Reconstruction or Rehab?

How do you know whether to completely “gut” a home or to invest in the existing structure? It can be a tough call. Some factors that help me decide about this include: the “look and feel” I’m going for, how the space will be used, the projected costs, the likelihood of return on any investment, and the potential for impact on the environment.

Following are some of the trade-offs we made while renovating the existing structure at the 38th Star House in Denver.

Electric Light Switches

This house, built in 1907, had very cool, really old (okay, antique!) light switches — the art-deco era push-button style. I wanted to keep them, but they were not working at first.

As any electrician will tell you, even if these had been working, 100-year old electric systems generally need an update. The systems can become cracked, corroded, and worn-out over time.

The good news is that we were able to keep the push-button “look” because our electrician knew how to update the actual switches and get the electrical work up to code. This was a win/win home rehab situation.


Doors, Doorknobs and Archways

In the first floor of this house, there are high, 10-foot ceilings. We ended up keeping those because it adds to the character quite a bit. I’m really glad I did that. It saved us money and it looks nice, too.

We kept the original doors. I love a good, heavy door. This is something that is hard to replicate with today’s standard construction materials.

We kept the open archways. Our asbestos guy said these archways were not technical “original” to the home, but the previous owners who installed the archways did a good job of making it look like it. They are not perfectly symmetrical, and they have a hand-built feel. It blends right in and definitely adds character and richness to the place because so many original bungalows had similar arches.

Most of the doorknobs are original and cool looking, too. We replaced doorknobs only where we had to do so.


Floors and baseboards

While we thought at first we might keep the original hardwood floors, ultimately they were just too beat up to keep. The trade off here is that the new floors look great.

There is quite a market for old reclaimed and recycled materials today, so often these can be resold or reused. It’s worth researching how your discarded materials can be used again.

On the other hand, we were able to keep the super-thick original baseboards. We retained these yet updated bottom quarter round so it looks clean and fresh but still retains the original charm.

I’m really happy with the decisions we made for the floors and baseboards given how it turned out.


Kitchens, baths, and special features

Throughout the home, we looked for things we could retain.

  • In the kitchen, we worked around bump-out and created some interesting cabinet designs in a budget-friendly way, but updated the appliances to make it more functional and beautiful. So it’s a mix of old and new.
  • We updated the bathrooms while creating a traditional look and feel in the original footprint of the home. However, the addition we’re planning to the home will feature more contemporary-looking, spa-style baths.
  • The window casing was thick and in good shape, so we kept it.
  • The fireplace needed an update but had some interesting features, so we kept what we could and updated the rest.


Basement floors, walls and ceiling

In the basement, we were able to keep the floors, update the drywall, and paint the space. Honestly, this basement goes on forever! We needed to do something to unify the various parts.

So, for example, painting the basement ceiling over the corridor where stairs lead down to the basement helped brighten the space.

In another spot there was old original brick, and we painted over it as well. It gives it a cellar-like feel that will be the perfect place for a wine rack.

The whole basement looks so much better now. It’s pretty spiffy. While it’s an old basement, it feels much more fresh.


Conclusion: Mix it up, with intentionality!

If you can retain the character of a home, there are often potential cost savings and it can be the eco-friendly option. However, you need to think through the safety, aesthetic, and functionality factors.