How to remodel your Boise home without sacrificing its character

Founder of Boise-based design, remodel, and real estate company Ethos Design+Build | Remodel, Sarah Cunningham, shares her approach to remodeling homes while preserving their historical and architectural identity. 

Author: Sarah Cunningham

Imagine: it’s a sunny fall afternoon, and you’re walking in the North End in Boise. You feel connected to the sense of time and place that emanates from the homes on each block.

Suddenly, you walk by a house that feels out of place. The exterior is different from the other houses, and you notice additions that look as if they’re part of an entirely separate house. 

Sadly, this happens far too often when remodels don’t take into account the broader context of a home’s story.

In our line of work, we’ve seen it all: houses that have been gutted, and additions or updates that are added as a ‘bandaid.’ The updates have no cohesion or architectural sense with the rest of the house. This can happen when people love a neighborhood but don’t understand the historical significance, the story of their home, and don’t work with designers and contractors who understand it. 

When you take a beautiful Victioran home and gut it without any sense of what’s gone on in the home or the neighborhood, you end up with a weird hybrid, a Frankenstein of a house. Walking by or going into a house like that, you can feel it: nothing is in harmony, and that discord has an impact on the people living in and around it. 

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do a remodel or make updates to a home. On the contrary — updating a historic home can reinvigorate it and ensure it stands for years to come. It’s about working with professionals who understand how to make those updates without stripping the home of its history and character.

Relying solely on design and architecture magazines for inspiration only gives you a superficial look at what’s possible for your home. Dive deeper if you really want to get to the heart and soul of where you live. Study its history, sociology, and architecture. 

Every time we do a remodel at Ethos, whether it’s updates to the structure or the aesthetics, we consider the historical and architectural identity. When we’re designing and building, we pay close attention so we can pay homage to that structural identity and to the identity of the neighborhood. You can create beautiful, lasting updates to a space and entire home when you’re mindful of how those updates intermix with the whole structure of the house and its greater connection to a neighborhood. 

It comes down to looking at a house as a whole and trying to design to the architecture of the home within the context of the neighborhood where it exists. When you’re aware of this, you can weave modern aspects and aesthetics with classic features so they feel in harmony with the rest of the home and maintain its character. 

It’s like putting on a play: every element that goes into it ties back to the time and place where it’s set, from the set design, to the costumes, to the dialogue. Get curious about what was happening at the point in history when your house was built, and you’ll start to connect design and architecture choices to that time. 

When it comes down to it, we can think about a home in two ways: as a shelter, a structure made up of wood, steel, wiring, and insulation, or as a composite of the people, community, time, and place that existed when it was built, and have continued to evolve throughout its existence. 

The best designs and remodels take both views into account. 

They tell the story of its time and of all the people who’ve been part of it: those who designed it, built it, and live in it, and those who lived on this land long before we were here. 

Bringing the historical and cultural context into your remodel decisions allows you to breathe new life into a space without sacrificing its connection to the past. A home is more than just a shelter: it’s the space we grow old with our partners in, raise our kids in, reconnect with friends in, and count on to welcome us with a soft place to rest after a long day. 

By paying homage to its history, you can strengthen that connection and create a space you can truly call home. 

Sarah Cunningham is a Realtor and the Founder and CEO of Ethos Design+Build | Remodel. Her intentional builds and remodels are helping to shape and enhance the Boise community.