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Restoring Homes the Right Way with Building Hugger

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Renovation tips for historic homes from Amy Swift

Building Hugger Michelle & Chris Gerard

If you've worked on a historic restoration in Detroit, you've likely heard of or met Amy Swift, who started Building Hugger just a few years ago. They're working to be stewards of the built environment in Detroit.


Swift, who has a master's degree in Historic Preservation, began renovating her own house in southwest Detroit in 2012, and started Building Hugger after finding that there was a real need for tradespeople in the city.

The group mainly does window restoration and some storm windows. They're venturing into door restoration and they get a few calls for plaster. They mainly work in residential homes, but have a few bigger projects (like the Henry Ford Fair Lane Estate and Michigan State Capitol Dome).

They don't believe in product fixes, instead going with a more traditional approach.

Building Hugger Michelle & Chris Gerard

When it comes to renovating a historic home, Amy says one of the biggest issues she sees with homeowners is managing and scaling expectations for the home. "The house doesn't need to feel new or perfect," she says. HGTV has given people the wrong expectations with the "gut it or tear down" mentality. What's needed is thoughtful maintenance for these homes. "Navigate your own expectations through measures that are possible."

Also, put down the caulk guns! Put down and walk away from the spray foam!

She says that many homeowners think they need to get the renovation done at once and make the house perfect. But really, a historic home is an undertaking to maintain the home. "Older homes aren't perfect, and they won't be," she says.

As far as windows go, Swift often sees homeowners listening to sales people, who will tell you to replace all your windows. When what they really need, she thinks, is good counsel on the approach to windows. She often visits homes where people think they need to get rid of everything, when really, old windows were built to be repaired, whereas new windows are built to be replaced in another 10-20 years.

The Building Hugger crew works in a shop in Eastern Market. They plan to build out a mom and pop hardware store within a year, to offer homeowners better fixtures and resources for their renovation needs. She hired her first person last January and now have 11 on staff. They train their staff in-house. Here's a look around.