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10 Ways to Get the Classic Look of an Older Home

Using the term ‘high definition’, is a great way to describe the classic look of the homes of the past, along with their outdoor spaces and yards. You could find a great deal of exterior architectural features and detailing around every corner. These classic features and intricate details gave these homes an abundance of visual depth and aesthetic appeal.

Upgrading a house to include the features and details found on older houses is a challenge. Some improvements are more difficult to reproduce for homeowners nowadays because of costs in materials, in labor, and in upkeep – can you imagine the cost involved in having a slate roof put on your house today? Luckily, there are manufacturers who continue to create innovative home improvement products that replicate those timeless building materials originally used on older houses, while reducing the cost and upkeep for the homeowner, too.

Here are ten outdoor home improvements that can add some of that rich detailing of the past to any home. Some of these ten exterior improvements use innovative home improvement products like we just mentioned, some improvements could even be a DIY project, and some are creative design ideas that were utilized in the outdoor spaces of old houses – all to help reproduce that classic look.


1.  Roofing Shingles – Shingle styles that are inspired by classic architecture can give a house a period look. Using innovative materials and designs, manufacturers are able to reproduce the look of materials, such as slate or cedar shakes, that were used long ago, reducing the cost and upkeep over the originals.

The dimensional roofing shingle is a style with a thicker, more substantial profile. It is referred to as an architectural shingle because it provides classic relief detailing.

We attended a seminar given by a manufacturer that makes exterior home improvement products which included roofing shingles. Inspired Roofing’s reproduction of the slate roofing shingle was truly a beautiful interpretation of real slate. Products like this make it possible for a homeowner to achieve a period look for their house without the cost and upkeep of pricey authentic materials.


Roofing shingles that replicate the look of slate


2.  Exterior Cladding – Cladding is the exterior finish of a house, like siding or stone. Not to be repetitive, but the phrase ‘innovative exterior home improvement products’ can be applied to this topic, too.

Wood clapboard siding is a very traditional and classic look – think of  Cape Cod or Saltbox house styles. But wood can be high maintenance for things like painting, moisture or insect damage, and board replacements. Fiber cement is a material being used today to reproduce the look of wood siding that vinyl and aluminum may not be able to achieve, while reducing upkeep costs.

This newer garage was finished in James Hardie fiber cement siding products and trim for a clapboard period look


The use of natural stone creates a timeless look for house. If using natural stone is within your budget, you should consider using it for its authentic and distinctive beauty. But if it is not within your budget, you can still get the look of natural stone for the exterior finish of your house. Manufactured stone is a concrete product that resembles the many shapes, colors, and cuts of natural stone. And the cost of manufactured stone can be more in line with a homeowner’s project budget.


The manufactured stone veneer used on this chimney's renovation created a distinctive classic look. The original veneer material was a beige brick.


3.  Fences, Trellis’, & Arbors – These outdoor architectural elements were used quite often in the yards of older homes. There are so many classic wood fence designs that a homeowner can choose from, including crossbuck, picket, and rail, which were used in the past in more rural or sprawling landscapes. Metal fences were typically used in more formal designs, with or without masonry columns, and along urban residential streets.


Arbors and trellis’ seem to have been perennial favorites for older homes. Many people grew up with these iconic features in their yard.


4.  Driveways & Walks – In the outdoors of older houses, many types of paving materials were used. For walks and driveways, natural stone, clay brick pavers, cobbles, and pea-sized crushed stone or brick were used. Various designs of concrete pavers, exposed aggregate concrete, and even asphalt, can create a classic look, as well.

Asphalt is a great material for driveways because it is unassuming and blends easily into the surroundings because of it's darker color.



5.  Lighting – One of the most classic outdoor ‘accessories’ of a period house is the light fixture. From the types of glass used, to the numerous shapes of the lanterns, lighting manufacturers today are creating stunning reproductions of outdoor period lighting to give a home a charming ambience. Some are a bit pricey, but many are available in affordable price ranges. Even accent/landscape lighting can be used to add to the rich layering of lighting.


