork alone came from 200-year-old trees. These homes were built before electricity, and were made by hand with handmade nails.
  • Because we don’t need new homes. “We have enough vacant homes to put everyone in America in a house,” said Curtis. “We need to take care of what we have.”
  • Because we’re losing our uniqueness. “There is something beautiful about traveling through America and seeing its distinct neighborhoods. Houses that get torn down and rebuilt erase that character.”
  • Because of their quality. “When you have a 100-year-old home made of timbers not particle board, it is solid. These homes have withstood decades of human life and natural disasters. But not city commissions and other self interests.”

Staging an Historic Home to Sell

Vintage1What’s this staging thing all about?  We spend lots of time and money to make our homes reflect our good taste, personality and sometimes, financial prowess.  Well, when getting  ready to sell, the tables turn and all of that time, energy and money has to be reassessed to appeal to an “audience.”   Staging a home to SELL is a somewhat different animal when you are dealing with a historic or vintage home. While you want it to appeal to the widest audience possible, you have to realize that many buyers interested in buying a historic or vintage home are attracted to historically decorated interiors. Most historic homes sell to a specific kind of buyer who is looking for character and architectural details that will make them fall head over heels.

Here are ways to put the focus on a historic home’s distinct architecture and appeal to the most likely buyers.

1. Choose classic or design neutral wall colors. If you need to paint the walls, choose a color from a period-inspired palette. Use fresher, cleaner historic options, such as Benjamin Moore’s Palladian Blue, Adams Gold or Georgian Green.

2. Less is More.  Clear out the clutter. Historic homeowners tend to be collectors and don’t always tune in to the crowded look that can create over time. Clear away clutter and create symmetry in the furniture arrangements, and buyers won’t miss your home’s good bones and architectural gravitas.

3. Emphasize the architecture. Put the focus on the architecture by toning down the patterns and ornate decor. Effective use of color keeps the attention on the architecture of the room, its millwork, cabinetry, windows, and detail.

Modern-Victorian-Kitchen4. Maintain a functional kitchen. Even a charming period kitchen needs to appeal to 21st-century buyers. Make sure your kitchen provides plenty of storage and boasts up-to-date appliances. With period charm in the mix, old house lovers will be sold after viewing a kitchen like this one.

5. Exaggerate space. A period home doesn’t often measure up to new-home room proportions. Make the most of your square footage by mixing painted finishes with traditional dark wood finishes to expand the impression of space.Stairwell

6. Keep window treatments simple. Remove fussy window sheers and heavy draperies from the windows in your historic home — gone are the days of elaborate festoons, jabots and swags. By taking down heavy window treatments, you reveal the beauty of the window trim and make the rooms appear bigger by letting in more natural light.

Keep it neutral. Keep it simple and let the house speak for itself.

Originally posted by: Kristie Barnett at www.houzz.com

Edited for www.Ispeakvintage by Keith Goad

Building a VINTAGE Brand; 1.1

Building a VINTAGE Brand; 1.1


Find your brand, develop it and stay on track.

This year’s Super Bowl XLVII delivered a few commercial hits and misses worth poking fun at as examples of brand management…good and bad.

For this consumer, Tide took the prize in which a stain appearing on a football jersey resembled San Fran 49er, Joe Montana. Remember the Jesus and Mary image on a pancake? Same thing. After much celebrating of the miracle stain, it was washed out by the jersey wearer’s wife, a Baltimore Ravens’ fan.  It was timely, connected with the audience and created a need for the product.  Bottom of the list was the Blackberry z10 advert. BB claimed that in 30 seconds, it was easier to show us what BBz10 could not do. Seriously?  I wasn’t sure what the product was and by the end I didn’t care.

Both are great examples of consumer product brand management that illustrate the importance of messaging and connecting with our audience.  When developing our personal brands, one of the most important points is pinpointing our audience. Once we know the demographics and interests of our target group we can begin to construct our message.  Are you an expert? Are you trustworthy? What do you represent? What ideas and notions pop up when someone hears your name? Bottom line – what’s your “thing” and who do you want to know about it?

If you’ve been around for a while, doing whatever it is you do, you’ve probably already developed a personal brand. People recognize your name, what you’re working on, what you offer and what you’re about. What can you say about your own personal brand? Is it strong and clearly identified or weak and disjointed? Just because people recognize your name or your brand does not mean they like it or will follow it.  Most of us like bad boys and naughty girls but we probably wouldn’t hire them.  If you’d like to make your personal brand stronger, keep reading and I will work through a few details of my own branding, outlining the components of a strong personal brand. If you don’t feel like you have a personal brand yet, let’s get this party started.

Your personal brand is your calling card.  Look at is as an investment.  It has the potential to last longer than you. While the projects you’re working on might move forward or get snuffed out, your personal brand will persist and (hopefully) add value to each new project you create. If you consider yourself to be in a particular game for the long-haul, whether it’s an online business, accountant, or selling houses, a good personal brand is an invaluable, evolving investment. People will follow your brand if they feel connected to it. When launching new projects, your personal brand has the potential to guarantee you never have to recreate the wheel.

Me – I am a real estate broker.  I sell houses.  I am honest, friendly, hardworking and ethical. That’s all nice and good but who really cares? Right?  That’s why I focused my personal brand on my passion: marketing and selling historic and vintage homes.   It took me way too long to figure that out but once I did it was full speed ahead.  I will get into some (but not all) the specifics of what to do once you get to that point later.

What are your passions, your strengths, talents and interests?  What lights a fire in you belly?  Whatever it is you do (or want to do), create the niche, find the passion and start to gather the building blocks that will identify and connect with your target audience. Like a strong house needs a solid foundation, the same is true for a strong and true personal brand.

On your mark. Get set. Go!

Next up: Set goals for image and public perception