Renovating Your Victorian House

Renovating a Victorian house can be a daunting yet rewarding project. Victorian homes are treasured for their charming architectural details, but updating these historic properties for modern living can require special care and consideration. This comprehensive guide will walk you through the key aspects of renovating your Victorian house from start to finish.

Planning Your Victorian House Renovation

Careful planning is crucial when undertaking a renovation of your Victorian home. Rushing into changes can damage the home’s historic character or result in improvements that don’t fit your needs. Make the most of your renovation by taking the following steps:

Conduct Research

Learn about the history and architecture of Victorian homes in your area. Understand common renovation challenges and solutions before formulating your plans. Consult preservation guidelines if your home is a designated historic property.

Define Your Goals

Decide how you want to adapt your Victorian house for contemporary living. Make a wish list of ideal features and functions. Determine your must-haves versus nice-to-haves.

Inspect the Home

Tour your home with renovation in mind. Look for hidden issues like sagging floors or outdated wiring. Assess what you can DIY versus what requires professional expertise.

Create a Budget

Research costs to get realistic estimates. Build in a 10-20% cushion for unexpected expenses. Determine what you can afford for the project scope you desire. Look into financing if needed.

Hire the Right Pros

Seek contractors experienced in working with old homes. Verify credentials and read reviews. Get at least three quotes for big projects.

Prioritize and Schedule

Plan out project phases. Focus first on critical needs like plumbing or roofing, then move to modernization projects. Budget extra time for complications.

Secure Permits

Get all necessary permits before starting work, especially for structural, electrical or plumbing projects. Permits ensure code compliance.

Photograph Before

Take extensive photos of all rooms before alterations for reference. This provides a record of original details like moldings or wiring.

Thorough planning and preparation will help your Victorian home renovation go as smoothly as possible while protecting the historic character and maximizing improvements within your budget.

Updating Mechanical Systems in a Victorian House

Modernizing complex systems like electrical, plumbing and HVAC in an old home can improve comfort, efficiency and safety. Use these tips when upgrading your Victorian house:


  • Evaluate amperage needs for modern devices and appliances. Upgrade fuse box to circuit breaker panel for added capacity.
  • Replace outdated wiring with grounded, copper wires encased in conduit for safety and ease of upgrading.
  • Add circuits and outlets for convenience. Install insulated exterior outlets and ground fault interrupters near water sources.
  • Improve lighting with updated fixtures, undercabinet lighting and occupancy sensors. Conserve energy with LED bulbs.


  • Inspect supply lines and drain pipes for corrosion or leaks. Replace deteriorated galvanized steel pipes.
  • Improve water pressure and flow with all new water supply lines. Install shut-off valves.
  • Update old cast iron drain pipes to PVC for longevity. Ensure proper venting.
  • Replace troublesome galvanized steel drain pipes prone to clogging.
  • Buy high-efficiency toilets, faucets and shower heads to save water.


  • Size new system properly for square footage. Increase ductwork as needed to improve flow.
  • Install central air for comfort. Hide condenser unit discreetly outside.
  • Place air handler unit in basement or attic to preserve living space.
  • Install programmable thermostat to maximize efficiency.
  • Upgrade insulation in attic, exterior walls and basement to cut heating/cooling costs.

Though expensive, upgrading mechanical systems can make a dramatic difference in livability and costs long-term.

Renovating Victorian Kitchens and Bathrooms

Kitchens and bathrooms take heavy use, so it’s common to focus renovations here. Blend period charm and modern convenience with these tips:

Kitchen Design

  • Open floorplans by removing non-load-bearing walls to allow for aisles and work triangles.
  • Add cabinetry for storage but minimize upper cabinets to show off high ceilings.
  • Use glass-front cabinet doors to open the space. Opt for beaded inset panels for Victorian style.
  • Select traditionally styled Shaker, French Country or farmhouse sinks and faucets.

