New Life for an Old House

living room with arched doorwayWe love the charm and character of older homes -- the arched doorways and six-inch baseboards, the glass doorknobs and high ceilings, all those unique nooks and crannies! But sometimes, thanks to the passage of time, older homes can begin to look a little rough around the edges. Whether you're about to put one on the market, or you want to spruce up the one you already call home, here are a few (relatively) easy things you can do to breathe new life into your older home, without sacrificing the charm and character that make it wonderful. (Some of these tips apply to newer homes, too!) 1. Use satin or semi-gloss paint on the walls. Say goodbye to flat paint! True, flat paint can more easily disguise imperfections -- but it's harder to clean and can quickly look dull, tired and lifeless. Satin and semi-gloss paints reflect light, and immediately give your space a brighter, shinier, cleaner, more polished look.

2. Repair plaster cracks. If you have an older home, chances are you have plaster walls. And if you have plaster walls, chances are you have plaster cracks! Cosmetic cracks come with age and changes in temperature. Some homeowners enjoy the character of a few cracks here and there, while others think they make a home feel poorly tended; plus, they can cause potential buyers to worry about the health of your home's foundation. Unfortunately, you can't just paint over them, but you can repair them. Here are some helpful suggestions from This Old House, The Craftsman and the DIY Network. (An important caveat: Some cracks do suggest structural issues -- when in doubt, ask an expert before embarking on a do-it-yourself repair project.)

3. Paint your wood trim -- or at least polish it up. If you have gorgeous, original, never-painted trim, the notion of painting it may sound sacrilegious. But if your wood trim is in less-than-ideal condition, or if it's made of dark wood in an already dark room, or if it's been previously painted and poorly stripped, or if it's generic, contemporary oak in a home that originally had six-inch baseboards and crown molding, sometimes the best solution is to paint it. A fresh coat of white semi-gloss trim paint can instantly make a room feel lighter, brighter and more spacious -- especially small rooms and rooms with poor natural light. If you don't want to paint your trim, give it a facelift by keeping it clean and polished. (Whether to paint wood trim can inspire raging debates in home restoration and design communities -- here's one pro-paint argument, from Making it Lovely, and one against, from Decor Adventures.)

4. Fill the gaps around doors and windows. Sometimes wood trim can separate a bit from the wall, especially around doors and windows. These gaps can make a space feel shabby, but after a quick spin with the caulk gun and some touch-up paint, you'll have perfect seams and nice, clean lines.

5. Clean your windows, inside and out. If you live in the same house day in and day out, and you may not notice the streaks, smudges and gunky film that can slowly accumulate on your window panes. Try this: Wash the inside and outside of a single window, and see the difference it makes. It's free, relatively fast and almost magical.

6. Replace your light fixtures. Over the lifetime of an older home, there's a good chance a previous owner replaced some of the original light fixtures with something that felt modern at the time, but that now feels a little dated (like some of the shiny brass fixtures popular in the 1990s). Consider replacing them with something more appropriate to the age and character of your home; you can find salvaged fixtures from sources like Craigslist, Habitat ReStore, or any number of area antique stores. Or you can find new fixtures inspired by antique and mid-century lines (Schoolhouse Electric is one higher-end source; stores like Home Depot and Lowe's offer less expensive alternatives, too). If you're not ready or able to change your fixtures, here's an even easier fix: Clean them inside and out, then replace the light bulbs with the highest wattage bulbs the fixture can accomodate. And if you're feeling especially creative, you can transform your existing fixtures with a little paint and elbow grease.

7. Deep-clean your wood floors. This is a no-brainer. Most older homes have original wood floors, which can become worn and scuffed with time. You don't need to sand and refinish your floors to help bring back their glory days, when deep-cleaning and polishing them will do just fine. Check out these handy suggestions from One Good Thing (scroll down to tip #3), involving crayons and tea bags. Deep-cleaning two or three times a year, coupled with regular maintenance (see these tips from Apartment Therapy), will help prolong the life of your floors. This is especially important if you're selling a home with wood floors and have already moved out -- hardwood floors may be perennially popular, but without furniture to distract the eye, imperfections in your floors are on full display.

If you've owned or lived in an older home, what tips or tricks would you add to this list? What simple fix has made the biggest difference?