Rehabbing with Heart: Preserving Architectural Details

When it comes to renovating architectural details, investors should consider preservation over demolition. While it might be easy to rip out some of these features, there are ways to preserve them, save money, and make your flips feel special.

Preserving the original design of a house may feel like an unnecessary task. As a flipper, finding the most efficient way to renovate is often at the top of mind. These things aren’t usually mutually included with one another, yet they should be.

This article is geared towards flippers who come across homes that were built before the 1970s, or generally any older homes that are more historic. Common examples of these would be Spanish or Mediterranean style homes, Craftsman, Tudor, Victorian, Mid-Century Modern, Ranch, Colonial, and many more. If this sounds like a home you would purchase, here are some tips to preserve character while saving time and money.

So how do we do this?

The key to preserving character is finding elements that you can salvage. Things that maintain the look and feel of the home, but that don’t hinder the way in which a future buyer would live. We’ve identified five areas.

Fire places

Fire Place

There are many ways to make a fireplace look and feel new without completely starting from scratch. For example if you have an all-brick fireplace in good condition, consider simply repairing any cracks, painting it and doing a new mantle. If the mantle is in great condition, but the tile is all cracked, add new tile. Then repaint or refinish the mantle. Lastly, if the fireplace isn’t in working order but is still in great condition– you can even consider capping the gas connection. In that instance, you’d be leaving the fireplace as a decorative feature to ground the room.

Nowadays, most remodels have full home heating systems. As such, a wood burning fireplace is no longer the only source of heat in the house. Based on your home inspection, you’ll be able to game plan this aspect of the rehab pretty early. You just need to know the condition of the fireplace.

Any of the aforementioned suggestions would cost less than a full demo and rebuild of the fireplace. Be sure to consider salvaging if it’s a feature that can add character to your remodel.

Original built-ins

Built ins

Paint and hardware will go such a long way here. These will preserve and spruce up original built-ins! Vintage built-ins are a really cool display of craftsmanship. Plus, they provide a ton of additional storage– something flippers are often short on when they are maximizing the square footage of the home with bed and bath count.

If a few doors have broken glass, or some hinges are loose, don’t lose hope! Those are easy fixes for a handyman or millworker. Of course, there may be a time when the built-ins are truly beyond repair. Unless you are removing a built-in to rework a layout, however, we highly recommend restoring over ripping. There is upside value in the storage and character that preserving these provides.

Doors and millwork


Doors are another feature that can be relatively easy to preserve. When it comes to front doors, many older homes have very unique ones that also come in odd sizes. It almost always works in your favor to salvage and refinish an original front door. This not only makes sense from a budget standpoint, but also from an aesthetic perspective.

Much of what was mentioned above also applies to interior doors. As long as you have new door hardware and hinges that work, preserving old doors won’t impact a buyer’s day-to-day living. Therefore, you should always try to salvage them. If you’re reconfiguring at all, consider the door sizes and adjust the floor plan accordingly so you can utilize them all.

Let’s assume that an average sized home has 10 doors. At $150 per door, that’s $1500 in material savings. For example: if you acquire a home with 10 doors, at $150 per door, that’s $1500 in material savings! Yet another area you can save money on is saving the base/case. In some scenarios, you can even salvage the crown molding. If you are doing a remodel that requires reconfiguring, most millworkers can actually match the trims in new areas to match the existing. That way, you can save money by not doing all new millwork.

Hardwood floors

Everybody loves hardwood floors and original hardwood floors are a hot commodity. If they are in good enough condition, you should definitely consider refinishing them. Then, patch in any missing areas. Even if the floors are ridden with tough marks or stains, a beautiful refinish is still possible. For example, using a darker stain to make your floors a rich brown color (our favorite dark stain is Minwax Jacobean).

The cost to refinish is generally either the same or less than the cost to demo and lay down new laminate or vinyl plank. It’s also far less than installing new hardwood. Plus, when you go to market your remodel, being able to include the phrase “original wood floors” in the listing comments. That’s a great way to attract buyers and it’s something they’re likely to pay a premium for!

Arches and entryways

This detail likely won’t apply to every home you stumble across. But, if you are lucky enough to acquire a Spanish home with arched doorways or a Craftsman home with cased openings, please do everything in your power to keep them!

Unless it’s hindering the layout, many buyers would rather see that beautiful architectural detail than a squared off opening. Again, another way to make your rehab feel unique and stand out from the rest.

Preserving history while flipping houses

Of course you can argue that buyers won’t miss what they never had. But why not embrace a home with a rich history?It gives future homeowners something unique that they will cherish. As an investor it also gives you an edge because your remodel will look different than the cookie cutter rehabs your competitors are doing.

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Dalas Dodd

Dalas Dodd is Sundae's Interior Design Team Lead. In this role Dalas is integrally involved in efforts to redesign and restore dated and damaged houses, with an emphasis on preserving the original character and charm of each home. Prior to Sundae, Dalas was a designer and project manager with Wedgewood Inc., a California-based real estate investment and rehab company.