The 2019 Idea House pros spill their secrets for making a new build look like a historic property.


Before drawing even one plan for the 2019 Southern Living Idea House, architect and Senior Associate at Historical Concepts Clay Rokicki imagined a home that evolved with a family over more than a hundred years as they remodeled and added on, enclosed porches, and embraced the style du jour. In nearby Fernandina Beach, that look is a playful mix of Victorian ornamentation with classic Lowcountry ease. "Ultimately, I'd call it Southern Folk vernacular," he says.

Here are his secrets to building a home with similar been-here-forever character.

Imagine A Past

The design team employed several ideas to get that old-home charm on a brand-new build; most noticeable is the mix of sidings that give each area its own identity. Formal and informal profiles ramble across the structure depending on their imagined past.

For example, the entry court of the main portion of the home leans into the Victorian influence with ornamentation set off by the more playful HardiePanel and battan strips for a board and batten look. Just beside it, Artisan Lap siding on the master wing indicates a shift. "We used gable forms and the siding as a quieter counterpoint to the main house," Rokicki says. "Almost like there was this delightful little formal cottage that was later connected."

Layer In Telling Details

A cupola on top of the main structure, cornices framing the windows, railing balusters with decorative cutouts—these are the small cues that underscore the drift in architectural styles from wing to wing. The more elaborate details are on the main house, the more restrained on the adjoining wings.

Builder and Director of Operations for Riverside Homes' Custom Home Division Matt Birdwell brought innovation to the historic details, drilling the prescribed circular cutouts meant to evoke Victorian fretwork out of Artisan Lap siding to gain durability on the delicate decoration.

On the master wing, the same siding was cut into strips to build the louvered windows, an a-ha decision that drastically cut down on the maintenance of this hard-working feature. "We typically make those out of cedar," Birdwell says, "But I'd do it the same way out of the HardieTrim boards on the next house we build, it turned out so great." The cornice windows' more elaborate frames were crafted from Artisan trim and flashing, creating two different profiles.

James Hardie Idea House Side View
Credit: Laurey W. Glenn

Leave Trees

Few things say, "New house!" like brand-new landscaping and scrawny trees. So the design team was careful to leave several mature trees in place around the home. In a few years, when the landscaping is completely grown in, they'll be no delineation between old and new.