My Historical Home Renovation Is Driving Me Mad!

Dear Laurel,

Your post the other day about the Historical Home Renovation– the Georgian home inspired me to write to you. We have the real thing in England!




But the Georgian architecture in our home is driving me mad!


Well, actually, right now, it’s only one room.


The master bedroom.


But before I get into it, I need to say that our home is the combination of two flats that were inhabited by college students for umpteen years.


Need I say more?




Are you beginning to feel my pain, Laurel?


Here’s the real problem with our bedroom.


It is over 20 feet long and only 10 feet wide. This means that the only place we can put our King bed is where I stupidly reinstated a fireplace without thinking clearly about furniture placement.



Here is the new fireplace and the bed, but it really doesn’t work to have the bed on the wall it’s on.


I know. Please be kind. I know that I’m an idiot for not thinking this through carefully,

And now I realize that it was a huge mistake. HUGE! So the fireplace needs to be ripped out. And all the electrics are in the wrong place.

But the bed looks great against the back wall and my dressing table and big rococo mirror look lovely as you walk into the room.



The problem is…


Even though I’ve bought the world’s smallest bedside tables and pretty little antique lamp stands, they still stick out over the little Georgian cupboards. You have to understand that I will literally be thrown into jail if I pull them out!


They’re listed and the UK is pretty serious about protecting it’s heritage.


So my question to you is what gives?


Should I downsize to a double bed and put up with my husband elbowing me in the head at night to fit everything in?

Should I use the cupboards as bedside tables, and accept that means having to get out of bed to reach my water in the middle of the night.

Or should I ‘lose’ the cupboards by painting them the same colour as the walls or put a pretty folding screen behind the bedside tables? (I’ve put some wood there for now to see what it looks like – not sure it will work when the bed’s right up against the wall).

Whatever I do has huge implications for electrics and I really can’t afford to move the plugs round a third time if I mess up again! Any help on how to make this architecture work, and what to do with the empty alcoves and all the empty wall space, is most appreciated.




Dear Kathryn,

Thanks. I seriously hate you! lol

I mean, that is some gorgeous home! And I adore the blue walls, the high ceilings, the old floor boards and that wonderful bed!


When, you asked the question, what gives, I thought– indeed. What gives?


Look. I’m all for preserving beautiful architecture and always seek to maintain the integrity of how a historical home is meant to be.

So, here’s my take.

First of all, the home was ransacked by 20-year-olds for how long? At some point the fireplace was pilfered. Where was the UK Heritage Police then?

But graciously the fireplace has been restored– all in good faith.

Now, you realize that the bed needs to be on the fireplace wall and I agree. But don’t beat yourself up. It happens. And sometimes us designers make mistakes too.


However, the architecture as intended has already been altered and having cupboards and niches makes absolutely no sense, flanking a king-size bed.


Are you sure that the cupboards are original to this historical home?


I say that because:

  • They’re not that special. At least, not that I can see from the photos.
  • There’s nothing above them in terms of cabinetry or shelves, which is quite odd.
  • They are unusually narrow. There’s a wide area for the fireplace with two little-not-very-special cabinets. Then, two skinny very tall niches.



If it’s frowned upon to alter the original, it would appear that has already happened. I base that on everything I know about Georgian architecture and then an extensive search to find anything even remotely looking like what you have.


Let’s take a look at what one would expect to see in Georgian Architecture which spans most of the 18th century into the first third of the 19th century.


fisher-jamb-london- historical Georgian home
This Georgian room and the next two are from the wonderful Jamb website that specializes in antique and antique reproduction fireplace mantels.

fisher-jamb-london- historical Georgian homeYummy!

jamb-compton-chimney-piece in a historical home

No built-in cupboards whatsoever.


Farrow and Ball

Ben Pentreath - The Parsonage, Dorset (24th November 2014)

A wonderful collected room by Ben Pentreath


Spitalfields Life

Gorgeous blog post and a wonderful example of a Georgian Home. Please note that the cupboard is perfectly integrated with the mantel. This is what I typically expect a Georgian cupboard to look like.




The one above is obviously modern, but at least more what I would expect to see in a classic Georgian interior if there was a bookcase above the cabinets.

