Reading blogs, listening to fellow DIYers, you will hear people throwing around restoration, renovation and remodeling around a bit, using them almost interchangeably. Actually, these are three very different ideas and I thought it would be helpful to take the time to clarify.
Restoration is sometimes referred to as preservation. It is the most ambitious (and expensive) home project ever. It is also the most restrictive in terms of individuality and owner input. There is a book I often refer to called Renovating Old Houses. The author, Nash, refers to restoration as "the processes by which a structure is stripped of all later additions and returned to its original condition."
An example would be, removing a porch that was added on to the front of the house. This can be a huge ordeal. Imagine your house originally had a second story sleeping porch that was later converted to a bedroom, complete with siding and windows. A true restoration would revert all these changes back to its original design.
A restoration can be rather limiting as far as materials go... Forget using all those fancy ceramic tiles in your bathrooms or kitchen. And don't you dare paint your woodwork! You will quickly find out how expensive antique plumbing is as well.
OK, next is renovation. This is where I tend to be, even as a historic preservationist. Renovating my house has given me an appreciation for the history of the home, I always strive to honor the integrity of the home and the builder, but I don't feel so confined that I cannot make some tasteful updates. And example would be the aqua-blue hardwood floor in my bathroom. Of course, an period-correct bathroom would have had hex tiles. (Our builder, Spurgeon, always used hex tiles in his bathrooms.) However, since this room was added on to in a 1940s remodel, it had hardwood floors. When riping out the damaged floor, I decided to keep it hardwood and out in new oak flooring. (Nope – not engineered wood.) Our project was an emergency one with little budget, else I might have put in fancy aqua Ann Sacks penny rounds... At any rate, the blue paint gives it a modern feel against the Victorian baseboards. Renovation gives you the freedom to integrate your personal tastes into the original design. And you can save a bit of money, and still get a beautiful room, with reproduction pieces.
Now for remodeling. Shudder. OK, on one hand, someone buying an old home that might have been completely demolished is a good thing... but sometimes people “make the house their own” so much that very little of the original house remains. Sometimes people do this with the best of intentions without even realizing they are remodeling and not renovating.
Here is an example... there is a house down the street from me that, when you first look at it, you think, wow – that is a gorgeous house. But then, if you look a little closer, you realize the owners gutted the house and completely changed it. They made it look great – but it is nothing like the house it once was. A Folk Victorian with a tasteful bit of gingerbread is now a stone-facaded Italianate. It is lovely, yes. They saved a house that might have been knocked down. But the original house is pretty much gone.
I say all this just to educate. Do not feel bad at all about wanting to make something your own. Some preservationists would just die if they knew I spray painted one of my original-to-the-house brass light fixtures. The fixtures in black just POP like mad against the pale blue walls of the entry way. The black makes a statement. It reflects my tastes. Is is historically accurate? No. But, I don't intend to live in a museum. (And with four active little boys, I simply couldn't if I tried!)