Why do homeowners remodel? Motivations differ, but most people who renovate their house are attempting to solve persistent problems, improve utility, comfort, and value, and to better represent their tastes.
Remodeling becomes remuddling when the original character and integrity of a house are lost in renovation process. This happens when changes are inappropriate for the period and style. Misguided improvements confuse and diminish character, as will additions that overwhelm the original scale and features of the house.
A successful remodel will resolve the shortcomings of the house and improve its livability without losing integrity. Changes are compatible with the original design and show continuity. The work satisfies the owners' objectives without undermining character.
Remuddling frequently occurs when a house has been neglected or abused. If the original style is currently out of fashion "modernization" is usually prescribed as the cure. In some cases the neighborhood has deteriorated or been up-zoned for higher density development which discourages owners to invest in maintenance.
Respond to the uniqueness of your house. See the house in the context of its place and time. Gain some perspective on its design. This will help you make appropriate decisions during the renovation process. Prioritize your projects. What repairs are most urgent and which improvements will have the most impact? Don't be persuaded that architecture is fashion-- a progression of styles that make those before obsolete. What were the original builders' design intentions? Consider your proposed improvements from their point of view.
Resist the experts who can only do things one way—their way, and impose the same solutions on every project. When interviewing design consultants ask to see their best projects that show integration of new and existing work. If you plan to remove original features-- like doors and windows-- resist inferior products claimed to be equivalent. Be skeptical. Snap-on window grilles are not the same as real muntins and proportions of the lites are, in fact, critical... Resist those who insist you must modernize your house “to protect your investment.” Today, when spec houses have become uniformly predictable and dull many people continue to prefer vintage houses for their authenticity, quirkiness and charm.
Is doing it right worth the expense? All renovations are costly in time, money and disruption. The best ones are not obvious, but seem logical and inevitable. In terms of a safe investment, seamless additions that blend with the original details never look outdated. You may enjoy being asked, "How did you find such a great old house, and so intact?" Initially, it will cost more to use real materials, hire good builders, and make substantial improvements. This is not a fluff and turn strategy. It's unlikely you could sell the house immediately and make a fortune, but mindful renovation has historically been a sound investment. Employ real materials and traditional building techniques that have withstood the test of time. In the long run they will be less expensive than expedient solutions. They also afford the satisfaction of living in a home that is well-resolved and meets your needs.
Houses have a genetic make-up too, the products of building traditions and cultural circumstances when they were built. They can be distinguished by type, style, date, and historic building tradition. There is ample diversity within these constraints, and a wide range of expressions in every period. When we adapt an older house we are responding to circumstances and preferences that have changed with the times. It is not necessary to strictly adhere to original design. Perhaps the kitchen was too small and isolated, unsuitable to be the center of family life it is today. If the changes you anticipate stay in character they will be seen as a fresh adaptation, not an insult to the original design.
Design in context. If your house was built over thirty years ago, it can be placed in a historical context with a wide range of examples. What were some key ideas of the period and style? If you can view the house from the designers' perspective you are more likely to appreciate what they did. At least you will be better informed. Restore the vision, or change it? How have arrangements and expectations changed since the house was built?
Whatever direction your design takes it should be plausible for the house. For instance, reworking a midcentury Modern as a Cape Cod cottage makes little sense since the two styles developed in opposition. The attitudes and purposes of Modernists and Colonial Revivalists (1920-1950) were opposed. Mixing details from styles that are incompatible will only muddle the design. It is more productive to take a weak design, and improve it on its own terms. Draw from examples of the same style and period and adapt ideas to suit your project. When a new owner moves in, misguided improvements are usually the first to go. Integrity is compelling.