I did not find anything remotely like what Kathryn believes is something not to be tampered with.


english-georgian-fireplace-with-cupboard - historical home

The closest that I found is this beauty. Albeit, more rustic, but the elements are  integrated and obviously original.


Kathryn’s  room was originally a living room but now it’s a bedroom and that is fine.

The cupboards are meant to flank a fireplace that no longer exists. At the very least, there should be shelves or something above them.

It would be horrible to have to reach behind to get a glass of water, or anything for that matter. Not only that, it would look weird. It is far better to be elbowed by husband. But that’s not a viable option either. :]


And the small night tables and little lamps don’t look right either.


Therefore, in lieu of direct orders from her majesty, The Queen, I hereby grant Kathryn kind permission to remove said cabinets.


I would absolutely, definitely, positively take out the cupboards and then fill the entire thing in with dry wall.


I would maybe set the new walls back 2 or 3 inches so that the beautiful ceiling detail can be maintained. I’m not 100% sure about that because I can’t see exactly what’s going on.

This room is now going to be a bedroom and because of its dimensions, the bed needs to live on this wall. There is not enough room on the opposite wall because of the door to enter the bedroom.

The bed will need to live on the current fireplace wall until someone 80 years from now, decides to break it up and make it student housing again. haha.

In front of the new wall will go two beautiful night tables or small chests with two gorgeous lamps.



Laura Martin Bovard


This is the idea. I would probably do a more simple mirror, although I love this one. (I own one!) Then, I would put the beautiful painting over the bed.

Kathryn told me more later on…

The home is FOUR STORIES! Yowza! and there are already ten other fireplaces! And that is the other reason why it’s fine to lose this fireplace— and vestigial cupboards.


painting-in-situ- historical home renovation

Here’s one of the fireplaces. How lovely!!!

Back to the bedroom.


I received another email (because I needed to see more photos) that Kathryn wants to find another armoire, but one that matches the bed and dressing table.

Before I go on. LOVE the stripped down original door, but it should really be opening up on the other side so that it rests against the wall, not into a piece of furniture!

The armoire isn’t working in here, but Kathryn knows this. It could be a wood piece, like the French Rocaille armoire below.

French Louis XV Rocaille armoire

But I think it would be interesting to get away from the 100% French style. I’m thinking it should have an antique painted finish and maybe with a painted design.

Here are some ideas I have for the armoire. Kathryn’s current armoire could even be painted by her or a decorative artist.


Couldn’t find the source and am not sure what country this is from. Maybe Sweden or Denmark. just guessing. One option would be to do something in a dark antique color with a painted design on it.


Here’s another pretty piece.



I love this Chinoiserie design. This isn’t an armoire, but I love the idea.



The shutters still need to be painted and I think that they should be the same as the wall color. Ditto on the baseboard and maybe even the crown moulding. There’s too much of the cream, It’s not a crucial thing. But I think it’s getting to be too much.


It is fine to mix whites and creams and far more interesting than making them all be one color.

This is Katharine’s charming dressing table, chair with toile fabric and matching mirror. While individually, these pieces are all wonderful, it’s beginning to be a little too much like a matched set.


I would love to see the mirror in an antique gilt finish.



Something like this. Gold looks amazing with blue walls.


Today, Kathryn sent me a photo of her newly renovated kitchen.


Damn. Now I REALLY hate her! haha!

She didn’t say but it looks like a DeVol Kitchen. Just fabulous.




PS: Hey guys. It is Sunday morning and I am at the airport after visiting my 94-yr-old mom in Wisconsin who’s in a nursing home. Just a little raw today, is all… blessings.



44 Responses

  1. I didn’t want to be maudlin, so I refrained from commenting as it was right before Thanksgiving, but I just want you to know that I kept you in my thoughts and sent a silent prayer your way. I do so feel for you and your beloved Mom.
    My 90 yrs old Mom passed away in April- on my birthday! 🙁
    2016 is turning out to be a not-so good year for our family..

    1. That is so kind of you Dolores! And I’m so sorry to hear of your Mom’s passing–and especially on your birthday of all days.

      Here’s to a brighter 2017 for you and your family! xoxo

  2. Hi Laurel
    Great post. I know how hard the British can be with their rules and regulations but I totally agree about those cupboards. If they are original, the architect was really having a bad-hair day, lol.