Kitchen Updates

  • Install professional-grade stainless appliances and natural stone countertops.
  • Choose easy-clean tile backsplashes. Use decorative accent tiles sparingly.
  • Replace worn wood floors with wide plank wood-look porcelain tiles.
  • Improve task lighting at the sink, island and counters with pendant lights.

Master Bathroom

  • Replace clawfoot tub with a new freestanding soaking tub with contemporary comforts.
  • Conceal modern shower valve and fixtures in an ornamental vintage design.
  • Choose elegant porcelain or natural stone tile for shower walls and floor. Use mosaics only minimally.
  • Opt for traditional styles like Mission, Craftsman or Farmhouse for vanities and fixtures.

Powder Room

  • Make small powder rooms feel bigger with wall-hung sink and toilet fixtures.
  • Pick a statement Victorian-style patterned floor tile to accent the space.
  • Install Hollywood-style lights on each side of the mirror for glamour.
  • Create visual interest and height with wainscoting, framed mirrors and pedestal sinks.

Take a thoughtful approach mixing old and new elements for baths and kitchens that are both historically sensitive and fully functional for contemporary living.

Sensitively Enhancing the Exterior of a Victorian Home

A Victorian home’s exterior conveys its unique architectural identity. When renovating the outside, preserve original character. Follow these guidelines:


  • Retain existing slate or metal roofing if possible. When replacing, use in-kind materials.
  • Inspect chimneys for structural issues. Repair and repoint masonry with historically appropriate techniques and mortar.
  • Add copper snow guards and flashing for improved maintenance and drainage.


  • Repair and repaint existing wood siding in a historically accurate color scheme.
  • Replace damaged siding with new wood siding to match old in size, profile and reveal.
  • Scrape, prime and repaint peeling paint rather than removing good old siding.


  • Restore original wood windows rather than replacing. Repair frames, re-glaze and refinish.
  • Only replace deteriorated windows with new wood windows matching the originals. Maintain one-over-one double-hung style.
  • Install full wood storm windows for improved insulation without compromising aesthetics.


  • Repair and repaint wood trim elements like scrollwork, columns, railings, cornices and brackets in colors suitable to the period.


  • Repair and reinforce decorative porch elements like gingerbread brackets, spindles and trim with wood epoxy, consolidation and wood Dutchmen.
  • Replace rotted porch floors and steps with new tongue-and-groove boards.


  • Refresh exterior lighting, house numbers, mailbox and other features with Victorian-style details to enhance curb appeal.

Proper restoration and maintenance practices allow your Victorian home’s irreplaceable exterior details to endure for the next century.

Renovating Interior Spaces with Period Sensitivity

Victorian interiors are defined by ornate woodwork, detailed ceilings and dramatic spaces. When renovating, retain historic character through careful design choices:


  • Preserve formal front parlors and dining rooms typical of the era.
  • Open up small rooms with pocket doors rather than major structural changes.
  • Add bathrooms strategically to avoid overly disrupting original floorplans.


  • Repair and refinish wood trim, built-ins, picture rails and wainscoting to restore beauty.
  • Replicate missing embellishments like rosettes or corbels with professional millwork recreation services.


  • Remove damaging wallpapers and adhesives through appropriate techniques.
  • Plaster cracks and ornamentation using historically accurate methods.
  • Paint walls and ceilings in colors authentic to the period like rich, deep hues.


  • Rewire homes to handle increased electrical loads, preserving original light fixtures.
  • Upgrade with period reproduction or vintage lights to retain ambiance.
  • Add sconces, picture lights and chandeliers typical of the era.


  • Refinish hardwood floors. Patch with reclaimed wood flooring for a seamless appearance.
  • Modernize with wide-plank engineered wood flooring for durability.
  • Custom design ornamental area rugs to define parlor spaces.


  • Restore decorative tile, iron and wood surrounds. Update dampers for safety.
  • Add historically styled fireplace screens, tools and accessories.

