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  • Julie @ Home On The Hill

10 Things to consider when building a new 'old' house

So many people dream of having an old farmhouse but more often than not they actually build a new house to look like an old farm house - but so many just don't look the part. What do they get wrong?

If you are building or renovating an existing home and want to achieve a more authentic farmhouse look, then you may find my top 10 of interest.

When I started out designing our farmhouse, I did it from scratch, no builders plans or architects to work with, just a draftsman to draw up my design based on my instructions, and to help with the technical side of getting the roof correct and to code. I drew inspiration from new 'old' houses in the US and Canada mostly, as I found new Australian versions of 'old homes' often looked liked obvious copies of old style homes to me, they lacked the character of the originals. I watched episodes of the house renovation TV show 'This Old House', looked at oodles of house magazines, and paid attention to what attracted me to these old style farmhouses.

My ultimate aim was to design and build a home that looked like an old farmhouse that had been given a very good makeover. So it was, to my delight, that a tradesman installing our gas log fire asked if we had done up an old house, and another person here for non house related business some time after who never saw the build progress, asked if it was an old home given a makeover!

Success! I had achieved enough of an authentic old style to make people wonder if was old or a new build, whilst still being practical regards maintenance and working with what I could find readily available, and very importantly as cost effective as possible. I also had to convey to my builder some of these details that where different than what he was used to and convince him this was how it had to be!

Here are the top 10 things I focused on when building our new 'old' farmhouse that I believe give it an authentic old farmhouse look.

1. Roof Pitch- we tried out several roof pitches with our draftsman until deciding to go with a pitch of 35 degrees. It was steep enough to look visually appealing and authentic, but not too steep to make it too difficult for the builder which translates into more cost.

2. Build On Piers- Old houses were built well before the concrete slab foundation was invented. A house on a slab screams new build to me, plus if like us you have a sloping bit of land to build on, you would have to have large retaining walls or a split level home to allow the slab to be flat. The piers on a slope allow the house to have character with the variation in the pier height and resulting skirt wall. You also get airflow under the house which helps reduce the chance of mould and if your house is on flat land being built up off the ground on piers means you are less likely to get flooding issues. You can also more easily add new drainage or electrical in future as everything is easily accessible from under the house.

The very beginning - piers in place and skirt wall in progress

3. Stone Look Skirt Wall- I loved the basalt block skirting walls of old homes in the USA and our local Target store built on a sloping block had a lovely basalt wall that I would have loved to emulate - however the cost of real stone was beyond our budget. So I looked about for an alternative and found a local business that made dark grey basalt coloured 'split face' concrete blocks. These blocks are cast as a solid block the size of standard besser blocks then split by machine, giving each block a unique varied rough face. These blocks gave the desired variation seen in hand hewn stone and matched my blue/grey colour scheme perfectly.

One of the split face blocks used for the skirt wall

4. Gables- Gables, gables and more gables, you can never have too many right?

I love gables, they just ooze old world charm. We have a total of seven gables in our house, one of which is called a dutch gable, it's sort of like a mini gable that sits within the roof structure, it's the gable shown top centre in the photo below.

But gables do come at a cost, as all those ins and outs of the structure below that you need to be able to have so they can be finished in a gable roof also means lots of cutting of siding - extra work = extra cost - but well worth it.

The dogs inspect the progress - it's their home as well! Dutch gable top centre with round vent

5. Verandah Posts - the thickness of the verandah posts was for me a small but very significant item that made a big difference. I always found the posts used on most new 'old style' homes here in Australia too thin, they always stood out to me as looking wrong, so we used 140mm x 140mm square posts and they really had the look I was after.

6. Ceiling Height and Style- we went with 9 foot ceilings which give us extra space to hang lights and is a must for old style homes, it was never going to be 8 foot as that was way too modern a height. We also went with a vaulted ceiling in the kitchen/dining that allowed us to have a large arched feature window to let in the light, as this is the dark side of the house and extended it into the family room which gives the fireplace a very nice vertical impact.

7. Vintage Style Windows- So many new 'old' builds have modern sliding aluminium windows - they look wrong to me and lack farmhouse character. I knew I had to have vintage style windows if this house was going to look the part, but I didn't want the maintenance and painting required, plus I needed windows that could fit flyscreens as that was a must for our Australian Summers! So I searched online and found a company that made aluminium double hung windows complete with decorative 'horns', that had springs instead of the traditional weights to keep the windows open. The springs can be adjusted as well if they loosen over time. I also wanted decorative muntin bars on the windows which was an option, so these windows were the perfect compromise between being pretty and being practical. We also ordered some custom windows from them for the kitchen.

Custom designed window for the kitchen - one of my favourite things in the house

8. Decorative Window Trim- This is another item that gave the house that old world charm. This also was something the builders struggled with as they had never done it before - farmhouse style trim around the windows was alien to them and they doubted my design request at first. I provided photos of what I wanted and gave them sizes of each piece of timber involved, they thought my sizing was not right so made up a window to see what it would look like. To their surprise what I had asked for was what looked best. So stick to your guns if your builder doesn't see things your way at first - after all you are the one who has studied 1000's of Pinterest window trim images to arrive at this final design brief!

This one item is an easy thing to do inside any existing home - even a handy DIY home owner can do this as it's all straight cuts for the wood, it just costs a little more in materials than the basic standard mitred corner trim.

9. Larger Skirting Boards- These are a must and are something you can change in an existing home without too much drama. The standard skirting boards in modern homes are plain and low, by adding higher skirting boards with a little bit of decoration to them makes a world of difference. The good news is that they are fairly inexpensive as well and come pre primed!

10. Wooden Flooring- We considered different types of flooring but wanted wide boards which were harder to find in solid wood and very expensive. So in the end we went with a floating floor of extra tough long wide boards in a mid brown with a rustic pattern. Since we literally live on a farm and have two dogs who forget to wipe their feet on dewy mornings - flooring that didn't show scratches or day to day wear and tear was essential for us. We also saved on these as we got a good deal and laid the floor ourselves! It was not too hard to do with the floating floor click together system, but was a bit hard on the knees - but worth it!

The Flooring we chose

That's it, I hope my top 10 are helpful if you are building your own dream farmhouse or making your existing home a little more farmhouse in style!


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