How We’ve Made Our 132 Year Old Home Fit Our Modern Lifestyle

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We live in an 1888 Victorian home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 

Admittedly, after a few years of living in our Victorian home, I’ve found myself yearning for bigger bathrooms, an open floor plan, and — most of all — a few closets on the main floor! Victorian homes are so cozy and inviting, and while we have more than enough space, the oddly-shaped rooms have made it a little difficult for our modern lifestyle.  

Ren Lenhof west elm lifestyle blog

 Don’t get me wrong I love our home, it’s without a doubt, beautiful and charming. But, as I stated, the floor plan is a bit wonky and has proven to be awkward for modern living.

 With having two big dogs, 50+ houseplants, me working from home, both of us having sports equipment, and us liking not sleeping in a twin bed are just a few things we tackle while renovating and designing our home. It has taken some time deciding where to put everything from my multiple computers & camera gear to the oversized dog beds.

It also took coming to terms with the fact that we could never purchase a king bed, there are no closets, plaster isn’t great for hanging things on the walls, and holy cow we have a big front parlor. Also, what the heck is a “front parlor”? 

After living in this home for nearly three years, we’ve transformed our house into a monochromatic, modern Scandinavian oasis with a mix of mid-century. Our #1 intention was to keep every room looking bright, functional, and spacious. 

Whether you’re moving into a new place or want to refresh your own, I am a firm believer that the process should be fun and worth the work. My husband and I learned a lot from living in a 132-year-old home, but with time and patience, we have made it fit our modern lifestyle. 

 

Creative Furniture Layout 

It’s no secret that it is hard to know where to put modern-day furniture in a Victorian home. 

 Did you know that situating your furniture flush against the wall can actually shrink your space? We resolved this phenomenon by moving your furniture closer to a central point in the room can make everything seem bigger, as well as adding an air of warmth and coziness. Even just a few inches from the wall makes a world of difference. 

 Another way to amplify the size of your space is to use only one large area instead of placing several small rugs and to have all of your furniture legs atop or touching the rug. 

Ren Lenhof west elm lifestyle blog

Consider Your Wall Hangings

We have a large mirror in our dining room and one directly centered on the headboard of our bed. I love how bright our bedroom got once we added the large mirror. Mirrors are great for adding depth and dimension to a space; they also make it appear as though the room has more radiant natural light than it actually might.

Larger pieces of framed art can make a room seem spacious and luxurious. There are so many amazing ideas online for gallery walls – I’ve posted several on my home decor Pinterest Board. Although we have refrained from doing so, purely for the aesthetics, I would recommend not being afraid to go for it, especially since wall hangings don’t take up any floor space.

Ren Lenhof west elm lifestyle blog

Utilize Sneaky Storage

Nothing shrinks a room quite like clutter. Whether it’s under the bed, behind the door, over the toilet, on an elegant shelf or coffee table tray, do what you can to store your stuff within, under, behind, or above your furniture.

 To maximize the appearance of our space, I try my hardest to keep our floors, nightstands, and tables clear.

 We added a coat tree and a locker in the breezeway and added a coat hanger on the door to the basement to help fix the void of not having closets. 

I know our bar cart isn’t “sneaky storage”, but it is stylish! I love it so much I wrote an entire blog post about it and how we stock our bar cart. 

Easy on the Knickknacks

We have built-in shelving in our dining room that we refined several times to keep the space open and luxe. When we had a lot of things on the shelves, that side of the room seemed heavy and drove me crazy. But, of course, you should do whatever makes you happy – if knickknacks are your thing, go for it!

 

More Houseplants!

My biggest fear is looking like a “crazy plant hoarder” instead of a “crazy plant lady,” so all of our houseplants have been carefully placed to enhance the space. 

 Not only do houseplants help with air purification and circulation, but they can make any space look more elegant as well. Hanging plants from ceiling hooks can draw the eye upward and create an illusion of a larger area. And just like other larger home decor items, larger plants can make a space seem more spacious as well. We hung plants in our sun porch and bathroom. 

 

Carefully Chosen Furniture 

Victorian interior design, in my opinion, is pretty over-the-top. I prefer furniture 

 Instead of filling our home with the ornate furniture of the Victorian era, we selected furniture with straight lines and minimal accents. Not only do I prefer the look of our furniture, but it just makes more sense to have fabrics that can hold up to 2 doggies napping on them. 

 As a nod to Victorian Orientalism, we have a 1900s Cloisonné vase on the wall cabinet bookcase in our living room. 

 Selecting lighter-toned, more neutral furniture, and coordinating accents in rich colors can tie a room together. For instance, we have a copper-colored sofa, a tan rattan chair, and then we decorate with throw pillows, books, and a black wired basket of colored blankets that incorporate my favorite hues. 

Our nightstands, dining table, bookshelf, office desk, office chair, entry table, entertainment center, and entryway bench are all from the West Elm Mid Century Modern collection.

Lose Some Walls

The previous owners removed several walls. I’ve been digging online for more history of our home, but I haven’t been able to find much more than a few photos on Zillow and Realtor.com. 

When we first toured the house, I remember being completely taken aback with the spacious floor plan with the circular flow and new windows. The bay windows are my absolute favorite. I think the previous owners did a good job taking out walls and opening up our space without demolishing all of the original bones.

 

Team Gray Walls!

The original interior colors used in Victorian homes were typically darker hues of red, amber, emerald, and dark brown.

 It bears repeating that light colors make a room look bigger and brighter. We applied this tip to the walls throughout our entire house by choosing a light gray paint color and white trim.

 Light walls reflect light, which makes a room appear larger, while dark colors absorb light, making a room feel smaller. I didn’t realize this, but by having our molding a lighter color than our walls adds contrast and depth, reinforcing once again, the feeling of open space. 

The “perfect gray,” in my opinion, is Behr Toasty Gray N320-2. We used this paint throughout our entire house. I love this gray because it does well, reflecting the warm southern light we get throughout the day. 

Choosing the perfect gray paint can be a pain in the butt – so I wrote this post a while back all about how to choose the right gray paint for your home

 

Modernizing the Kitchen

Our monochromatic kitchen is bright, spacious, and inviting. I spend a lot of time sitting at the island blogging or eating all of the incredible meals Caleb makes for us!

Our kitchen is not only great for cooking, but because of the main floor’s newly renovated circular floor plan, it is well suited for entertaining.

The kitchen was move-in ready with tons of cabinet space and a walk-in pantry. And then Caleb added a new gas-range, garbage disposal, and a more stylish faucet.

He replaced the gas-range because the original one was pretty ugly and cheap. For our 1st Wedding Anniversary, I gifted Caleb with a new KitchenAid one. The faucet the most notable update – I am obsessed with how the matte black faucet pairs seamlessly with the black cabinets and new black doorknobs. I adore the new contrast between the stainless steel & black elements in our kitchen. 

 

Leave Some As Is

Don’t worry, all of the original character from our home has not been lost! Although lots of it was destroyed when the home was renovated before we purchased it, there are some distinctive examples of craftsmanship such as the newel-posts at the very top of our staircase. The original handrail and other railing posts were replaced with a colonial-style when we moved in, so we decided to update the exposed portion of our railing with a modern and more open cable railing system from View Rail. 

 

I hope this post was entertaining and maybe even a little inspiring!

Our home has a long wishlist of improvements, along with some things we just haven’t tackled or explored. We have an impressive attic with tall ceilings that we don’t use – I think I’ve walked up there a whole three times since we’ve moved in. 

 Do you live in a Victorian home? What changes and design tricks have you implemented to make it work in today’s modern world. 

 

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