    I empathise with your situation; my mother is 87, has lymphoma for the third time and we know the inevitable end is not far off. It’s horrible.

    Keep your chin up, and carry on smiling. It’s the only way.

  3. Hi Laurel,
    That’s a magnificent home, and I’m sure Kathryn will get it worked out (with your help). I really just wanted to send my thoughts re your mom. My mom is also 94, and I’m so thankful she is still at home at this point (with my brother looking after her), but we know that there’s going to be an inevitable, one way or the other. My father-in-law is not so lucky, and he has been in assisted living since March when his wife of 72 years passed. He has totally gone downhill and given up, and it is a huge strain on my husband (the only surviving child). I send you best wishes for this holiday season.

  4. Laurel, there is no end to your talents. As a Brit in America, I feel certain that Her Majesty The Queen would approve of taking out those tiny cupboards lol ;). I think Kathryn (lucky girl) will then have the bedroom she wants while preserving plenty of the Georgian character ! Good call and very enjoyable post.

  5. That’s a wowser kitchen, btw!

    Thin you’ve already solved this problem, but I just had a thought. Make that fireplace wall, just a wall with a fireplace and have a good carpenter make the niches storage space with “hidden” flush doors. That will let you put night tables flush with the head of the bed.And give you storage space for out of season clothes and such, so you have to open the closets just twice a year.
    Whatever you do, enjoy your listed georgian. I’m wondering if it’s in Bath or such as that city. You bring back happy memories, Kathryn. Thank you.

  6. Great post Laurel, I also noticed the sweet little puppy, adorable! May there peace in your heart in this difficult time and hoping your Thanksgiving is full of warmth and good cheer. Among the many blessings I will gave thanks for this week is your lovely Blog. Thank you!!

  7. I like your suggestions for her bedroom, but am wondering why she just can’t hand a nice piece of material along that whole wall and use her little end tables? It would be cheaper and add some nice texture.

    1. Hi Dotty,

      That’s a good thought, but it wouldn’t fix the issue with the niches. The fabric would need to hang from the ceiling and there should be a crown moulding there.

  8. Understandably, last week was difficult for you . I hope this week will be pleasant for you and your sons. In a month daylight will start increasing again. All the best to you!

    1. Hi Libby,

      Thank you so much! Just got off the phone with my sister who lives close to mom and takes care of things. I’m very grateful for that!

      The days start getting longer on the evening on December 14th. I noticed that years ago and looked it up. There’s a scientific reason. And of course, it’s a little bit complicated.

      I’ve always been fascinated with this stuff.

  9. Hi Laurel, sorry to hear about your mom. My great aunt Josephine was the last of my older relatives to go – after my parents and my hubby’s folks. She lived to just shy of her 95th bday.

    Perfect suggestion for this historic home – now why NO one spoke about that adorable King Charles spaniel puppy, I have no idea 🙂 Love my two!

    Have a nice Thanksgiving! Will be 3 of us. My daughter works at Colonial Williamsburg and her “weekend” for now is Wed-Thurs. My son and the rest of the family will be in Jacksonville.

  10. Hi Everyone, thanks for all your lovely advice and to Laurel for helping me out at such a difficult time. Just to reassure you all that the fireplace in the room is of the era but not from this house – there was just an ugly gas bar fire, with nothing left behind, as per the second ‘before’ picture Laurel shared, the one with the dining room table set up. I found this one in a salvage yard where it’s going back.

    Wherever we managed to uncover original fireplaces they’re all been kept – not least as we’re required to by law! Unfortunately our conservation officer believes the cupboards are original as well. All of which meant I was so fixated by keeping them that it never occurred to me to create a flat wall behind the bed, until Laurel came up with the idea. I don’t think we can rip out the cupboards – my babies would miss me if I had to serve time in prison – but Laurel’s got me thinking that we can still get a flat wall by building a floor to ceiling stud wall just in front of the original wall to box in the cupboards. Which would also make recreating the moulding over the top of that section easier (as it will be a whole run so we won’t have to piece into the original).

