How to Preserve Authentic Design Details


The East Bay is home to many residential styles of architecture and one of the most prevalent is the classic Craftsman. Many love the authenticity, but the dark woodwork and closed-in spaces can make these homes feel cavernous and dated. I talked to Oakland-based designer, Brett Goldstein of Decorotation, who not only loves to integrate more contemporary elements into her designs, but she is also committed to preserving the architectural integrity of the homes in which she breathes new life. She proved it with her own home remodel and it is spectacular. Come read what she has to say about the process, what kept her up at night about the project, and her top tips for preserving classic design elements in a fresh way.


brett3 From Brett: Preserving older details in a home can be a touchy subject these days, especially in San Francisco and Oakland where we have so many beautiful, original craftsman and victorian style homes. I’ve worked on a number of full home renovation projects over the last few years in the Oakland area, including my own home, and while each one of them had seen some major wear and tear over the years, there were still unique details that gave each home character and deserved some extra attention.


The biggest challenge I’ve had to date when it comes to preserving original features, was actually during the remodel of my own home. When my husband and I purchased our home, it was in extremely poor condition but one of the reasons we fell in love with it was because of it’s original craftsman, bungalow style and beautiful woodwork.


Deciding what to do with all of the original woodwork in the the living room and dining room was a dilemma that kept me up at night for weeks. I felt like I was going be be committing some kind of sin removing some of the moulding and painting some of the built-ins. My goal was to keep the warm, cozy feel of the original home but inject it with some modern elements to make things feel a little more breathable and airy. In the end, I chose a mix of painting and refinishing the wood features which still allows you to see the vintage charm in a more updated way.

Brett brett6

As with any project, there are always things we learn along the way. Here’s 5 of my key takeaways when it comes to preserving old details in a home:

1. Let the house do the talking: Understand the history of the home and what makes it unique. Take note of the architecture and period details and let those guide you when it comes to design decisions. Also knowing the present condition of the homes’ materials, finishes and systems will help in determining what is worth preserving, what is worth replacing, and overall project cost.


2. It can be expensive: It probably comes to no surprise that rehabilitating an older home comes with a hefty price tag. If you’ve ever stepped into a craftsman or historical home then you’ve probably seen the level of detail and craftsmanship involved. It only makes sense that in order to restore and/or rehabilitate things to the level they once were takes a skilled craftsman to do so AKA $$$$. Sometimes restoring everything in the home to its original state is simply not financially feasible so you need to weigh the costs of all options in order to prioritize what makes the most sense for the home and your bank account. The wood ceiling beams in my dining room are actually replicas of the originals because it ended up costing us less to have our contractor fabricate new ones vs restoring the old ones due to their poor condition.

3. Painting is not a crime: Some might not agree with me on this but I think in certain circumstances it is completely ok to paint older details such as built-ins, wood wall paneling, old doors, trim, etc. If you are looking to create a more modern feel and/or the overall condition and color of the wood is no good then a fresh coat of paint might be all you need to make things feel updated without losing the original charm.


4. Balance the old with the new: There is nothing wrong with modernizing things but I do think finding the right balance is key and that can be done by first recognizing the original style of your home, what characteristics make it unique and honoring those in some way.


5. Make things functional for your lifestyle: At the end of the day, your home is YOUR home and you should always consider your household’s lifestyle and what personal needs the finished house must accommodate.



For more information on Brett and her design firm, go here.

Images by Laurel and Wolf c/o Brett Goldstein


Leave a Comment

Please review our Privacy Policy here.