Honor a Victorian home’s past by enhancing original architecture and ornamentation when renovating interiors. Balance preservation with modernizations for comfort and functionality.

Creating Period-Appropriate Kitchens in Victorian Homes

Kitchens are one of the most dramatically changed rooms from the Victorian era. Blend vintage inspiration with modern amenities using these strategies:


  • Incorporate Victorian design elements like built-in china cabinets and butler’s pantries.
  • Utilize an efficient work triangle between sink, stove and refrigerator.
  • Open the kitchen to natural light and views through adjacent breakfast rooms or sunrooms.


  • Select period styles like Shaker, Hoosier or Gothic for kitchen cabinetry.
  • Use turned legs, raised panels and muted paints suited to a Victorian kitchen.
  • Opt for glass-front upper cabinets to open the space and display collectibles.


  • Choose natural materials popular in the Victorian era like granite, marble or soapstone for food prep areas.
  • Use zinc, copper or nickel accents and aprons along countertops for a period look.
  • Add beadboard as a Victorian-style backsplash.


  • Install hexagonal or black-and-white tile flooring in homage to early kitchen designs.
  • Use Victorian-inspired vinyl flooring replicating patterns of the era.
  • Refinish hardwood consistent with woods used in Victorian homes like oak, walnut or maple.

Lighting and Hardware

  • Mount pendant lights over islands and sinks for both form and function.
  • Use glass lamp shades paired with vintage-look Edison bulbs to light counters.
  • Select ceramic or porcelain knobs and pulls with delicate details.


  • Choose appliances with traditional styling and a range of muted, neutral colors.
  • Incorporate ornate custom panels to conceal refrigerators.
  • Rely on wall ovens and cooktops over jarring stainless steel ranges.

Designing a Victorian-inspired kitchen does not have to mean sacrificing modern convenience. Achieve a period look adapted for real family life.

Renovating a Victorian Home on a Budget

Victorian renovations can quickly become costly. Use these tips to complete projects on a budget:

Prioritize Needs Over Wants

Focus first on critical repairs before widescale modernization. Establish must-haves from nice-to-haves and start with the essentials.

Take On More DIY Projects

Painting, minor repairs, cleaning finishes and landscaping can all be successfully DIYed. Assess your skills before deciding what to contract.

Work Room by Room

Complete projects in phases, starting with more affordable rooms like bedrooms and offices before kitchens or baths.

Watch for Sales

Time purchases to periodic sales on appliances, lighting and hardware at home stores for the biggest discounts.

Select Affordable Finishes

Choosing quality lower-cost porcelain or laminate over premium stone and solid surfaces cuts material costs significantly.

Refinish vs. Replace

Resurrect worn elements like cabinets and floors through refinishing before defaulting to brand new replacements.

Purchase Reproduction Materials

Well-made reproductions of Victorian millwork, tile, lighting and hardware cost a fraction of original antique pieces.

Shop Secondhand

Browse architectural salvage warehouses and online listings for quality used fixtures to mix in affordably.

Barter Services

Trade specialty services like electrical or plumbing work to save on labor costs. Offer your own professional expertise.

Work with Students

Contract experienced tradespeople overseeing apprentices who offer reduced rates to gain experience.

Take a phased, budget-conscious approach to renovate your Victorian properly while sticking to your goals and bottom line.

Avoiding Common Mistakes Renovating Victorian Homes

Even experienced renovators can misstep when taking on a Victorian property. Be diligent in avoiding these common pitfalls:

Rushing the Project

Allow extra time, budget and wiggle room on your renovation schedule. Hidden issues always arise with old homes.

Ignoring Structural Issues

Address foundation cracks, sagging floors, deteriorated load-bearing walls and other structural problems before remodeling.

Removing Architectural Details

Salvage and restore one-of-a-kind original woodwork, tile, windows and finishes instead of replacing outright.

Using Incompatible Materials

Choose historically compatible finishes. Don’t install modern metal roofing or vinyl siding that alters exterior character.