6.  Outdoor Furniture – Older houses may not have originally had a patio, but many had a porch, or screened porch, that likely had some wrought iron and wicker furniture. The wrought iron and wicker furniture of the past took a lot of a homeowner’s time to keep it looking good from one season to the next – wrought iron rusted and had to be repainted ever so often, and natural wicker became weathered, needing to be repainted, and at times even the natural fibers needed repairing.

Today, manufacturers are creating outdoor furniture using easy to care for materials, like cast aluminum and all-weather wicker, which makes it easy for the homeowner to get a low maintenance classic look.

Cast aluminum provides the classic style of period outdoor furniture, and easy-to-care-for durability.


All-weather wicker


Some all-time favorites:


7.  Porches & Patios – Have you ever sat on the porch or patio of an older home and wondered about what gave it its special warmth or ambiance? One of the main architectural elements that can contribute to that quality is the choice in flooring. Construction materials of natural stone (like bluestone, slate, limestone) in an irregular flagstone or geometric pattern, or brick or concrete pavers can add rich texture, warmth, and color to an outdoor space. Using these building materials for the outdoor spaces of a newer home can recreate that special charm of an older house.


8.  Plants of the Old Landscape – Some shrubs, like lilac, spirea, and boxwood are so traditional and picturesque in the landscape. Many of us remember these shrubs in our grandparent’s yard, or even in the family yard. Roses, in both shrub and climber form, and peonies are timeless favorites, too. A climbing rose would need one of those above mentioned arbor or trellis!

Peony border


Spirea is a great lawn shrub and looks beautiful along the edge of this yard

Boxwood is a traditionally used plant and a versatile one too – it can be used in the lawn in its natural form, and it is also used in formal plantings as a clipped hedge and as topiary.

We like the use of this boxwood hedge in its natural form . It creates a sense privacy for this beautiful stone walk


This is a great example of clipped boxwood in this geometric formal design. Boxwood of a different size and shape accent the intersections, and a contrasting plant is used as the infill. This type of plant design is a bit more high maintenance, but very elegant. The design uses only plant material, so the cost would vary depending on how intricate your design is, and your labor to keep it in shape!


The most traditional evergreen groundcover used in this country is English ivy. Its growing habit is so versatile that it is used in a variety of ways: covering the ground in plant beds, growing on masonry walls, and used on wire forms to create formal topiary. Ivy is a vigorous grower and really needs a lot of maintenance to keep it ‘contained’.

Modern interpretations of the classic use of English ivy are myrtle and pachysandra, both, beautiful evergreen and lower maintenance groundcovers.


9.  Lawn Steps – Such a great feature in the landscape.  Lawn steps are placed into a gentle slope to transition from one elevation to another, or used as steps without an accompanying walk. We have seen lawn steps used in the landscapes of both period houses, and in new ‘old’ houses. The steppers that are used to construct lawn steps are typically available from local stone suppliers.

Lawn steps in a gentle slope.


The lawn serves as the 'walk' for these steps.


10.  Period Statement Pieces  – Period outdoor accent pieces are just as popular today as they were long ago, and basically that is what makes them timeless. Some of these accent pieces that you would typically see in the outdoor spaces of an older home are: the box planter, window box, urns, obelisk, estate birdhouse, flag pole, and bench.

Obelisk for decoration and for climbing vines like clematis.


Estate birdhouse


We have a colleague that worked for a landscape architect, whose design business specialized in creating all the outdoor spaces of a client’s house, to look as if it had been there for decades. Right after all the elements of the design were constructed and installed, it had the ‘patina’ that typically new outdoor architecture has.

This ‘old house’ look has great appeal. There is something about the outdoors of an older house that seems so comfortable and lasting.  We grew up in a period colonial revival house, and for us it is easy to understand why many homeowners are drawn to it.


What do you do to give your house’s exterior and outdoor spaces a classic period look?



Photo credits:  betterOutdoorLivingatHome, Inspire Roofing, Lazy Hill Farm, PatioShoppers, Pottery Barn, Walpole Woodworkers


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