Period homes can be a gift but they come with a considerable amount of responsibility.
There was a whole era through the 1980s when a lot of beautiful old buildings were “modernised”, removing any trace of the details that make the architecture special.
Art deco ceilings and cornices, ornate fireplaces, Federation details – or whatever the case may have been – were wiped from houses and apartments in a bid to start with a clean, modern slate. Now, it’s precisely these details that the market seeks when buying.
As we’re about to see on the upcoming series of The Block, restoration is as much about bringing details back to life as it is about reinstating elements that may have been removed during eras past.
However, without the proper research, you can force details on to a home that just don’t belong.
Proper research is the key to success, starting first with finding out when the property was built and looking for any remaining clues to the period of the home.
Victorian, Federation, Californian bungalow, art deco and all other periods and styles have their own language and inclusions that should point you towards what the property may have looked like in its prime.
Look at images, compile details on ceilings, architraves, skirtings, windows, door hardware, tapware and accessories, timberwork and any other feature detail you can find on the purest and truest version of the type and period of the home. Then take a step back to have a macro view of what you’re trying to achieve.
- Related: How architects restore heritage homes
- Related: What can you do to a heritage home?
- Related: Bringing heritage homes into the 21st century
In some instances, a pure restoration may be the only appropriate approach, but in others, the charm of heritage and the requirements of contemporary living need to be balanced. The weight of either side needs consideration as part of that equation.
Some periods are defined by their ceilings, others by their archways or fireplaces, so think about creating your spaces honouring the best parts of the period while achieving a modern, functional home.
If you have the liberty of creating an entirely new addition to your home, consider how you will manage the transition from old to new and how you will marry the two. It’s entirely appropriate, and currently desirable, to create a clear delineation between old and new in this type of project.
Finding just the right pieces is a large part of any renovation project, no more so than in a restoration.
Heaven forbid you mix your periods and styles, lest you stray into the no man’s land of general “period charm” without any real reference to the correct period.
Finding the right stores to buy from for the period you are working with is key; Google and heritage building retailers are fantastic places to start.
However, editing, balancing, sourcing and researching will all be pointless if you don’t find the right trades and crafts people to realise your vision and install all your lovely period details with finesse.
For example, there are plasterers who understand the constraints and construction of old ceilings, while other trades specialise in fireplace restorations or installation of timber wall paneling or parquetry floor polishing.
Also consider details such as light switches, handles, hinges and door stoppers and how you are going to blend together modern technological requirements with period charm.
However you decide to approach a heritage renovation, be sure you understand not only what you need from the building but also what the building requires from you to bring it back to its full potential.