Period living: How to preserve and enhance your home's character features
PUBLISHED: 11:22 05 June 2018 | UPDATED: 11:41 11 June 2018
Original features from the Victorian, Georgian and Edwardian eras are more popular now than ever. Richard Burton found out how to get the authentic look
Imagine a Monty Python sketch that posed the question: what did the Victorians do for us?
Okay, so once we’ve joked our way beyond the periodic table, cinematography and polite society, we’d probably settle on what most of us think of - lots of very stylish housing.
They’ve become part of the landscape since the Industrial Revolution brought great swathes of the population out of the countryside and towns were forced to develop to accommodate them.
A close look at census data covering the years between 1831 and 1901, reveals that the population of England and Wales increased 134 per cent from 13.89 million to 32.51million.
And the houses they built became not only part of British life but a byword for period living.
All helped of course by the Victorians’ willingness to adopt and embrace many other styles, from the classic to the gothic and rococo that made them not only interesting but well worth preserving.
So, if you have a period home, the chances are it’s going to be Victorian. And if you do want to restore it, there’s no shortage of people out there to help, many of them offering something lacking at the time I was struggling to restore my own three-storey Victorian villa - online services.
One of them is Emma Page who runs the Victorian Emporium (www.thevictorianemporium.com) from the home she is currently restoring in Linslade, near Leighton Buzzard. She and husband Simon spent years “flipping” period homes, and doing what I had to do - spending hours trawling reclamation yards.
Their business was a natural fit, given that Emma had spent years in marketing and that Simon had a degree in architecture. The name, incidentally, was influenced more by 21st century life than the days of Dickens and dodgy copper arsenite wallpaper.
“It was an SEO decision,” she said. “We supply a wide range of period materials, but we discovered that, if you put Victorian in the title, you get significantly more hits.”
That was the businesswoman talking. Deeper down, I did detect in the short time I spent at their home, a genuine desire to promote and preserve the concept of period homes, whatever the period.
So what does she advise?
“Do your research and have your own opinion so you are not swayed by a builder wanting to do a quick bodge job - or by an extortionate quote,” she said.
“You should have some idea of what work should cost and how to do it before even thinking of project managing a period renovation. Otherwise you’re very likely to end up paying too much or make bad decisions.
“Also, don’t have a specific timescale or deadline - again this is how you will spend too much or make bad decisions because you want to just ‘get it finished’.”
Demand is high these days, particularly among couples with growing families impressed by the roominess that typifies an average Victorian home, not to mention the way they often lend themselves to being extended.
All a far cry from the days of the sixties and seventies when they fell foul of a pretty awful trend for gutting and modernising.
I recall too well neighbours’ skips piled high with unwanted tiles, cornicing and – worse still – radiators. Not to mention the deliveries of characterless hardboard that hid the panelling on doors. I even remember one neighbour saying it made them “easier to dust”.
Luckily, enough of what was ripped out eventually ended up in the sort of busy yards and old barns Emma and her husband would visit to go scavenging. Emma tells me they get 10 orders a day for tall skirting boards.
As for the mix-and-match approach, even given the eclectic nature of much of what the Victorians did, what are the rules?
Architect Michael Schienke of Vorbild Architecture, whose projects can typically reach up to £2,000,000, speaks of the “rule of three” – ensuring that two out of the styles have a similar amount of detail, and the third remains plain.
“There are certain styles that help to gel otherwise incompatible ones,” he told Houzz. “These are typically styles that historically evolved in between two other periods and therefore contained pieces of each of them. For example, Art Deco can gel Victorian with Modern, while Georgian can blend Tudor with Victorian.”
Sophie Ogden, Interior Stylist at Bathroom Takeaway (www.bathroomtakeaway.co.uk), which delivers throughout the UK, has seen a growing trend in adding Victorian themes, as they can easily be adapted and given a modern twist while still looking timeless and sophisticated.
“Victorians loved bright and rich colours and everything made out of wood,” she said. “Wooden panels create a warmer look, and depending on your mood, you can paint them to match your chosen colour scheme. Mauve or a deep purple would look great but probably only appeal to those brave enough to experiment.”
She added: “Patterned tiles to the floor or walls are another great way to create the Victorian look, and if matched with Metro tiles, instantly give a modern yet Victorian look which is on-trend and fabulous.
“Victorian items give your room character and a touch of nostalgia and also work well across various bathroom styles, especially an eclectic mix with lots of plants and accessories with personality.”
Emma Page’s home was as original as they come when she and Simon bought it from a former Bletchley Park decoder to become only the third owner in 132 years. It still had the anaglypta wallpaper, hand-spun bullion glass windows and terracotta floors. Even doors leading to the servants’ quarters were lined in green baize to keep the noise way from sensitive Victorian ears.
But she points out that even the sort of multi-million-pound Victorian terraces in towns and cities such as Bath and London would have originally been workers cottages with no indoor toilet, let alone a functioning bathroom.
“There would have been a tin bath in front of the fire filled once a week for the entire family. So any entire room used as a bathroom in a Victorian terrace is very much a pimped version of the true Victorian house.
“Even in the well-to-do detached houses, the bathrooms were very much sculleries for the body without the extensive mirrors, cabinets, towel rails and other accessories that we now enjoy.”
What’s your period?
Georgian (1714 to 1837)
A typical property is likely to be: A three-four storey townhouse built around a garden square with tall sash windows and smaller ones higher up. The exterior may be rendered in white or cream on the ground floor level with exposed brickwork above.
What it may not have: a garden
Victorian (1830 to 1901)
A typical property is likely to be:
Built close to a town centre or a station, probably as part of a long terrace, have bay windows, some stained glass windows, coloured brickwork and a slate roof. You’re also likely to find a fireplace in every room.
What it may not have: a garage
Edwardian (1901 to 1910)
A typical property is likely to be:
Set back from the road, made of red bricks, enjoy wide rooms and wooden parquet floors and mock tudor cladding.
What it may not have: the deepest foundations