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  • Writer's pictureErica Fossati

Understanding the Property in Historical Renovations

Before transforming your historical property, embark on a journey to understand its story. This exploration enriches your understanding of the space and guides your renovation decisions.

historical renovation in new england

1. Who Built This Home and Why?

Imagine yourself as a detective, piecing together the puzzle of your home's history. Begin by investigating its past residents. Why was this house built? For whom? These seemingly simple questions hold the key to understanding the original layout, design choices, and even decorative details.

Understanding the "Who": Uncovering Motivations Behind Design Choices

Knowing the original residents and their reasons for building the house can shed light on the layout, finishes, and even decorative elements.

For example, these Caduceus sconce was in a house designed in the '800 for a very successful businessman.

historical renovation in new england

The Caduceus, the staff carried by Hermes in Greek mythology, is a well known known symbol of commerce. Once assessing the authenticity of certain elements around the house it's important to consider how they might reflect the original owner's identity, profession, or values. In this case, the presence of Caduceus sconces suggests the homeowner's deliberate incorporation of a symbol associated with their success in business, therefore implying their authenticity.

Understanding the "who" behind the "what" allows you to make informed decisions about preserving or updating these elements, ensuring a renovation that complements the original narrative of the house.

Researching Ownership History

Trace the ownership history through the County Registry of Deeds website to understand the property's journey and identify potential renovations. Building department records can also uncover past renovations, potential structural modifications, and the house's evolution over time.

2. Exploring the Architectural Style and Original State

Now, let's move on to the architectural style and original state of your property. This knowledge forms the foundation of your renovation plans, ensuring you preserve the essence of the house while breathing new life into its spaces.

Identifying the Architectural Style

Consult historical guides and resources, or talk to historical preservation architects to identify the architectural style of your house. Understanding the style's characteristics (materials, layout, decorative elements) will inform appropriate renovation decisions that respect the historical integrity of the property.

Engage with local historical commissions or architectural historians for deeper insights into the specific architectural style and potential local variations. Understanding the regional context and stylistic nuances can further guide your renovation plans.

National Register of Historic Places: If your property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the National Park Service website offers valuable resources and guidance for renovation projects:

Assessing the Original State

Carefully examine existing features like flooring, trim, moldings, and hardware. Original elements often showcase unique characteristics and craftsmanship and should be assessed for restoration or preservation during renovations. Consult experienced professionals specializing in historical preservation for guidance on identifying original features, assessing their condition, and determining the best course of action for restoration or conservation.

As an example, consider the materials used in your property. If your house was built before the 1920s, it may feature old-growth wood. This type of wood, harvested from virgin forests, differs from the new-growth wood commonly used today.

historical renovation in new england
Photo by Hull Works @

3. Tapping into Local Resources and Networks:

Historical Societies and Libraries: Dig deeper into the local narrative by exploring resources like the Massachusetts Historical Society ( These organizations often hold historical records, photographs, and maps pertaining to your area and potentially even your specific property.

Historical Commissions: Most historical commissions maintain a list of historical places and houses in town. Contact your local commission and inquire about any information they might have on your property or similar structures in the area.

The town of Westford for example has a great list of all historical homes in town.

While researching historical records, note the names associated with your property, particularly the builder and previous owners. Were they responsible for other houses in the area? Studying similar houses with more original elements, your "architectural twins," can provide inspiration and information for your renovation project. Observing how others have approached renovations in similar historical properties can offer valuable insights and practical guidance for your own project.

4. Building a Collaborative Team:

As you embark on this journey of understanding and renovating your historical property, consider assembling a team of experts, including:

Designer specializing in historical preservation

Contractor experienced in working with historical properties

Historical consultant, a local historian or the chair of your town's Historical Commission would be ideal.

By thoroughly understanding your historical property, you ensure a thoughtful and respectful renovation that honors its legacy while creating a space for future generations.

If you have any questions, or if you would like me to write a post on a specific topic, fell free to reach out above.

Stay tuned for the next installment ;)

About the Author

renovations in New England

Erica Fossati, your trusted partner for exceptional home renovations and elevated interiors in the Greater Boston area, brings European expertise to your fingertips. Raised amidst the architectural treasures of Italy, her passion for breathing new life into historic properties bloomed early.

After a successful career in Italy, specializing in the renovation of ancient manors, Erica brought her unique perspective to Boston. She now leads Erica Fossati Design, an atelier specializing in luxurious and timeless interiors for homeowners.

Erica's Master's degree in Architecture from the prestigious Politecnico di Milano and architect's license (Italy and EU) equip her with the expertise to guide you seamlessly through your historical renovation project.

Serving Boston, Cambridge, Charlestown, Lexington, Concord, Lincoln, Carlisle, Arlington, Lancaster and surrounding areas within Middlesex and Worcester Counties.

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