The Real Reasons Why Historic Homes Are Under Valued

These homes have a lot more to offer about living today than just charm

Zoë Gowen
historic southern home
Laurey W Glenn

Historic homes often get overlooked as stuffy and dusty places only fit for visitors like your great aunt. With a mindset like this, you’re missing out on all the priceless knowledge and inspiration that you can learn from a quick tour of the Victorian home downtown or that big antebellum home on the outskirts of town.

Think back to the wedding you attended in a historic home with the big windows and the double height verandas. Yes, it felt romantic and apropos for the big day, but think hard and you’ll probably remember that when you were inside, you felt like you were outside because of the views out the big (and open) windows. And when you were outside on that breezy porch you were somehow… comfortable? Even in the summer? Yep. Pre-HVAC and double paned windows, our ancestors mastered the unbeatable humidity busting combination of: tall ceilings + big operable windows + covered porches = a wonderful and natural heating and air system. The real head scratcher is why are we all still not living like this? Welll, some of us are—admittedly with a strong HVAC system and a ceiling fan. Guess what? We are those not-so-stuffy types that actually attend blast-from-the-past events like pilgrimages to historic homes. Convinced to attend one or at least tour your closest historic home yet? Here are a few things worth staying listening to on tour:

1) The building materials and finishes can be ingenious and worth imitating. For instance, George Washington didn’t have access to stone when building Mount Vernon. Instead, he used thick blocks of wood with a beveled edge to replicate the look of stone. Designer Steven Gambrel has recently used this in his foyer. Inside Charleston’s Nathaniel Russell, Russell didn’t let budget or practicality stop him from tortoise shell doors. He just hired a skilled painter to faux-finish the doors to look like tortoise. Genius.

2) Proportions are on point. As the masterful Southern architect, A Hays Town discovered when working on a public works project surveying antebellum mansions. The proportions to theses homes are perfect. If you’re working on remodeling your own home and are struggling with how your dormers look or where to place your porch columns—check out how they were doing them 200 years ago.

3) It’s a snapshot into history. Wondering what real life was like on these plantations? You’ll get a clear picture when you're there that it was hard. Many plantations have also restored the slave cabins and other outbuildings that illustrate their harsh experiences. In cities, by noticing the shift in architectural styles throughout town, you can also chart the city’s progress.