Tips for Historic Homeowners [#1 Keep Private vs. Public Spaces]

This is the start of a new series every Friday entitled “Tips for Historic Homeowners”! These will be short posts every week to help you start thinking about how to maintain, restore and enjoy your historic house.

Tip #1 Keep Private vs. Public Spaces

The recent trend of large open floor plans in homes today has led to many historic homes having their walls knocked down willy nilly. Historic homes traditionally had a greater separation of public and private spaces. Public rooms such as foyers, living rooms, dining rooms, or parlors were given more expensive finishes like nicer wood floors, picture rails and crown moldings. The private areas of the home such as bathrooms, kitchens and bedrooms, meant mainly for the occupants use, were given less formal finishings and ornamentation.

Before you begin tearing down the walls of your historic home to make a new great room or open kitchen/living area consider some period appropriate ways to give your house a more open feel without totally destroying the hierarchy of these spaces.

  1. Find out the architectural style of your house.
  2. Look for pictures of that particular style to find options for different interior layouts.
  3. Use half walls and architectural elements like built-ins to delineate rooms.

With a little research and creativity you can find a period appropriate way to get a more open feeling in your home without losing its historic integrity. It’s up to you!


Have you done a project like this? What worked for you and what didn’t? Comment below and share your experience.

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by Scott Sidler

I'm a historic preservationist and licensed contractor. I help old house lovers understand & restore their homes so they can enjoy the history and character that surrounds them more everyday! When not working, writing or teaching about old houses I spend most of my time fixing up my own 1929 bungalow with my wife Delores and sons Charley and Jude.


  1. Phil Cooper on said:

    That’s interesting because I just bought a house from around the 1830’s and the walls had all been removed downstairs and I’m having them all put back exactly where they originally were (you could see the marks on the old floor).

    • Phil, love seeing those “ghost marks” from old walls!

      • Phil Cooper on said:

        Yep – because of those marks, we are also able to put the doorways back where they originally were! There’s a really wonderful feeling about restoring stuff back the way it originally was! I have never understood why people would ever want to tear the old walls out!

  2. Bluezette on said:

    I’m so looking forward to this series! I’m a big proponent of retaining the private and public spaces. It breaks my heart to see original floor plans “improved” by tearing down walls when the original layout was so functional. Even if I wanted to remove the wall between my kitchen and dining room, it would mean losing our 6′ chestnut built-in china cupboard. I’ll have to live here until I’m carried out feet first because I’ll never be able to turn ownership of the house over to someone who might tear down walls or paint the original shellacked woodwork.:)

    • It’s always nice to hear from a kindred spirit, Bluezette! Take good care of those chestnut built-ins they sound beautiful.

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