Once a Piece of History is Destroyed, It is Lost Forever

By Bill Kraeling

At ETL Construction, we love to tackle historic restoration jobs. The reason they are among the most enjoyable is because of how we approach these jobs, along with the complexity and opportunity to preserve a little bit of history for future generations.

One of our first steps when working on a historic home is learning everything we can about it. Once we’ve had an initial conversation with homeowners and truly understand what they are looking to get out of the restoration, our research project begins.

We tap into all kinds of resources, from visiting the local library to finding local historians. We also look through information from the homeowners, especially if the historic home has been in the family for generations. Photographs, sketches or descriptions – anything in the historic record is essential to better understanding the character and the history of the home. We research what additions might have been made over the years and when they were made. Oftentimes we discover changes through the years, and sometimes why those changes were made.

There are many reasons for all this research. Most important is that we want to maintain the historic integrity of the home. We’ve seen situations where owners have seriously diminished the value of historic homes by making updates that spoiled the historic character. But we also want to fully understand what we’re really dealing with before we dive into a restoration challenge.

Whether it was the way the lumber was milled or the tools the original builders used in the construction of the home, knowing when a home or an addition was built gives us immediate insight into how to restore the structure properly. Our experience and expertise has shown us how to value different materials, tools and techniques that builders have employed through the years to respect the historic integrity present in old homes.

Some homeowners look for pure preservation back to a home’s original state. Others want to maintain the aesthetics of a historic home, but want to use modern technologies and sustainable products while maintaining the personality of the time period in which the home was originally built. Still others are interested in returning the exterior to the original architecture, removing additions or renovations that might have spoiled the original architecture, and only wish to modernize the interior. It’s our job to meet or exceed our client’s individual goals.

A century or more ago there was very little consistency in the materials. Nothing is cookie-cutter. Rather than view this as a challenge or an obstacle, we view it as an opportunity to dig deep into our skills as craftsmen. In historic homes, the floors aren’t level – and they never will be. Everything is a custom cut, and we understand the cause and effect of everything we do and how it will affect the house aesthetically and structurally. But for us, these projects are fun, like putting together enormous puzzles, and the finished project is always something to be proud of!

Sometimes, when we meet with a homeowner looking for a historic restoration, our first job is to educate him about the project’s scale so that he understands up front of how much a restoration will interrupt daily routines, what it will cost, and how much time it can take. Typically, though, homeowners who buy historic homes know what they’re getting into, and most restorations have budget considerations on the front end.

Especially in a situation where the homeowner needs to do the restoration in phases, we have to be able to look ahead and understand that if we do something in one room, it might have an impact on another room. And once we’re sure of how we’re moving ahead, we can phase out these projects and make certain that the homeowner can continue to live in the home, using the space between phases. We’ve worked with homeowners who wanted restorations to be broken into phases. We worked on one house over the course of several years. In other situations, the homeowners wanted all the restoration done in one shot.

Whether you’re looking to update a fixture or need to do a major restoration to a historic home, ETL Construction has the experience, knowledge and skill to ensure history is respected and your project is completed with the quality and craftsmanship it deserves.