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Renovating a Sorority House without Losing Its Roots


Take a look at some of the most breathtakingly beautiful sorority houses in the country. No two are exactly alike. Yet they share something in common.

The most memorable sorority houses stick to their roots.

For these houses, the roots run deep. A great many are decades if not a century old. Naturally, they’ve seen a lot of history made over the years.

Not only that. These houses represent a certain historical moment, both for sororities themselves and their universities. Some houses were built by famous architects of the time, in popular styles of their eras. Or they may represent an architectural style that mirrors the vision of a university’s founders. Others are newer, a brick-by-brick presentation of determination and progress.

Regardless, every sorority house tells a story--a story about the university and surrounding community, about the women who built their chapters from the ground up, and about the sisters who now live within their walls.

The last thing you’d want to do is tarnish that story.

That’s why renovating your sorority house can be such a monumental task.

Not only is a renovation costly and time-consuming, it has the potential to alter the history of your house, for better or for worse.

Renovating with history in mind can give sisters the best of both worlds. That’s why Pennington & Company wants to help you Renovate Your Sorority House without Losing Its Roots.

When Your Sorority House Needs a Renovation, Start at the Beginning

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Think of those movies where Nicholas Cage and a band of scrappy sidekicks break into a historical archive, covered in dust and rubble, examining some ancient document by the dim beam of a flashlight.

Begin your sorority house renovation by harnessing your inner Nicholas Cage.

Okay, so your house wasn’t built as a secret vault of Illuminati talismans and symbolism, hiding some long-hidden truth about the country’s founders . . . or . . . whatever.


Digging into the house’s past will pay massive dividends when it comes to planning a renovation. Not only will it make changes and updates more authentic and rooted in history, it will give you a richer understanding of the chapter and sorority as a whole.

Find out as much as you can about the property’s history, such as:

  • original documents on planning, construction, cost, etc.
  • the architect and her or his body of work
  • the popular regional styles of architecture at the time
  • the university’s architectural vision when the house was built
  • the surrounding community or neighborhood’s historical building trends, and any relevant info like properties with historical landmark status.
  • the size and needs of the chapter when the house was built or purchased, versus the chapter’s current needs
  • trends in past renovations
  • modern advancements in safety and amenities that outweigh historical trends

The more you know about your sorority house and its past, the more your renovation will ring true into the future. After all, tradition is a hallmark of chapter growth and success.

Talk with Architects Who Specialize in Your House’s Style

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This is the part where you really dig in. Your eyes have gone bloodshot and bleary from the hours poring over the history of your chapter house.

You feel like a pledge again, learning the founders’ middle initials and the year the sorority got its first Gutenberg printing press. But you did it then, got initiated, and that same perseverance to learn still flows through you.

Now it’s time to put that knowledge to the test.

Once you have a handle on the house’s building history, get in touch with architects who have experience building, restoring and renovating your particular architectural style. Have walkthroughs with quotes and estimates from as many contractors and specialists as possible, keeping in mind your specialized needs.

Compare costs to similar structures and market values in your area. In fact, keep the market value of your sorority house in mind in general. While you want to stick with your house’s roots, generally speaking, you also want to keep pace with the modern property trends and needs of sisters.

Any features you can add to make the house safer and more code compliant has the potential to lower your insurance premiums.

You can keep the building style and pay homage to original designs and materials, while also making life more comfortable for sisters by adding contemporary amenities inside the house. This will drive up the demand for sisters to fill bedrooms.

Just be careful: If your renovation costs are too high, the cost of residency can skyrocket above the market average. That means you’ll end up with an expensive but mostly empty house as sisters flee to nearby dorms and apartments.

What you’re ultimately looking for is a renovation project that honors the past while keeping pace with the future. It’s a difficult balancing act, but with the right research and tools, we’re confident your project will be a success.

Time to Fundraise: Talk with the Experts

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Renovations can cost hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars. It should go without saying that you need a robust and dedicated sorority capital fundraising campaign to achieve such lofty goals.

Alumnae housing corporations and their chapters have limited resources, and work on a variety of projects and initiatives in any given semester. That makes it difficult to focus on a major fundraising campaign sustained over a long period of time.

While a sorority must ultimately take the onus when it comes to planning and executing housing projects, fundraising consultants can help.

Professional fundraisers can guide your chapter with pre-campaign feasibility assessments, alumnae-chapter engagement, donor and gift management, and other aspects of fundraising to help you reach your goals.

Sitting down to talk with fundraising consultants can give you experience-driven human insight into the fundraising landscape, and help you determine whether working with them will help your campaign succeed.

The next time you’re thinking of renovating your sorority house, reach for the future, but stay rooted to the rich history all around you.

What, past, present and future, defines your chapter’s sorority house? Are you planning a renovation? Tell us what’s been building up in your minds in the comments below.