    So I’m going to investigate if we can do that as it won’t create any ‘loss of historic fabric’- yes my life has become full of phrases like that! But I do love living in a world heritage city. It takes my breath away every day. Plus it is an Aga. I figured if we were going to put everything we’ve got into creating our dream home we may as well have our dream kitchen. It’s everything I wanted and more. Designed by the wonderful Coppice Guild from Bradford on Avon – I pretty much copied her showroom here:

    1. Hi Kathryn,

      Thanks for all of that and filling in a couple blanks I wasn’t sure about. I think that we have a great solution here!

      I must give credit to Cathy Dickson for taking my idea a step further and making it even better.

  11. Beautiful post, beautiful houses, including Kathryn’s. I hope Kathryn is going to keep you (okay, us!) posted on the progress so we can see the entire house.

    Thinking of you and your mother, I know how hard this is.

    1. Thanks so much Rebecca. I hope she will too! I knew you guys would love this home!

      And thanks for your kind thoughts about my mom. It is very difficult to see her like this as her decline in the last year has been profound.

  12. Hi Laurel, Kathryn’s home is gorgeous and they’ve done wonderful renovations. If possible I’d remove the little cabinets too, but if they shouldn’t be touched, why not build little walls in front of them (studs and drywall would eat up about 5″) and create a bed niche. For some reason a lot of English homes have doors opening counter intuitively (i.e.. against furniture and not a wall.) Good call in suggesting they rehang it. I like the blue in the other rooms, but find the blue in the bedroom rather harsh. I don’t know either what it references. Some day, with your guiding suggestions, they will have their beautiful dream home. Lucky people! Best, Cathy

    1. Hi Cathy,

      That is a wonderful option. The niche could be where the bed is. In fact, the walls in front of the cabinets could be extended a little which would be even better.

      I am really loving this option. Nothing is removed and it will work so much better! There could even be hidden storage above the cabinets behind a panel. I love hidden storage!

      I need you guys! Especially this week!

      Three days spent in my mom’s nursing home is well… very tough!

    2. Bedroom doors: Don’t recall about Spain, or Paris, but, dating at least from the early 20th century, and most likely earlier, English bedroom doors always open away from the bed. Possibly so the servant bringing in tea/breakfast, could open the door as an introduction, allowing the person(s) lucky enough to get tea in bed , to make themselves look decent, before the the servant enters the room. You see this all over England, and I’ve seen it in Scotland, too.

      I have always considered it preferable to the American way, where the occupants of the bed are the first thing the maid (LOL) or the kids see when they open the door. And in my house, anyone passing in the corridor would see to the bed, also.

      Surely Kathryn has a higher authority to appeal to with photos and the opinion of an historian or historical archaeologist or university prof with historical knowledge or summat…?

      A pro could tell you what kind of wood and nails are in the cabinets, what kind of tools were used to make them, and when those tools and nails were in popular use. From what i see these are just modern tacky add-ons.No style or class at all. In such a lovely dwelling it would be doing the people who decide these things a favor to demolish them. In America, photos of them would end up on facebook or some other “all the time everywhere” site and the authorities in question would be ridiculed. But we’re pretty loose and wild over here, not respecting authority all that much. LOL

      Sorry to be judgmental, but this was once my field of study, though all my books on the subject are currently packed away.

  13. Strangely all our doors in our 1905 house in Scotland open this way. We would love to change them to swing so that they open against the wall but the light switch would then be behind the open door. As the walls are solid stone with a plaster finish, electrical changes are complicated and costly, so we live with the doors they way they were originally installed.

    1. That’s interesting, Dorothy. I guess one has to weigh whether it is better to have the switch behind the door, or lose wall space on the other wall. Probably best to leave as is, unless one absolutely needs the wall space.

  14. Thank you for sharing this “lesson” today. I live in suberbia in a house that nearly matches my neighbors. I regret the choice almost weekly but am so happy with my house mate that I can survive on wonderful posts like this one today. You discussion on color, proportion, scale, and again color does my heart good. Thank you for training my eye long distance. You are just lovely! M

  15. I agree with Cynthia relocating the radiator would give more room. The bed could remain on the long wall and Kathryn could have suitable night tables. I also would consider restoring out the cupboards to better reflex the Georgian architecture. What is on the opposing short wall? Perhaps a large built in closet/armoire would balance the fireplace – bed? If there are historical restrictions that apply to her renovating, this approach may be more palatable to her inspector.

