You’ve fallen in love with a historic home. It’s not difficult to see the appeal. Packed with charm and character, a historic home has an undeniable appeal that modern homes simply don’t possess.

What you need to consider when purchasing a historic home is how you plan to bring it into the 21st century. This is a huge design challenge for many homeowners, and it requires careful thought and consideration. How do you balance modern flourishes without compromising the unique character of your home?

Whether you’re buying a historic home Charleston, S.C., or renovating your Georgetown loft in Washington D.C., here are a few tips for adding contemporary touches to an old home:

1. Give the Walls a Fresh Coat of Paint

One of the easiest and most affordable ways to modernize an older home is with a fresh coat of paint on the walls. Not only does this refresh your walls and instantly update them, it can also draw attention to the elaborate crown molding and trim so common in older homes.

To highlight these beautiful details, consider using a higher gloss finish such as satin or semi-gloss. This will give your walls some shine and attract the eye to the gorgeous details of your historic home.

2. Add a Pop of Color to the Exterior

exterior house colors


If you’ve ever strolled past centuries-old homes in Europe, you might have noticed that many of them feature colorful doors in a high-gloss paint. This attractive look is also widely seen in the charming single houses in historic cities such as Charleston, S.C., and Savannah, G.A., both of which were strongly influenced by European aesthetics.

It doesn’t need to be a bright color to attract attention. In fact, shiny black doors are absolutely stunning against a white façade and can potentially fetch a higher price when it comes time to sell your home.

Black doors are trendy yet truly timeless. You can add more modern flare to your home by adding trendy brass décor, as well.

3. Spruce Up the Fireplace

brick fireplace


A brick fireplace in an older home can be a total eyesore if you haven’t given it some TLC. To make it an attractive focal point for your home, lighten up dark red brick by doing a German smear.

Also known as a mortar wash, a German smear is a whitewashing technique that involves spreading wet mortar over bricks and removing some of the material before it dries. It mimics the look of centuries-old cottages in northern Germany, creating an old-world charm that is both modern and traditional.

If you’re obsessed with the TV show “Fixer Upper,” you might have seen Chip and Joanna Gaines use the German smear technique for Jeff and Sara Jones. Although this style was far outside of Joanna’s typical farmhouse style, she nailed the look by perfectly creating a traditional European look.

Read more: Beautiful fireplace decor ideas

4. Mix Contemporary Furnishings with Antiques

No matter how much you try to preserve the original character of your home, chances are good that you have modern appliances and furnishings mixed into your design. Most of us prefer to have a TV and other 21st century technology.

To avoid making your home appear too modern, decorate with a mix of antiques and contemporary furnishings. Check out your local antique store and scour it for fun statement pieces that will add interest to your home.

For example, you can balance the look of your flat-screen TV over the fireplace by decorating your mantel with an old sign encased in a modern frame, a charming figurine or antique books arranged artfully on the shelf. Mixing old and new is an art form, so don’t be afraid to play around with your décor until you get the balance just right.

5. Play up Contrast

Rather than hide the distinctive features of your historic home, why not play them up with contrast instead? For example, painting stair railings and doors black will make them pop against white walls and create a visually striking look.

If you’re really daring, you can paint an entire wall black as a strong contrast to your white fireplace. For those who prefer a bit more color, adding foliage or playing with different textures can achieve a similar effect.

For instance, pairing sleek furniture with textured antiqued lamps and a uniquely-patterned coffee table can create a visual contrast that is slightly more toned down while still emphasizing your historic home. You can also showcase different textures in a modern bookcase to incorporate traditional elements into your historic home.

6. Preserve Some Time-Honored Character

Most people don’t purchase a historic home with the intent of changing everything that makes it unique. Rather than renovate each space entirely, consider the original purpose of the space.

This will require you to know the history of your home — a fun exercise in itself. If you have a room that was once used as a mini-ballroom, consider placing an old piano in the room to preserve its original function in a small way.

Read more: Guide to restoring wooden antiques

7. Use Distressed Pieces for a Well-Worn Look

Modern pieces that feature a distressed look will fit perfectly into your historic home without making it seem too contemporary. Your bedroom is an easy place to start.

Some well-worn items for your bedroom can include an antique chest at the foot of a modern bed, a distressed nightstand or a rustic clock. It doesn’t matter whether these items were made in 1920 or 2019. Their vintage look will fit right in with your historic home.

Read more: Own a Historical Home? Here’s What You Need to Know

Bring Your Historic Home into the 21st Century

To modernize your historic home, you don’t need to replace or update everything that makes your house unique. You also don’t need to feel obligated to live in the time period of when your home was first built.

Decorating a historic home involves finding the perfect balance between old and new, respecting the character of the home while incorporating modern flourishes for a 21st-century mode of living. Eventually, you’ll have a visually stunning home that strikes the right balance between old quirks and modern charm.

Seven Ways to Add Modern Flare to Your Historic Home was last modified: November 29th, 2022 by Traci Magnus
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