Home Restoration Versus Home Renovation

In today’s real estate world where “flippers” purchase homes, slap in a little granite and new flooring, and call them updated, it is refreshing to see a true home restoration done with love, care, and integrity.

In today’s real estate world where “flippers” purchase homes, slap in a little granite and new flooring, and call them updated, it’s refreshing to see a true home restoration done with love, care, and integrity. With all the investor flipping going on in real estate, we lose sight of what it means to truly love your home. Restoring a home is more than pulling materials that are on sale at Home Depot. Let’s talk about what it takes to truly restore an older home to its glory days.

Restoration vs. Renovation

The words renovation and restoration are often used interchangeably when people are talking about fixing up homes. However, they are quite different in their meaning. When you renovate, you are most likely changing the look or feel of a home and are making it look like new. Restoration is defined as “bringing back to a former position or condition” (Webster’s 1975). We often hear the term restoration used when museums are restoring famous pieces of art. According to Conservation & Design International, “The client and restorer determine the most desirable period of an object’s life; and the restorer does whatever is necessary to return the object’s appearance to that period.” In the world of real estate, the client is the homeowner and the restorer is a contractor or craftsman who has been hired to do the home restoration work.

When you are engaged in restoration, the goal is to keep the details as close to the original as possible. You’re not trying to make the home look like new construction, but it may be necessary or desirable to update some things for safety and our modern lifestyles, such as electrical wiring and plumbing systems. But before you start knocking holes into the walls, you need to research appropriate fixtures to replace the ones that are old or missing; for older homes, you may need to hunt down crystal door handles and find professional craftspeople to restore damaged walls and hardwood floors. You need to immerse yourself in the time period that the home was built to better understand the architecture and fixtures needed to keep the home historically accurate.

Restoring a Historic Gem

Our sellers of a 1928 Henry Jekel–designed, Norman English–style home in the North Hills Historic District of Riverside had to do a lot of this. They knew that their restoration was going to be a major undertaking. In 1999, the home was on the market as a bank repossession. Unfortunately, the home had been in disrepair for a number of years, and during the time it was on the market for sale, it sat vacant. Vandals had stolen most of the fixtures such as chandeliers, wall sconces, faucets, and crystal door handles. The original hardwood flooring was a mess with sections having been covered with ugly ceramic tile.

When our sellers Larry and Gail purchased the home they knew that they wanted to replace the fixtures with pieces that looked period, but new. They also wanted to replace antiquated electric and plumbing, which meant breaking holes into the lovely lath and plaster walls of the home. When you enter the home today, you would never guess that there had been holes in the walls or that the hardwood in the entry had ceramic tile laid over it. You would also never think that the style of the new kitchen, the new dining room chandelier, or the living room sconces were not the original intent of Henry Jekel’s design. The restoration was done so seamlessly that everything fits into place and the historical integrity of the home is intact.

A Mid-Century Modern Restoration

In another case of superb restoration, we were dealing with a mid-century home we sold to our clients recently. The home’s first and only owners had cherished the home for many years. As they aged, some maintenance was deferred, and the home had been left vacant for more than a year after they passed away. Their heirs, in preparation for an estate sale, had scattered family treasures and memorabilia about the house in order to see what was there. Needless to say, it was a disorganized scene when our buyers, Freya and Allesandro, first arrived for a preview. Fortunately, they immediately saw, beyond the semi-organized mayhem, the exhilarating lines of this 1959 mid-century treasure designed by Herman Ruhnau. Over the collections of books, art, and video discs, they could see architectural details and, in particular, the amazing view through the wall of windows in the living room and dining area. They were sold!

True to the advice of friends and “modern home lovers,” they combed through architecture books such as Atomic Ranch and began making plans to open up and improve the dated kitchen. They were connected with a quality, licensed general contractor and the project began. While keeping the integrity of the mid-century feel of the home was important to Freya and Allesandro, they also wanted to open the kitchen to the family room space. This was a situation where going to Home Depot for prefabricated products was not going to work.

True Restoration Brings Winning Results

In both cases our clients were taking over a restoration of their homes, rather than doing a renovation. It takes time, effort, and a lot of love to bring homes that have been neglected and are in disrepair back to life. The owners of both of these properties meticulously researched the architectural history of the homes while making a few changes to modernize things, such as kitchen and laundry areas and to update the systems of the homes. The result of their efforts are beautifully restored living spaces valued not only for their historic significance, but also for the modern updated infrastructure that comes with a successful restoration. By not significantly changing the look and feel of the homes, they effectively restored them to better-than-original condition.


Selling artistic living in Riverside, the Ransom-McKenzie Team specializes in historic, classic and modern homes throughout the city of Arts & Innovation. Working together as a team, Charlotte McKenzie and Connie Ransom will make sure that your needs are met in every aspect of your Real Estate transaction. They bring experience and professionalism to the task at hand every day. www.ransom-mckenzie.com

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