    1. Hi Shirley,

      That was my original thought too, but the heating and electrical work has already been done. And there are some other issues with furniture placement.

      And I forgot to mention that the fireplace is gone, now.

      I keep going back to the butchered abomination of the student-housing this home was for a while.

      And I really do not think those little cupboards are original and if they are, they’ve already been altered.

      The opposite wall is not an option because of the doorway, There is not enough room for night stands. And also not right for the armoire.

  16. Part of the problem is that perhaps that wasn’t meant to be a bedroom at all. Perhaps rethink the floor plan, since it is a large house, and relocate the master. And ripping out a fireplace is a huge mistake, as it is original. Not the mantle; I mean the firebox itself. I don’t know why ripping out or covering up the fireplace wouldn’t be against the law, as well as the cupboards. The bed looks wonderful with the fireplace next to it. The only problem I see is the radiator next to the bed, which precludes having a night stand there, so it’s the radiator that needs moving, not the fireplace. A fireplace is a wonderful addition to any room, and she is lucky to have it. And the bed doesn’t look right in the narrow space in front of the fireplace anyway, so quit fighting the room and work around it. If it doesn’t work for you as a bedroom, make a sitting room out of it. If the interiors are landmarked, as well as the exterior, then it should be respected. We rarely have interiors landmarked in the U.S., and it’s a great pity, because people with no taste rip them out and put something mundane in their place. It looks as though she is doing a lovely job with the whole house, but has come up against a roadblock here. With dimensions like that, it would make a more suitable sitting room IMHO, but if it must be a bedroom, simply moving the radiator would make it work.

    1. Hi Cynthia,

      All great ideas and yes, that is exactly what I said to Kathryn before I had the entire store. That is, about the fireplace.

      And I couldn’t agree more about the hideous renos that people do here where they should be shot at dawn for desecrating such beautiful historical homes!

      Remember this one?

      It was NOT there when they bought the two flats merged into one. They brought it back, so it is not original.

      This was why I came up with my rec that they make it a proper bedroom.

      There are actually ten other fireplaces in this home! There is also a master bathroom that is adjacent to the bedroom that formerly was a kitchen.

      Hope this answer makes sense. I’m at the airport and want to answer comments before I board the plane!

  17. Yikes- that’s a brave suggestion laurel! How about a compromise that respects the integrity of the House- and the conservation officer/listing regs? Maybe paint cupboards same as walls, then get a joiner to construct a simple sliding shelf that can house a carafe, glass, book etc. Lights can be wall mounted and pivoting. Then you can have fun sourcing slim mirrors for the alcoves or better still, use sheet gold or silver and make your own reflective alcoves- it’ll lighten the room and add subtle effect at night. Good luck.

    1. Hi Anne,

      Great ideas, all!

      My rec came from the idea that what these folks have done IS to restore this home to what it was. I am doubtful that those cabinets ARE original and if they are, they’ve been changed from what they were somehow.

      The fireplace is gone, so there’s no going back now.

  18. Thank you, to you and Kathryn both. I am such an Anglophile, that this is perhaps my favorite post. I am not a designer, but your advice on the bedroom was spot-on. And that kitchen! Sheer heaven. Just one question: I’ve always gravitated toward these types of kitchens. And when I clicked on that DeVol link, well, lets just say I am going with you to that deserted island! ; My question is, whenever I watch shows like Downton Abbey, I have always gravitated more toward the design of the servants quarters. Am I correct in assuming that the DeVol designs are inspired by classsic, old world, working kitchens?

    1. Hi Michelle,

      Thanks so much for your sweet comment!

      I too love the servant’s quarters. They are probably a little more glamorous on Downton Abbey than they were back then.

      People have different definitions of “old world.” But to my thinking, their kitchens are definitely classic!

  19. DAYUM!!! Is that an Aga? Or -?????

    I’m a long-time lurker, former decorative artist and serious Anglophile who can’t possibly sleep now & just HAD to comment!

    What an opportunity – challenge – freaking – gorgeous home.

    And Laurel, I’m absolutely delighted in your carefully-researched response!
    Love your recommendations, especially the gilt.

    I’m off to top off my glass & peruse “Country Houses of England” until I get sleepy….

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