Renovating Your Older St. Louis Area Home: Where to Start

Written by Josh McDermott

where to start when renovating an old house in st. louisThough there are exceptions to every rule, most of our clients looking to renovate their older home want to keep the look and charm of the original architecture without restoring it to historic conditions. Typically, they want to add modern conveniences and eliminate features that are worn, damaged, or no longer up to code.

The scope of an older home renovation depends largely on the home’s physical condition and how your family plans to use the space. Pre-1950s home, with their knob and tube wiring, lath and plaster walls and ceilings, and roofs with old or no sheathing can be the most challenging to renovate. It can be a bit overwhelming deciding where to start when renovating an old house, but experience has taught us which approaches work best.

Where to Start When Renovating an Old House

While every home has its own quirks, there are some things that are true for all older houses. We recommend that our clients start with the understanding that a renovation of this type will likely involve work outside the interior space or spaces they’re hoping to upgrade. For example, if you want to renovate your older kitchen, there may be electrical issues, bad brickwork, a plumbing stack that’s failing, or you may have an old tile roof or porch that’s in serious disrepair.

You never want to put a new kitchen underneath a bad roof or in a space where the windows are bad or the walls leak. It’s important, then, to consider all these things that fall within the “building envelope” before you decide to invest in a renovation. If you approach the project understanding the budget will be more expansive than a “typical” remodel of a newer home might be, it will help you avoid unpleasant surprises that turn into change orders during construction.

Not every older house has a surprise waiting around every corner, but the most common problems are in the electrical and plumbing systems. It’s also more difficult to remove walls in an older home than in a newer one. Our goal is to help you keep your expectations real while delivering the updated home you have in mind.

Design Considerations

Your older home’s renovation design needs are not always immediately evident:

  • Taking up floors and removing walls sometimes exposes problems like broken pipes or hidden water damage that has been there for years.
  • The electrical, plumbing, and heating systems must be checked to be sure they’re in good condition.
  • The roof and foundation must be inspected.
  • Insect damage or basement water problems should be investigated.

We’ve found that it’s helpful early in the process to bring in our trade partners to weigh in on the issues affecting their areas of expertise. They can quickly assess what’s going to be required and having that information upfront lets us develop a design that meets your aesthetic and budgetary goals.  

Once you’ve figured out work must absolutely be done, it’s time to prioritize. Most older home restorations include new kitchens and bathrooms, as well as new windows and doors. You might need to remove dated wallpaper or rip up the 1970’s carpeting and refinish the hardwood floors beneath.

where to start when renovating an old house in st. louisWe also recommend looking for areas or features that can be reused. For example, we’ve turned a broom cabinet into a spice storage area, and recently gave an old built-in hutch a stunning makeover. (image at left)

It often helps to be a little more “out of the box” when renovating an older home. We try to ask all the what ifs, such as will opening up a wall reveal a code issue that requires the rest of the space (or house!) needs to be brought up to code? If we suspect that might be the case, it’s probably a better to develop a design that works with the house as is.

That’s not to say older homes can’t have structural elements changed or removed. One kitchen remodeling project we recently completed is a perfect example. The client’s old kitchen had a structural column in the middle of the room that was holding up the second floor of the house. We removed it and put in steel beams; they clients now have an island in that space. (image below)

where to start when renovating an old house in st. louis

But, still, we did have issues here, like where to place the kitchen sink, a big window that could not be moved, and a solid masonry wall. A truth worth embracing before you begin renovating an older home  is that some aspects of the structure cannot be changed without creating an expensive domino effect. Of course, there are clients who are willing to invest what it takes to get the renovation they envision. No matter what you decide, our job is to help you focus on what’s most important to you and your family’s satisfaction.

Learn More

At J.T. McDermott, we’re passionate about renovating older homes! As a design build firm, we’re involved in every stage of the renovation and bring our years of knowledge and experience to provide the architectural design you need. To learn more about our process and where to start when renovating an old house, schedule a conversation with us today. We look forward to meeting with you!

For Josh, it’s always been about relationships. As J.T. McDermott’s 2nd generation owner, he believes nothing matters more than the enduring friendships that are built with the homeowners he serves. “If I can help both our clients grow and the team grow, everything else will take care of itself.”

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