ModernTribute: Blending the Best of Old and New Construction

New construction or old? What if you can have the best of both? The charm of a traditional, classic home but the modern, eco-friendly sensibilities of today’s best new construction. Well, you can have it all. 

New Homes Built to Look Like Old

In many American cities, some of the original construction, the founding aesthetic, still exists. In San Francisco, these are spectacular Victorians, Edwardians, Arts & Crafts; in Portland, bungalows and farmhouses; in Boston split-levels with dramatic staircases and brick facades.

But old homes have their problems. It’s not just that the materials and basic systems (plumbing, electrical, etc.) are wearing; there’s also the fact that the way people live has changed. Tiny closets, kitchens far removed from the rest of the home, drafty rooms that cost a fortune to heat: these features of older homes are less enticing.

The solution, in many cities, is new construction that looks like old construction.

Portland, OR

Since I live in Portland,OR, I can attest to the very successful trend in new homes that look like vintage ones. Many buyers want that classic look, but desire modern floor plans; at the same time, they’re committed to green living. In Portland, you can have all that: sustainable materials, eco-friendly systems installed, interiors that are open, warm, and filled with light—all in a house with the graceful lines of local historic architecture.

When lots become available in close-in neighborhoods (close-in meaning close to the downtown), they are often snapped up be developers like Vintage Homes Northwest. This company created this home you see here, which looks like a remodel of a classic Portland home. But in fact, it’s completely new. Inside and out, it manages to be both classic and totally modern, and makes use of sustainable materials.

Ceasar Chavez new construction



This home is located on Caesar Chavez, a very busy street, yet it made The Oregonian (the source for these photos), our the local newspaper when it sold almost immediately. Cleary, the modern and the vintage combined entices buyers.

New House/Old House

If you’ve got new construction and you want to make it more vintage looking, you have many options. For example,  William Morris wallpapers. William Morris started designing his naturalistic wallpapers in the early 1860′s, at a period when most wallpapers were generally formal in design, in a repeating pattern. This room, pictured on Historic, offers a typical example of available prints.

William Morris Wallpaper


Tiles and panels also add a historic look to a home. Malibu Tiles is just one source for the Art Deco, Mexican, Spanish, or Eastern looking colorful tiles you can use to add trim to a fireplace hearth, to cover a bathroom floor, or create a backsplash behind a stove or sink. Think also accents: around a doorway, in a circular pattern on a front walkway, spaced evenly in a stucco wall. A little can go a long way. Or, a lot can too, as we see here in this example from

tiles add retro flavor



Make an Old House New

Sometimes you fall in love with the exterior or an old home, but the inside leaves something to be desired for modern tastes-- which include eco-friendly materials and systems, lots of space, and lots of light. Here's one such case, a 1927s home in Del Ray.  The owners loved the classic bungalow style, but they wanted something fresh inside, and they got it, as evidenced by this "before and after" of their stairwell. Here's the before, via DIY Del and after stairway

And after...



Such renovation might be beyond the scope of the fledgling DIY first-time buyer (like me), but still, the ideas offer inspiration. You can have the best of both worlds if you want them both: new, old, traditional and progressive. Just find a Realtor® who has access to all the listings in the area you want to live in, tell that Realtor® what you want... and ready, set, go.

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Anna Marie Erwert writes from both the renter and new buyer perspective, having (finally) achieved both statuses. She focuses on national real estate trends, specializing in the San Francisco Bay Area and Pacific Northwest. Follow Anna on Twitter: @AnnaMarieErwert