Guidelines For Rehabilitating Historic Buildings: Interior Spaces, Features And Finishes
GUIDELINES FOR REHABILITATING HISTORIC BUILDINGS: INTERIOR SPACES,
FEATURES AND FINISHES
U.S. Department of the Interior
National Park Service
Preservation Assistance Division
An illustrated booklet addressing the Secretary's Standards and the
guidelines is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office.
The title is "The Secretary of the Interior's Standards for
Rehabilitation & Illustrated Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic
Buildings", ISBN 0-16-035979-1.
Each of the guidelines included in the booklet mentioned above have
been separated into individual entries for specific use in HBPP.
This entry represents one of many guidelines included in the
booklet and describes RECOMMENDED and NOT RECOMMENDED applications
of the Secretary of the Interior's Standards as they relate to
Interior Spaces, Features and Finishes. For a list of the
Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation, see
01091-04-S; For general information relating to the purpose,
organization and content of the individual guidelines, see 01091-05-S. Both of these entries
should be referenced along with the
information contained in this document.
INTERIOR: SPACES, FEATURES, AND FINISHES:
An interior floor plan, the arrangement of spaces, and built-in
features and applied finishes may be individually or collectively
important in defining the historic character of the building.
Thus, their identification, retention, protection and repair should
be given prime consideration in every rehabilitation project and
caution exercised in pursuing any plan that would radically change
character-defining spaces or obscure, damage or destroy interior
features or finishes.
IDENTIFYING, RETAINING AND PRESERVING
- Identifying, retaining, and preserving a floor plan or
interior spaces that are important in defining the
overall historic character of the building. This
includes the size, configuration, proportion, and
relationship of rooms and corridors; the relationship of
features to spaces; and the spaces themselves such as
lobbies, reception halls, entrance halls, double parlors,
theaters, auditoriums, and important industrial or
commercial use spaces.
- Radically changing a floor plan or interior spaces --
including individual rooms -- which are important in
defining the overall historic character of the building
so that, as a result, the character is diminished.
- Altering the floor plan by demolishing principal walls
and partitions to create a new appearance.
- Altering or destroying interior spaces by inserting
floors, cutting through floors, lowering ceilings, or
adding or removing walls.
- Relocating an interior feature such as a staircase so
that the historic relationship between features and
spaces is altered.
- Identifying, retaining, and preserving interior features
and finishes that are important in defining the overall
historic character of the building, including columns,
cornices, baseboards, fireplaces and mantels, paneling.
light fixtures, hardware, and flooring; and wallpaper,
plaster, paint, and finishes such as stenciling,
marbling, and graining; and other decorative materials
that accent interior features and provide color, texture,
and patterning to walls, floors, and ceilings.
- Removing or radically changing features which are
important in defining the overall historic character of
the building so that, as a result, the character is
- Installing new decorative material that obscures or
damages character-defining interior features or finishes.
- Removing paint, plaster, or other finishes from
historically finished surfaces to create a new appearance
(e.g., removing plaster to expose masonry surfaces such
as brick walls or a chimney piece).
- Applying paint, plaster, or other finishes to surfaces
that have been historically unfinished to create a new
- Stripping historically painted wood surfaces to bare
wood, then applying clear finishes or stains to create a
- Stripping paint to bare wood rather than repairing or
reapplying grained or marbled finishes to features such
as doors and paneling.
- Radically changing the type of finish or its color, such
as painting a previously varnished wood feature.
PROTECTING AND MAINTAINING
- Protecting and maintaining masonry, wood, and
architectural metals which comprise interior features
through appropriate surface treatments such as cleaning,
rust removal, limited paint removal, and application of
protective coatings systems.
- Failing to provide adequate protection to materials on a
cyclical basis so that deterioration of interior features
- Protecting interior features and finishes against arson
and vandalism before project work begins, erecting
protective fencing, boarding-up widows, and installing
fire alarm systems that are keyed to local protection
- Permitting entry into historic buildings through
unsecured or broken windows and doors so that interior
features and finishes are damaged by exposure to weather
or through vandalism.
- Stripping interiors of features such as woodwork,doors
windows, light fixtures, copper piping, radiators; or of
- Protecting interior features such as a staircase, mantel,
or decorative finishes and wall coverings against damage
during project work by covering them with heavy canvas or
- Failing to provide proper protection of interior features
and finishes during work so that they are gouged,
scratched, dented, or otherwise damaged.
- Installing protective coverings in areas of heavy
pedestrian traffic to protect historic features such as
wall coverings, parquet flooring and panelling.
- Failing to take new use patterns into consideration so
that interior features and finishes are damaged.
- Removing damaged or deteriorated paints and finishes to
the next sound layer using the gentlest method possible,
then repainting or refinishing using compatible paint or
other coating systems.
- Using destructive methods such as propane or butane
torches or sandblasting to remove paint or other
coatings. These methods can irreversibly damage the
historic materials that comprise interior features.
