Blog Cabin 2012: Preserving Character

As DIY Network’s design-build team modernizes this circa-1884 cape, care will be taken to retain the building’s 19th-century New England charm.

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Make no mistake, Blog Cabin 2012 is a complete gut remodel, meaning the crew will demolish and remove virtually every existing element within the walls of the structure, from the kitchen and bathrooms to doors, windows, plaster and trim. Doing so will enable the team to modernize the insulation and mechanicals and carve out open, airy living spaces. While most elements are marked for demolition, certain features will be preserved — or reimagined. After all, the whole point of renovating this historic structure, versus tearing it down and building something new in its place, is to preserve the property’s Mid-Coast Maine character. “The idea is to be respectful of the house’s past,” says Knickerbocker Group architectural designer Kim Tuttle. “We want its history to show through.”

Updating your own historic gem? The renovation of Blog Cabin 2012 provides five valuable remodeling lessons for any homeowner trying to decide what original elements of an older home to preserve.

Focus on the Facade

A home’s defining feature is its facade, the face it presents to the world. Preserving the front exterior is job one in maintaining a home’s charm. Minor adjustments will be made to the Blog Cabin 2012 facade, and where the needs of the remodel make that impractical, alternations will be subtle. For example, when the front entrance is relocated to provide access from the driveway directly into a mudroom, new windows will be installed in the vicinity of the old front doors to re-create the focal point.

Save Unique Features

At Blog Cabin 2012, construction manager Marcus Golding salvaged the interior trim, two pendant-style chandeliers and the butler’s pantry cabinet doors, even though he wasn’t yet sure how or if he’d reuse them. Marcus also recommends saving claw-foot tubs and all eye-catching features. “Then you have the option of reusing them — or you can always donate items to a ReStore, a used-building-parts reseller, for a tax write-off.” A word to the wise? Remove interesting architectural elements before a demo begins, or ask the crew to pull them out for you, says Marcus. Many contractors are unaccustomed to salvaging house parts, so be clear and firm from the start.

Match the Trim

For a large remodeling project like Blog Cabin, a woodshop can easily match the profile of original trim and woodwork. In this instance, re-creating trim is less labor intensive (and therefore more cost effective) than salvaging original material, since many more linear feet will be required than can be mined from just one room. But for a small job (a room remodel, for instance), salvaging trim is often the most economical way to ensure that the finished job matches other interior spaces.

Mimic What Cannot Be Salvaged

Not everything is salvageable. Built-in cabinetry, paneling and flooring probably won’t survive even the most careful attempts to dismantle and reinstall them. Other items, like exterior doors, windows and faucets are generally too inefficient to make reinstallation worthwhile. And with the exception of those claw-foot beauties, old plumbing fixtures — even charming ones — rarely stand up well to reuse. So snap some pictures of your home’s finest details, and replace items with new, similarly styled products. Blog Cabin 2012, for instance, will be updated with new energy-efficient 6-over-1 windows, designed to capture the charm and character of original windows.

Creatively Repurpose

Blog Cabin’s original dual front entry doors are moving indoors, where they will serve as the entrance to the master bedroom suite. The corbels and shelf over the original entry — quintessential details from the period — will be installed on an interior wall as a faux mantelpiece. And a quirky six-pane picture window from the old shed will become an interior window between the library and family room. “These are conversation pieces,” says Kim. “They help to tell the story of the house — not as a historic museum exhibit but as an organic and evolving home.”

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