Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

Buildings & Structures: Interiors

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The historic significance of a building does not stop at the exterior. The interior plan, features, and materials all reflect a building's historic importance and contribute to its historic character. Routine maintenance is key to preserving interior historic materials; it prevents small problems from becoming large ones. It should be noted that unlike many local preservation commissions and boards which only review exteriors, the SHPO is charged with the review of the entire historic resource, including historic interiors, exteriors and grounds.


Floorplans are very important in defining historic character. The wide variety of plans, from domestic to commercial to institutional, are indicative of historic use and overall style. Parlors, hallways, offices, classrooms, auditoriums and public spaces all contribute to the character of their respective building types and should be retained in a preservation project. Historic plan treatment is extremely important and early consultation with the SHPO during the project planning stages is encouraged.

The appropriateness of interior changes can be analyzed by using a hierarchical approach that "ranks" the significance of spaces in a building. In residential buildings, there are usually "private" and "public" spaces, reflecting the need for formal functional areas and private individual living spaces. For example, there are often stairhalls and parlors on the main floor, and bedrooms, closets and service areas on upper floors or in rear areas.

In institutional buildings, the distinctions are not as evident, since the entire building could have been meant for "public" uses. Even in these cases, however, there is an identifiable hierarchy which can include main hallways, classrooms, auditoriums, smaller offices, storage and mechanical areas. The "public" areas should be treated carefully because they often convey the essential historic character of the building. If the historic plan is largely or wholly intact, plan changes should be limited to secondary or non-significant areas.

Character defining "public" areas should be retained; and the proposed use, program and plan should not alter these primary historic spaces. Features and materials, such as woodwork, doors and mantels should be treated carefully even in those areas of secondary significance.

Design Features, Materials and Finishes

Floorplans are only part of historic interior character. Wall, ceiling, and floor treatments; door and window trim; stained and/or leaded glass; and other finishes are all important features. Often interiors exhibit a mix of historic styles which reflect changes in use and taste. The addition of an early 20th century interior within a 19th century building, for example, is part of the building's history and worthy of preservation. All sound interior features should be retained and repaired. If damaged or deteriorated beyond repair, these features should be replaced in-kind.

Ceiling height, another important interior feature, helps convey historic character because it defines spatial volume, proportion and light. Ceilings should be maintained at--or restored to--original heights. The installation of new ceilings at lower heights is not appropriate, especially when windows, doors, archways, columns, balconies and spatial volume are affected. Limited areas of lower ceiling may be appropriate in secondary areas to accommodate mechanical systems, but all primary ceilings and those abutting windows should remain at full height.

New Interior Construction and Related Demolition

Historic building rehabilitation may require some new construction and limited amounts of demolition. This work should take place at secondary or non-significant spaces to minimize impacts to this historic resource.

New interior work should be compatible with the existing historic character. Exact duplication of historic materials and elements is discouraged to avoid confusion between historic and new. For example, where new walls or other partitions are planned, an appropriate approach is to use new trim matching the historic in scale, material and general profile, rather than replicating historic woodwork. Demolition should always be kept to a minimum, and limited to secondary spaces or areas of extreme deterioration. Since demolition always involves the removal of historic material, it should be considered carefully and planned to have the least possible impact on the historic building.