Restoration tips for a Victorian home

When we move into a property it’s easy to get carried away, trying to incorporate all the décor ideas’ we have found over the years from magazines, on TV etc. However in the process we can create a Frankensteinian home that struggles with it’s identity.

Many times I have seen wonderful period homes that look incredible on the outside, then as you walk in your confronted with garish colours, sharp plastered corners, modern fitting & furniture and in the majority of cases it just doesn’t work. The home is just a mish-mash of ideas and no thought has gone into it.

I come from Weston-Super Mare in the UK. Weston is a town where building boomed in the Victorian era, leaving us with a large stock of large mansion blocks, streets of semi-detached houses to rows workers terrace cottages. Some of these homes have been renovated very sympathetically, keeping some of the character of the building but at the same time not looking like set from a Charles Dickens play.

Below is some basic tips to sympathetically renovate your home,  that will not necessarily cost the earth, look great and will increase it’s value.

Before you start go online and check out images of interiors of homes from the same period as your own. See what works and what doesn’t. Visit reclamation centres to see what period fittings are available, it’s fun and you’ll be surprised at what you can find.

Areas that require some special attention.

Fireplaces:

Many period homes have had the traditional fireplaces in the living rooms  ripped out in the 50’s and replaced with the old ceramic fire with tiled concrete surround. Victorians were quite fond of cast iron tiled inserts carved stone surrounds.

Cornice & ceiling roses:

Many cornices have been damaged over the years through penetrating damp etc. As a result some cornices and ceiling roses have been removed completely. Cornice repairs can be done quite reasonably but we would recommend that you hire a professional tradesman for this. If the cornice has been completely removed over the years, replacement of a traditional style plaster cornice can be quite a significant investment, however it will transform you room and you will not regret the expense.  Do not fit lengths of cheap polystyrene coving and expect to get the same effect, you won’t and you’ll regret it.

Picture Rails & Dado rails:

Again during the 50’s & 60’s the fashion was for clean lines and many of these period homes had the timber mouldings removed. Such a shame. Picture rails and dado rails were functional and decorative. Many DIY outlets still sell many timber mouldings but choose wisely, Victorian mouldings were quite chunky and the modern equivalents are not to the same standard. They are easy to install and can make all the difference as part of a sympathetic restoration.

Doors & Windows:

If the doors in your home are not in keeping with the residence, visit a reclamation centre and purchase some four or six panel doors. If they have years of paint on them they can be dipped to take them back to the original pitch pine, do not try and remove the paint with a heat gun as you can easily damage the soft wood in the process. Ask at the reclamation centre where you can get them dipped locally. The doors can then be cut to size, waxed or varnished or repainted to suit. It’s crucial that you install a period front door. This will not only give amazing curb appeal but set the tone for the rest of the house. On all doors within the home try and fit traditional style furniture.
The consensus today is to fill your home with energy saving UPVC windows. Don’t! if you have a period home it will not have a decent energy rating anyway as it will probably have solid walls and they will effect any rating that you have done. The chances are, you have box sash windows, a fantastic Victorian invention. If they are in good order they can be renovated and fitted with draught strips in the staff and parting beads to reduce, you guessed it, draughts. If the windows need replacing completely then seek a traditional joiner or search the internet for  modern replacement box sashes. These come with a complete draught system, easy clean, and double glazing and can perform quite well in a energy efficiency test.

Bannisters & spindles:

Victorians really knew how to make a staircase look outstanding. Victorian craftsmen produced some of the most elaborate stair cases in the country. Yours may not be so elaborate however a modern replacement would cost a fortune. So its worth while making sure your staircase is well renovated. Again during to mid century it was quite common for families to box in the spindles with hardboard to get those clean lines they so craved for. So if you have a solid banister, it might be worth investigating to see if there are ornate spindles lurking behind that plain exterior.

Flooring:

Fitted carpets are a reasonably modern invention. Back in the 19th century carpets were an expensive luxury so the majority of small Victorian homes would have had bare floorboards. The larger Victorian homes would have had carpet to within about a foot from the walls. The exposed floor boards would have been painted black to disguise them. Therefore it’s worth check your floorboards, they may be worth exposing again, sanding and varnishing or waxing. They look fantastic if renovated with care.

Heating:

Where possible go for under floor heating. However as we know most Victorian properties were built using suspended timber floors so this creates an issue when considering the heating element of the property. Radiators where only available to the wealthy Victorian, therefore the majority of Victorian radiators are very ornate. other than those that were used in commercial buildings such as hospitals etc. I would recommend fitting replica or renovated cast iron radiators, however they are extremely expensive and they are not that efficient. The cheapest way to have efficient heating in your period home without loosing the traditional feel is to install modern radiators but disguised with an  MDF  radiator cover’s with a period design to them.

Switches, Sockets & light fittings:

Try to avoid white plastic switches and sockets. They may be small items but they look ridiculous in a period room. Again it’s worth going online and tracking down the myriad of outlets that sell suitable fittings.

Kitchens:

Victorians didn’t have fitted kitchens, so for maximum effect use traditional furniture rather than fitted units. If this is not to your liking then avoid continuous runs of cupboards especially with the high level cupboards. Try and create blocks that denote the working area such as, a centrally positioned extractor unit with a cupboard either side finished with a open ended shelving unit either side of that for the cooking area. Alternatively a centrally positioned plate rack unit with a cupboard either side to denote the washing area.  Try and err for a country feel kitchen as this most suits a Victorian room.

Bathrooms:

Roll top baths, claw feet, large shower heads with circular curtains,  instantly comes to mind, but they are not really practical for modern living. If that’s the sort of thing you like fine, run with it. However I personally feel that the bathroom is the only room in the house that you can relax from the confines of period restoration and play a little with your modernist urges.

Décor:

The Victorian pallet mainly consisted of muted colours due to the limited range of chemicals that they consisted of. Brilliant white was not available to the Victorian so to stay true to a period colour scheme try to avoid using this colour in your home. It is worth spending some time deciding on colours. You want to view images of Victorian interiors, and study paint swatches from companies such as Little Greene, Sanderson and Farrow & Ball. These companies produce a great range of tradition Victorian paint colours. Dulux also do a Heritage range that is that is also good quality.

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If you would like additional advise regarding period colour schemes, or would like to get a quotation for a professional finish, contact us here at Brentwood Decorative and we’d be more than happy to help.

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