Authentic details such as the fireplace and windows give this historic entrance great appeal.

Keeping Authenticity Alive in a Heritage Home 1

Authentic details abound in some well-preserved heritage homes such as the Magrath Mansion.
Authentic details abound in some well-preserved heritage homes such as the Magrath Mansion.

Living in a heritage home typically presents more challenges than living in one that is relatively new. Although all houses require maintenance, regardless of their age, there are special considerations when one owns an older home, especially a heritage home. One of these is how to keep the interior authentic, if not in actuality, at least in feeling. So where would you start?

I get many personal emails from readers asking questions relating to the topics on my blog and these provide ideas for future posts, like this one.
The question? Where is the best place to find information and pictures of the inside of a house?

Answer: I have to make an assumption here that the reader wants to know this in order to help her make good choices when working on the interior of her heritage home. If the information requested is based on the reader’s own home I would suggest the following:

1.Speak to neighbours to see if they knew any of the previous owners in case they might have photos of the home. When communities were smaller and people knew and socialized with each other more they took pictures of special gatherings in each other’s homes.

2.Track down relatives for the same reason. Invite them over to your house and let them reminisce about how things used to be. I was able to do this personally and I found out some very interesting things about our house.

1912 Edwardian Dining Room details are all original
1912 Edwardian Dining Room details are all original

3.Find out who might have lived in the house. If the house is historically significant, or if there was a well-known person who lived in it, it’s possible that the local archives might have pictures of the interior of the home. This is pretty rare so when it happens that you do find something like blueprints, photos or other ephemera, it feels like you’ve hit the jackpot. This is why I encourage people to take photographs of the interior of their house before and after they do renovation work and give the pictures to their local archives.

4.Belong to heritage groups or get to know owners of heritage homes that are similar to yours. Some homes may be in a more authentic state than yours and seeing them will provide you with a lot of details about your own home. Plus, it’s fun to meet kindred spirits.

5.Consult restoration books and guides. Most old-house magazines and design books feature incredible houses that are beyond the means of most people reading them. This is why I wrote a guide to restoring more modest homes. It’s called “Historical Homes of Alberta” because it satisfied the requirements of the historical association that gave me a grant to write the book, but it is very useful for homes in most regions. The guide covers the restoring and decorating of homes built between 1895 – 1939. ( see Historical Homes of Alberta for more information.)

A Victorian interior in Alberta
A Victorian interior in Alberta

6. Go online and read articles and blogs like this one. Online communities exist to deal with almost any topic. Be judicious and check out more than one site before you take someone’s advice as being true.

And, finally, I would add “Enjoy the process“. There’s no feeling quite like the satisfaction you get by preserving a piece of history that is, at the same time, your home.

6 thoughts on “Keeping Authenticity Alive in a Heritage Home 1

  1. Hi Johanne ,

    It is so long since I have seen you face- to- face. I miss our pizza and wine visits.

    I have been in Nunavut for the 7 months from June to the end of January, then proceeded to France for two months with Toni and now am back in Nunavut again for six months.

    We (the royal We as this is what Toni will need to look after) are getting ready to repaint our house and still enjoy the colors very much. Do you have any exterior painters that you would recommend?

    If you were to adjust anything on your original design would there be anything you might change? We see nothing but I am just wondering how you feel about it these 12-15 years later! Others in the neighbour hood are doing some similar treatment in terms of the complexity of four colors . They look great too!


    1. Great to hear from you! What a busy, eventful life you lead! Ahh, to spend two months in France… Yes, paint jobs only last so long. I don’t have anyone specifically to recommend but I could ask around when you are ready to do this. As far as the colours go, they still look good and appropriate for the neighbourhood. If I remember correctly, You and Toni were one of the first heritage homeowners to step outside the “white is better” school of house painting on your street. You could punch it up with some complementary colour but it’s something we could explore when you come back to the city. See you then! (yes I miss your famous pizza and wine too:)

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