Keeping Classic & Vintage Homes Original

Keeping classic and vintage homes classic are the key to preserving the neighborhood as well as your classic home’s value.

The city of Los Angeles is a collection of unique neighborhoods filled with varying styles homes. As time passes, these vintage homes are rehabilitated to repair damages and keep them looking fresh. However, most homeowners do not know what is historically appropriate or inappropriate for their style of home. These homes need proper care to preserve their historic character for future generations. Historical homes with proper maintenance have high property values and neighborhood pride. The nine most important rehabilitation projects in homes are landscape and hardscape, windows, wood siding, roofs and chimneys, fences and gates, porches and balconies, paint, doors, and stucco and masonry.

Wood Siding

Wood siding may seem minor, but it has a huge effect on preserving a home’s original look. The two most common reasons to replace wood siding are dry rot and subterranean termites. Dry rot is caused in areas where water cannot drain. Dry rot can be identified if you can push a nail easily through the wood. Subterranean termites can be found anywhere, but several steps can be taken to avoid them. Seal any crack and hole that forms in the wall near the ground. Many people use Redwood or Douglas Fir because it is more resistant to termites. If your wood siding looks rough, then clean the stains and mildew with bleach water and small amount of detergent. Holes can be fixed with epoxy and filler and a fresh coat of paint. If it is necessary to replace the wood, only use material that matches the historic siding.

Wood siding design looks best in multiple colors and vibrant patterns on the walls. Some homes can have 2 varying types of siding near the top and the bottom. If rotten wood is found, a simple repair is to “piece in” materials that match the original, as opposed to replacing all of the siding. Be careful not to use wood siding on homes built of brick. Homes with mismatched siding lose their character and historical style. Wood siding should never be covered with stucco, vinyl or other mismatched materials.

Stucco and Masonry

Stucco and masonry are two different types of wall texture used on Spanish Colonials, Craftsman, and Tudor Revivals. Stucco is usually applied to brick, wood lath, or metal in two to three coats. Stucco should always be applied by hand, not by a spray. Masonry combines with mortar to hold bricks, concrete, and stone together. Most homes in Los Angeles built with masonry utilize river rock from local rivers. Stucco homes should have a light texture for visual stimulation. If stucco has too much texture, then dirt and crust will get stuck on the surface. Stucco and brick are usually seen together on Tudor Revival homes.

To keep stucco and masonry looking good, you should check for water damage to prevent water leaks. Stucco and masonry can be easily repaired, so take this into consideration before spending a lot of time and money on replacing them. If you do have to replace damaged stucco or masonry, do so by using new materials that match the old, so you do not have to replace the whole wall. Do not cover stucco with different materials like wood or brick, and do not paint over river rocks or bricks. If you need to clean stucco or masonry, do not clean it by sandblast. Stucco can be cleaned with a low-pressure power washer to soak the house. The solution should contain two gallons of hot water, a little dish soap, one cup of washing soda and one cup of borax. Masonry is damaged easily by moisture, so it should only be cleaned when it’s exceptionally dirty with a low-pressure power washer with water and non-ionic detergent.


Paint can be used to protect wood from exterior damage and to highlight a building’s architectural features. Between 1880-1900 the Victorian Era houses had four to five colors with a minimum of three. The accent details are either dark colors, or lightened versions of the body. In the Craftsman period (1895-1925) Arts and Crafts Bungalow consisted of earth tones. These colors were usually brown, gray, green or red. The Spanish Colonial Revival (1895-1940) introduced the use of terra cotta on the roof and stucco on the walls. Instead of painting it, stucco is colored brown, rust, or gray by adding materials to the mix. The American Colonial Revival (1880-now) uses pastel colors like pale blue, gray, yellow, tan, white as the main body and dark colors on the siding and trim for contrast. Between 1905-1940 the Tudor Revival was made with a steep roof and uncolored stucco and masonry. Typically dark browns or blacks are used on the trim and light colors like cream or tan are painted onto the main color.

Paint should be maintained with normal household cleaners. There should be at least three different colors on your house for the body, trim and accents. The body of the house should be neutral colors with bright colors on the trims and sidings. Many buildings built before 1978 were covered in lead paint, its important to treat these houses carefully. If you have to remove some lead paint, make sure your eyes, nose and mouth are covered, and that you are removing only the top layer of paint. Los Angeles’ housing department has a Lead Hazard Reduction Program that will pay you to re-paint your home if there is lead. You may want to consider hiring a licensed, professional painter who has a reputable reputation.