Sacrificing Authenticity

Stay true to original architectural style on key intact spaces like parlors and foyers. Avoid overly contemporary changes.

Installing Out of Scale Fixtures

Select lighting and hardware with proportions fitting the era. Oversized pieces look jarringly modern.

Not Checking for Lead Paint

Test for lead paint and handle properly to avoid health hazards. Follow safe practices removing or encapsulating.

Ignoring Permits

Secure required permits, especially for structural electrical and plumbing work. Unapproved renovations can jeopardize safety.

Choosing the Wrong Contractors

Verify vendors are experienced, insured and licensed to work on historic homes before hiring.

Skipping Documentation

Photograph before and after each project and keep receipts. This creates a renovation record to consult or pass on to future owners.

Stay mindful of potential pitfalls to complete your Victorian renovation smoothly, safely and in keeping with the home’s irreplaceable historic character.

Maintaining and Preserving a Victorian Home

Renovating a Victorian house is just the first step. Proper ongoing maintenance is key to preservation. Use these essential tips:

Inspect Annually

Walk the home inside and out each year to spot issues needing repair like cracked plaster or decaying roof shingles. Address problems promptly before they worsen.

Repaint Frequently

Plan to repaint exterior siding and trim every 5-7 years to protect wood and deter rot. Use historically accurate paint schemes.

Re-Caulk and Weatherstrip

Improve efficiency and prevent moisture issues by keeping exterior caulked and weatherstripped windows and doors sealed tightly year-round.

Clean Gutters and Downspouts

Prevent water damage by clearing debris from gutters in fall and spring. Ensure downspouts direct water well away from the home’s foundation.

Monitor Plumbing and Electrical

Watch for plumbing leaks and improper electrical loads from outdated wiring. Make upgrades to improve safety.

Protect Windows and Doors

Check fittings and hardware on original windows and doors regularly. Refinish and repair annually to prevent deterioration.

Store Items Properly

Avoid excess moisture and pests by properly storing clothing, furnishings and linens. Let spaces air out.

Control Pests Humanely

Use integrated pest management relying on sealing entry points, traps and natural deterrents before pesticides.

Maintain Mechanical Systems

Service heating, cooling and water heater systems yearly to keep operating efficiently and safely.

Dedicate time and budget to preserving your Victorian home’s irreplaceable craftsmanship and finishes for generations to enjoy.

Frequently Asked Questions About Renovating Victorian Homes

  1. What are the most important areas to focus when renovating a Victorian house?

The kitchen and bathrooms are typically key areas to renovate in Victorian homes, since these high-use spaces often require extensive upgrades for modern function. Also target critical repairs like upgrades to plumbing, electrical and HVAC systems which require professional expertise.

  1. How can I add more light into dark Victorian rooms?

Supplement original windows by sensitively adding compatible new windows. Install light tubes to channel daylight from roof to interior rooms. Upgrade lighting while retaining antique fixtures. Reflect more light by painting walls and ceilings lighter colors typical of the period.

  1. What are cost-effective ways to boost a Victorian home’s curb appeal?

Curb appeal can be affordably improved through repainting the home in a striking, period-appropriate color scheme, adding Victorian-style exterior lighting sconces, and installing a new period-style front door and decorative entry porch railings.

  1. How do I make a Victorian kitchen livable while keeping its old-fashioned charm?

Blending original architecture like glass-front cabinets with carefully chosen modern elements creates a livable, Victorian-inspired kitchen. Install vintage lighting, unobtrusive appliances, farmhouse sink and period-look counters for charm balanced with function.

  1. What should I know about updating plumbing in my Victorian house?

Upgrading rigid, outdated pipes in Victorian plumbing systems can dramatically improve flow and water pressure. Look for galvanized supply lines and iron waste lines to replace. Contract licensed plumbers familiar with old homes to handle major pipe replacements.

  1. What are the benefits of restoring original wood windows vs. replacing?

Preserving irreplaceable original