July 12, 2022

“I say ‘we have a great opportunity here. This is awesome, I’m excited’, when other contractors say ‘Well, we’ve got a lot of problems here’”!
– Brent Hull, Owner of Hull Millwork

Have you ever gone into a building and wondered about its history? Have you considered the best way to honor that history? You are not alone. Historic preservation is an initiative of the public and private sectors with multiple approaches depending on the desired use.

Historic buildings yearn for preservation. Some need a little restoration and remodeling, while others are being rehabilitated for a new purpose.


Depending on the property's historical significance, physical condition, and future use, the approach to repairing and replacing materials, as well as designing new additions, will be different. It’s tempting to look and assess a building’s requirements and emotionally leap to the finished result. This is usually out of either fear or ignorance. First and foremost, applying the mantra “repairs before remodel” will be necessary for a historic renovation.


There are accepted “rules” for historical restorations. Changes with a made-up impression of historical development, such as adding abstract features or architectural elements from other buildings, should be avoided. On the other hand, most properties do change over time. Features with specific historic significance should be retained and preserved or at least repaired rather than replaced. Sometimes, the severity of deterioration requires replacement of a distinctive feature, which ought to match the old in design, color, texture, and materials. It’s also nice to document and photograph replacement of missing features.


A recent Build Show event from Detroit, Michigan, sponsored by Builders FirstSource, highlighted the renovation of The Element Detroit at The Metropolitan Hotel, built between 1918 – 1920. This building is between a restoration and a remodel. “It’s not 100% original and most features have been replicated or touched up”, according to Shane Overbey, CEO, Artisan Contracting and the project owner.

Overbey’s craftsman partners touched up the canvases and replicated the original rails of this historic building. Only a few of the beams were salvageable, the rest were replicated.

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Overbey proudly shared before and after pictures of the lobby, lounge, and bar areas. Water damage made the woodwork and other structural, functional, and decorative elements unsalvageable. Luckily, in most cases, enough original material was salvaged that he could replicate each piece. “We take as much of the material as we can and salvage it,” he said. This creates a “feeling of stepping back in time” in the words of event host Matt Risinger, CEO of Risinger Build.

Only a few of the beams were salvageable, the rest were replicated.


Property used for its original purpose, or a new purpose but requiring minimal change, should maximize its original defining characteristics. This usually means using the “retain and preserve” rule. Distinctive features, finishes, and construction techniques, or examples of craftsmanship which characterize a historic property, are most often preserved at the request of the owner. Significant archeological resources affected by a project should be protected and preserved.


A Wilmington, NC homeowner who recently restored a 1919 craftsman, wanted to tell the house’s story though time. This 1900 sq. ft., two story home had features that created a physical record of its time, place and use. It had an addition built by the original homeowner during WWII as part of a public housing program for soldiers.

When the windows had to be replaced, they were repurposed into signage for a vacation rental.

The addition is still in its original form of a bedroom. But now the house is a for-profit, short-term rental, with the most elaborate part being this bedroom and bathroom addition. The cast iron claw-foot tub was professionally restored, and it is the focus of the on-suite bathroom. “Guests marvel that many of the features, like the tub, are original” said the owner, who also converted old windows into art and signage around the home.


Brent Hull, owner and founder of Hull Millwork, also advocated the benefits of refurbishing or repairing vs. replacing. He mentioned that when renovating large and expensive historical homes, he looks to commercial buildings for inspiration. He recently found that inspiration in a Texas courthouse, of all places. The windows had been restored, uplifted, and refurbished. The material was redwood. He borrowed the process for his luxury home renovation.

Hull also noted that the perceived payback time for new windows is not what most homeowners think. In fact, for an older home, the payback period is longer than the life of the windows. It might be a much better investment to focus on the weatherstripping and insulation surrounding the windows. Not everything in an older home needs to be outdated, technically speaking.


Historic properties, like modern properties, come in all types, materials, quality, sizes, and uses. Often these renovation characteristics extend to a property’s landscape features, site and environment, as well as related new construction. Technical building approvals and design requirements will apply to each specific property in a unique way.

When seeking certain certifications and credits, these stamped approvals also provide a framework and guidance for decision-making about work or changes to a historic property. Since historic districts and planning commissions across the country govern historic property, be sure to check federal, state, and local requirements. There are often government programs available to assist in the process, including potential tax credits.

Historic restorations and remodels can take a lot of perseverance but are well worth the effort.

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