Windows on historic houses of Los Angeles are usually true divided light windows that separate their multiple panes of glass by wood dividers. These windows can swing open or close, open up and down, and have stained glass. Windows that swing in and out are called casement windows. Casement windows have thin, grids that allow them draw in cool air in the summer and hold in heat during the winter. In order to keep historic windows in good condition, you should preserve both the trim and the hardware. It is cheaper to repair historic windows instead of replacing them in full. However, if you are forced to replace a window, the new window should be identical in size, material and design. Building supply stores or salvage yards will often have matching parts, but you may have to custom build the replacement window. When you have historic windows, you should never block them out with items like air conditioning units. New windows should never be added to the house, especially in the front. If you have to add a new window, make sure that it is identical to the other windows present. Windows should never be altered with security bars or other alterations that affect the integrity of the window.

Front Doors

A homes’ front door is specific to each period, and can be dressed by lighting, plants, or outdoor furniture. If a front door needs to be replaced on a historical home, it usually needs to be custom built, but doors are simple to fix. Adding a weather strip or sanding down a door can solve issues like sticking and draftiness. Adding side windows and lights on either side of a front door can make the front porch feel warm. Some styles of homes with narrow doors have windows above. In order to preserve your historic door, keep the original hardware like doorknockers and hinges. If this hardware requires replacing try to match them as closely as possible. It is always best to keep and repair the original, but if new materials are required, they should match identically.

There are some things to avoid when it comes to historic doors. Do not turn a single panel door in to double doors and do not place a door off-center from the houses’ opening. Doors that can be purchased off the shelf should never replace a historic door. A metal security door should never be installed to block your original door from being seen.

Roofs and Chimneys

Each style of housing has a different style of roof and chimneys. For example, Spanish Colonials will have a clay tile roof while a Craftsman will have a low, long gable. A lot of original chimneys have been lost in Los Angeles due to earthquakes, but chimneys need to be preserved as well because they add style and decoration to historic homes. In order to preserve your homes’ unique chimney and roof, be sure to only replace broken materials with matching ones. Your houses roof should include all the original details it once had, like eaves and gutters. You should avoid changing the original roof design. If your house has a clay tile roof, do not change your roof to wood or asphalt. Do not install satellite dishes and antennas in areas of the roof that are visible from the sidewalk. These alterations cause your home to loose its historic feel.

Porches and Balconies

Each style of home has a unique porch or balcony that varies in design and detail. For example, Victorian porches have a lot of detail and give off an airy appearance that is great for plants. Craftsman homes often have porches supported by columns that spread the length of the house. Whereas other homes like Spanish Colonial and English Revival simply have overhangs instead of porches. If a porch or balcony gets damaged, it is important to repair the historic materials as best as you can. If you have to replace any materials, they should match the original design. If you are adding a porch or balcony, the new addition should fit in with your home’s style, size, and scale. A porch or balcony should never be filled in with solid walls. Sometimes a porch or balcony can be enclosed with windows. This is acceptable as long as the original look of the porch or balcony is preserved. Any original railings or columns need to remain intact to keep the porches’ original look.

Fences and Gates

Fences and gates were not utilized in historic homes for security purposes. They existed to showcase the perimeter of the yard. In fact, many historic homes utilized river rocks and concrete as a type of wall or gate. If you want to preserve your home’s historical feel, consider other security options besides adding a modern gate or fence. Some fences are appropriate with historical homes. Victorians often had white, picket fences.. Be sure to keep original stairs and paths that lead up to your house. If you select a new fence, it should match the style of your building or should be simple and see-through, like wrought iron, so that your fence does not draw attention away from your house. If you choose wrought iron fence, it should be painted a dark color like black, dark brown, or dark green. The wrought iron fence should not have any type of decoration because this will take away from the style of your historical home.


Most historic homes had landscape instead of fences. Landscape consists of any grass, trees and plants that exist in your yard. Your hardscape is made up of the hard elements like stone, brick or concrete. The most traditional front yard is a walkway from the sidewalk to the front door surrounded by a lawn. Mature trees and hedges give historic homes a full feel. If the property was originally sloped or steep, it should retain this characteristic. You should never replace a lawn with hardscape. If you wish to remove a lawn, it should be replaced with plants that can withstand a drought. If your front yard only contains hardscape, your house will look uninviting and boring. Try to avoid widening your walkways and driveways and do not used colored materials in your hardscape. Natural concrete is preferred because it will not take away from your homes beauty.

Keeping your classic home classic may seem like a difficult task. However, simple upkeep and repair will keep it safe and looking fresh. There are many housing incentives that exist for preserved historic homes. Many institutions and organizations offer grants and loans with low interest rates to homeowners that are preserving their historic home.

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