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Which original architectural features are worth preserving

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Nearly 40% of homes in the UK were built before 1946, which makes our housing stock the oldest in Europe, says this report. In towns and cities up and down the country, dwellings built during, and as a consequence of, the Industrial Revolution still form the backbone of many urban areas today. Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian homes are particularly sought after and period homes that have been carefully and sympathetically maintained tend to hold their market value well. They can fetch a ‘period premium’ of up to 20% versus comparable modern homes.

What makes these old houses so popular is their beautiful architectural features, generous proportions and central locations that modern postwar homes simply cannot compete with. If you are the owner of one of these quirky and characterful dwellings, you will no doubt treasure the original features you have or perhaps even seek to restore those that are missing. Consider yourself honoured to be the custodian of a heritage asset.

If you are considering the purchase of a period home, and even more so if the building is listed, “a Historic Building Survey is absolutely essential to providing you with a specialist assessment of the property,” advises one expert in the field. And if you’re taking on a doer-upper, make sure you strike the right balance between retaining key period features and replacing any outdated elements that keep your new home stuck in a bygone age.

Here are some of the key elements you should be looking to preserve or restore, and celebrate.

Original sash windows

One of the most distinctive architectural features of period homes in Britain is sliding sash windows, the origins of which can be found back in the 17th century. The box casement has top and bottom units that slide past each other independently to open and close. Over the years, it is a common problem for sash windows to become sticky, draughty or rattly, letting warm air out and cold air in. Timber decay can be another major issue.

Where at all possible, it makes sense to refurbish the original timber sash windows to retain the authentic charm of the building. Specialist window restoration experts can overhaul sash windows in pretty much any condition, fit draught proofing and double glazing to make them energy efficient enough for 21st-century living. Please note that if your home is located in a conservation area or is a listed building, you may need planning permission in order to make any changes.

Feature fireplacest

Many historic homes still have their original fireplaces intact. These can be a wow focal point of a room, especially in living and dining rooms. It also helps to create good air circulation in an old house. If you are lucky enough to have beautiful Victorian or Art Nouveau fireplaces in your house, you should treasure them.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to use an original fireplace for its intended purpose. Just make sure that if it is going to be a merely decorative feature, fit a ‘chimney sheep’ or inflatable chimney balloon into the flue to keep draughts to a minimum. As far as the surround is concerned, it’s worth sympathetically restoring or preserving original marble, stone or cast iron structures to their former glory.

Ornate ceilings, cornices and mouldings

Period properties are well known for their decorative ceilings and ornate details that can be simply stunning to behold. If you are lucky enough to have some original ceiling cornices and mouldings, it is well worth maintaining or restoring them.

Make sure you do your research before you buy, since ceiling details should be matched to the age of the building in order to be authentic. Cornices and mouldings were used by the architects of the period to enhance the properties of a room. Clearly, a Georgian mansion is going to need grander ornamentation than a humble Victorian terrace.

Picture rails, dado rails and other wall trims

Picture rails were another common feature to embellish a room’s properties. They should be set 30-50cm below the ceiling cornice, depending on the overall height of the room. Further down, dado rails may be a simple decorative feature now, but back in the day, their job was to protect walls from being damaged by furniture, and chair and sofa backs in particular. If you’re going to retrofit dado rails, place them at a slightly higher height than they would have been originally to provide an illusion of greater ceiling height.

It’s important to get the overall dimensions and proportions right to achieve the correct look in a period room. Whether you’re retrofitting ceiling roses, picture rails, dado rails, door architraves or skirting boards, make sure they all relate to the rest of the interior architecture.

Timber and tiled flooring

Victorian and Edwardian homes are particularly known for their original timber flooring, perhaps with areas of decorative floor tiles in hallways, foyers and downstairs WCs. Wooden floors are fairly straightforward to repair and refurbish while restoring Victorian floor tiles is a specialist job.

Any damaged sections of floorboards should be replaced, ideally with sections taken from elsewhere in the house where the missing pieces won’t show. Stripped floorboards or restored parquet flooring are a popular look that can give your period property an authentic feel. You can choose to keep the floor finish neutral or give it a mahogany stain to replicate the original aesthetic. New flooring should be in keeping with the original designs, whether you fit new timber floors or decorative ceramic tiles in authentic designs.

Traditional fixtures & fittings

Finally, pay attention to the finishing touches such as light switches and power sockets, window hardware, doorknobs and cupboard handles. Often thought of as the ‘jewellery of the home’, getting the finer details just right makes all the difference to achieving the right period feel for your home.

If you have any original fixtures and fittings and they’re still fully functional and fit for purpose, restore them to their former glory and maintain them for the long term. Provided that any wiring or electrical items still meet the latest electrical safety standards, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t carry on using them. Getting the right aesthetic for your period home is a delicate balancing act between keeping in alignment with the original era when the house was built, and not living in a museum. A successful and sympathetic approach will give you the best of all worlds, providing a beautiful home full of character that you can enjoy for many years.


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