Know The Difference: Restore, Renovate, Remodel

Someone asked me this week:

"What's the difference between a renovation, a remodel and a restoration?"  Any guesses?

The terms are often used interchangeably, but they do have different meanings and those meanings will differ depending on who you ask.  Because a realtor and a builder may use the same term but mean different things, it's an important question to ask.

Though the way we use these terms is not universal, they're not uncommon usages in the design industry.  Restoration seems like the easier of the three to describe, so let's start there.


A restoration project is generally one that is being restored to period or restored to it's original condition after damage from flood, fire, being abandoned, you name it.  There are designers, builders and craftsman who specialize in restoration.  Restoration requires an understanding of historical design and skilled craftsmanship in order to accurately return a building to it's near original design and condition.  There are also restoration businesses that do not specialize in historic restoration, but rather are the ultimate fixer-uppers making extensive repairs to buildings without much historical influence.  (Note: There are different types of restorative terms and practices like rehabilitation, historic preservation, convervation - but those are more nuanced and we'll save them for another day.)



Renovation and remodel are where things tend to get mixed up.  

The origin of the word renovate comes from the Latin renovat, meaning ‘made new again’.  

When we use the term renovation, the project involves construction.  When changes are being made to a building that require a contractor to be involved, you've got yourself a renovation.  In contrast to restoration, a renovation involves improvements that moving the building forward with design and materials that are updated and current.

BeforeAfter: The addition or in this case removal of walls is an indication of renovation. 

BeforeAfter: A wider opening and an an addition and modifications to the layout of the mudroom make this project a renovation.


The way we use the term remodel is when a project does not require the addition, removal or relocation of walls.  The structure and layout of a space are for the most part undisturbed, and the work is mostly limited to finishes, furnishings, and interior components like cabinetry that can be modified without changing the floor plan.

The term remodel comes from the Latin modellus, a diminutive of modus meaning 'measure' or 'manner'.  From the Italian modello, remodel means to 'mold again'.

Whereas a renovation modifies the construction and shape of a building, a remodel modifies the quality, degree, or manner of a building by re-molding and massaging the elements within the existing building form.

To refurbish (once meaning to polish or clean up again, now more often meaning to furnish again) or redecorate (to decorate again) are terms we might use when remodeling a space.

before After: Because no walls were modified in this living area, it would classify as a remodel.To remodel, renovate or restore: it's a good question to keep asking and perhaps one day we can come to a stronger concensus.  How would you describe the difference?