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How to easily update your Victorian home without losing its character

Thu 14 Dec 2017

Many of us live in Victorian homes. From handsome townhouses to humble terraces, properties from this period were typically solidly built and simply configured. Inside, they were full of interesting features, including sash windows, ceiling roses, cast-iron fireplaces, cornicing and tall skirting boards. 

These days, we consider these original features as integral a part of the interior as the kitchen sink, but it wasn’t always the case. Cheap modernising swept through Britain after the Second World War and only really calmed down in the 1980s. During that time, many fireplaces, panelled doors and cornices were ripped out and replaced with plywood, melamine and lurid wallcoverings in a bid to bring Victorian homes up-to-date. 

Today, though, a more considered approach is the norm. We want to preserve or reinstate original features to bring character to our home without compromising on contemporary style and functionality. Often this means marrying hallways, living rooms and bedrooms bursting with authentic character with a highly efficient kitchen and bathroom. But there are other ways of celebrating your Victorian home’s ancestry without living in a museum piece. Here’s how…

Say yes to sash windows

Chepstow Place, Notting Hill, W2

Victorian homes were typically fitted with simple sash windows. If you have original ones, repairing and waterproofing them can help them live a long and beautiful life. Also consider upgrading sashes with double glazing – numerous companies can fit double-glazed units into existing frames. Alternatively, there are companies that can manufacture authentic replacements.

For Sale: Chepstow Place, Notting Hill, W2

Preserve original floorboards

Clapham Common North Side, SW4

We're still as obsessed with original boards as we were a few decades ago, when it became fashionable to rip up carpet and show off the wood beneath. Even battered and worn boards can be repaired and patched, so seek renovation advice before giving up on your Victorian originals.

For Sale: Clapham Common North Side, SW4

Create contrast with cornicing

Hemingford Road, Barnsbury, N1

Ornate plasterwork cornicing was beloved by the Victorians, but you can reinvent it today, while also making it stand out, by painting a bold shade around it. This is a neat way of both celebrating and modernising an original feature.

For Sale: Hemingford Road, Barnsbury, N1

Celebrate a ceiling rose

Robert Rhodes Architecture + Interiors

Original features such as ceiling roses are great assets, but you can bring them gloriously up-to-date. Why not juxtapose a contemporary light fitting with a traditional plaster-work rose? In this living space, the lattice design of the shades throws interesting shadows onto the ceiling, drawing the eye up, so you can’t fail to spot the original features.

Photo by Robert Rhodes Architecture + Interiors

Use bold colour

Oxford & Cambridge Mansions, Marylebone, NW1

Today’s moody dark hues work brilliantly with Victorian features and are in keeping with that periods love of dark shades. Avoid cluttering the mantelpiece with objects, which will tax the eye, especially if there are decorative tiles on the fire surround. A striking, contemporary artwork hung above, on the other hand, strikes just the right note of edgy modernity.

For Sale: Oxford & Cambridge Mansions, Marylebone, NW1

Add a sleek extension

Albert Street, Camden, NW1

No house, however beautiful, should stay static, so don’t be afraid to add striking contemporary style to your Victorian home. Thousands of properties from this period have been extended, with a super-sleek kitchen-diner added to a period frontage — and it works! Much of family life can take place in the large, contemporary extension, while smaller rooms in the original Victorian side of the house offer more intimate space.

For Sale: Albert Street, Camden, NW1

Expose brick walls


You can reference the industrial buildings and lofts of the period in any Victorian home by exposing the brickwork. Just one wall, or even a section of it, with visible bricks brings a raw, rustic quality to any space.

Photo by Increation

Invest in new classics

Pembridge Villas, Notting Hill, W11

These days, modernising a Victorian home is more about making it function well while still preserving its character. We are less interested in creating a stark, modern look in a period property. So look out for fittings that reference the period, but offer contemporary efficiency. It can be expensive and time consuming to source original, reconditioned pieces from the Victorian period, but newly made versions of traditional designs are widely available. You can find everything from radiators to tiles that are dead ringers for the real thing while offering the benefits of being newly manufactured.

For Sale: Pembridge Villas, Notting Hill, W11

Feeling inspired by Houzz’s tips for updating your Victorian property? Take a look at our other design trend blogs here.

By Jo Simmons, Houzz Contributor

Full article first published on Houzz

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