The Authenticity of History

"We really like historic style. Please add some character."

If commercial construction companies and interior design firms had a dollar for every time they heard this request, they’d have...well, a lot of dollars.

We all know that building trends come and go. (Case in point: Anyone can recognize a kitchen designed in the 1980s.) And yet, a lot of people gravitate toward classic styles with historic charm that will stand the test of time. After all, construction and design is an investment, and you’d hate for your space to look dated six months after you finish it. This goes for office buildings, coffee shops, restaurants, and private homes.

Here’s the thing: You can add design elements. You can choose crown molding and certain paint colors and other items that evoke classic, historic style — but you can’t make a space historic.

The best construction and interior design operations in the world can’t make a brand-new building feel authentically historic.

Old buildings are just different. They were constructed using different materials. They have self-selected over the years, decades, and generations to survive acts of nature and bulldozers. Even if a space has undergone top-to-bottom renovation, the historic bones remain and infuse an irreplaceable allure.

Character is earned. You can’t paint it on. You might be able to achieve the look, but you’ll never be able to achieve the feel. And you don’t need to be an expert to be able to tell the difference.

The next time you’re in a space with visually apparent historic elements, try to play detective: Is it really historic? Or is it a shiny coat of paint? What are the give-aways?

Edward Rupp