- Repainting with colors that are appropriate to the
7. Not Recommended:
- Using new paint colors that are inappropriate to the
- Limiting abrasive cleaning methods to certain industrial
or warehouse buildings where the interior masonry or
plaster features do not have distinguishing design,
detailing, tooling, or finishes; and where wood features
are not finished, molded, beaded, or worked by hand.
Abrasive cleaning should ONLY be considered after other,
gentler methods have been proven ineffective.
- Changing the texture and patina of character-defining
features through sandblasting or use of other abrasive
methods to remove paint, discoloration or plaster. This
includes both exposed wood (including structural members)
- Evaluating the overall condition of materials to
determine whether more than protection and maintenance
are required that is, if repairs to interior features and
finishes will be necessary.
- Failing to undertake adequate measures to assure the
preservation of interior features and finishes.
- Repairing interior features and finishes by reinforcing
the historic materials. Repair will also generally
include the limited replacement in kind -- or with
compatible substitute material -- of those extensively
deteriorated or missing parts of repeated features when
there are surviving prototypes such as stairs,
balustrades, wood panelling, columns; or decorative wall
coverings or ornamental tin or plaster ceilings.
- Replacing an entire interior feature such as a staircase,
panelled wall, parquet floor, or cornice; or finish such
as a decorative wall covering or ceiling when repair of
materials and limited replacement of such parts are
- Using a substitute material for the replacement part that
does not convey the visual appearance of the surviving
parts or portions of the interior feature or finish or
that is physically or chemically incompatible.
- Replacing in kind an entire interior feature or finish
that is too deteriorated to repair -- if the overall form
and detailing are still evident -- using the physical
evidence to guide the new work. Examples could include
wainscoting, a tin ceiling, or interior stairs. If using
the same kind of material is not technically or
economically feasible, then a compatible substitute
material may be considered.
- Removing a character-defining feature or finish that is
unrepairable and not replacing it; or replacing it with
a new feature or finish that does not convey the same
NOTE: THE FOLLOWING REPRESENTS PARTICULARLY COMPLEX TECHNICAL OR
DESIGN ASPECTS OF REHABILITATION PROJECTS AND SHOULD ONLY BE
CONSIDERED AFTER THE PRESERVATION CONCERNS LISTED ABOVE HAVE BEEN
DESIGN FOR MISSING HISTORIC FEATURES
- Designing and installing a new interior feature or finish
if the historic feature or finish is completely missing.
This could include missing partitions, stairs, elevators,
lighting fixtures, and wall coverings; or even entire
rooms if all historic spaces, features, and finishes are
missing or have been destroyed by inappropriate
"renovations." The design may be a restoration based on
historical, pictorial, and physical documentation; or be
a new design that is compatible with the historic
character of the building, district, or neighborhood.
- Creating a false historical appearance because the
replaced feature is based on insufficient physical,
historical, and pictorial documentation or on information
derived from another building.
- Introducing a new interior feature or finish that is
incompatible with the scale, design, materials, color,
and texture of the surviving interior features and
ALTERATIONS/ADDITIONS FOR THE NEW USE
- Accommodating service functions such as bathrooms,
mechanical equipment, and office machines required by the
building's new use in secondary spaces such as first
floor service areas or on upper floors.
- Dividing rooms, lowering ceilings, and damaging or
obscuring character-defining features such as fireplaces,
niches, stairways or alcoves, so that a new use can be
accommodated in the building.
- Reusing decorative material or features that have had to
be removed during the rehabilitation work including wall
and baseboard trim, door moulding, panelled doors, and
simple wainscoting; and relocating such material or
features in areas appropriate to their historic
- Discarding historic material when it can be reused within
the rehabilitation project or relocating it in
historically inappropriate areas.
- Installing permanent partitions in secondary spaces;
removable partitions that do not destroy the sense of
space should be installed when the new use requires the
subdivision of character-defining interior spaces.
- Installing permanent partitions that damage or obscure
character-defining spaces, features, or finishes.
- Enclosing an interior stairway where required by code so
that its character is retained. In many cases, glazed
fire-rated walls may be used.
- Enclosing an interior stairway with fire-rated
construction so that the stairwell space or any
character-defining features are destroyed.
- Placing new code-required stairways or elevators in
secondary and service areas of the historic building.
- Radically changing, damaging, or destroying character-
defining spaces, features, or finishes when adding new
code-required stairways and elevators.
- Creating an atrium or a light well to provide natural
light when required for the new use in a manner that
preserves character-defining interior spaces, features,
and finishes as well as the structural system.
- Destroying character-defining interior spaces, features,
or finishes; or damaging the structural system in order
to create an atrium or light well.
- Adding a new floor if required for the new use in a
manner that preserves character-defining structural
features, and interior spaces, features, and finishes.
- Inserting a new floor within a building that alters or
destroys the fenestration; radically changes a character-
defining interior space; or obscures, damages, or
destroys decorative detailing.
END OF SECTION