In Home Renovation & Conservation

The 7 golden rules of victorian house renovation

The 7 golden rules of victorian house renovation pontcanna cardiff conservation area 8

Victorian houses can be a nightmare to renovate. Silly mistakes can cost you thousands and many people fall into the trap of thinking “the cheapest option will do”. That’s a quick and effective way to devalue your house.

If you’re looking to bring your home to its former period glory, you have to restore it sympathetically. Whether you’re extending or sprucing up the place always respect the heritage of the building — even the most simple ones.

This guide will show you the key golden rules that will help you with your Victorian house renovation. The best part is that they’re all accessible and easy to follow. You know what they say: do it once, do it right.

Why you should care about Victorian period house conservation

The 7 golden rules of victorian house renovation pontcanna cardiff conservation area 1

Some years ago the British obsession with everything Victorian baffled me. “Why look back instead of looking forward?” I used to wonder. Well, I really don’t know what happened to me — perhaps dozens of visits to Cardiff Castle. But now I find myself on the opposite end of the spectrum. I adore Victorian domestic architecture and design.

It was their passion for ornamentation that got me. You find ornaments on doorbells, windows and even gutters. Nowadays, these are the sought-after original features estate agents love. Victorians digested classic styles, such as Classic and Gothic, and regurgitated some of the most charming buildings in the UK. A bit wacky, a bit eccentric and always flamboyant.

STYLE TIP: The architectural details of Victorian interiors, such as joinery and ceiling ornamentation, are the perfect backdrop for any decor style. Go all-white for a minimal contemporary look or introduce heritage paint colours to complement eclectic boho vibes.

I’ve lived in period and new build properties over the last few years. And Victorian and Edwardian houses have been the most problematic. Saying “riddled with issues” is an understatement. However, these houses were built more than a hundred years ago and they deserve all our respect. I don’t think current new build houses will age as gracefully.

The “No Mercy” approach to Victorian house renovation

The 7 golden rules of victorian house renovation pontcanna cardiff conservation area 11

Recently, I met a former colleague with a shared passion for period conservation. After a hot choc, we wandered around the neighbourhood commenting on the facades, front gardens and numerous architectural crimes — the 70s did a lot of damage. We are strict with conservation and respecting the heritage. Like the Victorian Society with evil eyes.

The “No Mercy” approach means that there is no excuse when it comes to sympathetically restoring a period house. If you don’t know where to start, read about it. If you don’t know how to do it, find someone who can. And if you don’t have the budget, wait for the right moment. It’s that simple.

Victorian house renovation: The 7 golden rules you must follow

The 7 golden rules of victorian house renovation pontcanna cardiff conservation area 5

Restoring a period house to its former glory can be daunting. Do it wrong and its value will collapse. There’s no place for costly mistakes. Here are the seven golden rules that will help you renovate your property sympathetically.

1.- Take your time to do research

The best place to start is my beginner’s guide to discovering the history of your house. Once you know important details such as the year of construction or the architect you can picture your house within its historical context. The Victorian era spans for over six decades, with design trends emerging and disappearing. So knowing the specific details will narrow down your options.

2.- Respect the architectural period

If you have to replace features always choose those that correspond to the right period. For example, the number of panels on a window, joinery details and fireplace style are all unique to their eras (Georgian, Victorian, Edwardian, etc.) You don’t want to spend thousands on new windows only to find later that they’re the wrong style. Yes, people will notice.

The 7 golden rules of victorian house renovation pontcanna cardiff conservation area 4

3.- Give your home the Conservation Area treatment

Buildings in a Conservation Area have a protected status. So any modifications or repairs have to be approved by your local authority. They have a series of strict gold-standard guidelines to ensure the building is preserved as it should be. I recommend following (almost) equally strict guidelines, even if your house is non-protected. Your home deserves only the best.

4.- A Building Survey is a must

Wouldn’t it be nice if someone gave you a list of what needs fixing in your house? From the little cosmetic flaws to essential repair work. That’s what the Building Survey is about. Sure, it’s more expensive than the basic Homebuyers Survey, but with period houses you don’t want nasty surprises. Always hire a professional registered with the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.

The 7 golden rules of victorian house renovation pontcanna cardiff conservation area 6

5.- Restore all original features

These features are closely linked to the value of your house. Remove them and the value will decrease. Do your house a favour and repair or reinstate them. Make the reclamation yard your new B&Q. It’s an easy decision, yet I see people ripping original fireplaces to fit basic stoves or painting over stone (check my bath stone restoration guide to avoid this mistake).

6.- Let go of perfection

Victorian houses are wonky. They always will be. You can replaster every wall for that sharp finish, but the windows are still different sizes and the rooms don’t have square angles. But you know what, it’s fine. Don’t obliterate the weird and wonderful. Embrace it and make it a feature. A little crack in the ceiling is like a grey hair of wisdom.

The 7 golden rules of victorian house renovation pontcanna cardiff conservation area 10

7.- Think long-term

What is the aim of your Victorian house renovation? Maybe you plan to do up the house and sell. Or extend to accommodate a growing family. Regardless of your final goal think beyond trends. Are anthracite uPVC windows going to be in vogue in 15 years? Invest your money where the real value is. For example, high-quality wooden sash windows.

8.- [BONUS] Learn when to break the rules

Aha, I got you there! Don’t you worry, I’m joking. Really, don’t break them. Unless you want to be the owner of that house down the road forever struggling to sell. Despite popular belief doing things right doesn’t cost more money. All you need is determination and willingness to learn. The future generations will thank you for that — and I won’t look at you with evil eyes.

Would you add another golden rule to the list?

The 7 golden rules of victorian house renovation pontcanna cardiff conservation area 9

What are your experiences with period homes? Good or bad share your thoughts in the comments below, and spread the conservation love. Remember — no mercy!

If you would like to read more about the topic, I recommend The Victorian House Manual from Haynes. It covers all the aspects of Victorian house renovation from flooring to roofing. The Victorian Society and Period Property also have a series of interesting articles and booklets.

midcentury modern shopping guide free download boreal abode vintage furniture
Share Tweet Pin It +1

You may also like

Bath stone cleaning and repair 101

Posted on August 11, 2017

Previous PostHow to design a small living room to maximise light and space
Next PostFind your happy at home: How to make your home your happy place

32 Comments

  1. Lin
    3 months ago

    Wow – some beautiful Victorian houses. Love this blog Juan – just wish I had one of the Victorian house’s to renovate..

    Reply
    1. Juan Sandiego
      3 months ago

      Thank you for your comment, Lin! Those houses are gorgeous indeed. They’re all from Conservation Areas in Cardiff. I wish I had one like those too!

      Reply
  2. Nicola Capper
    3 months ago

    Great post Juan, so informative and the homes featured are stunning.

    Reply
    1. Juan Sandiego
      3 months ago

      Thank you for your comment, Nicola! Those homes are a whole different level indeed 🙂

      Reply
  3. Maria
    3 months ago

    Love Victorian homes and always wanted to own one. Great post with some wonderful images 👌🏻

    Reply
    1. Juan Sandiego
      3 months ago

      Thank you for your comment, Maria! Glad you like the photos. I had to wait for the one non-rainy day here in Cardiff!

      Reply
  4. Hollie Brooks | Audenza
    3 months ago

    What a great post, Juan! I love Victorian properties – my sister just bought her first house, which is a gorgeous little Victorian terrace. I’ll send this on to her!

    Reply
    1. Juan Sandiego
      3 months ago

      Aw, thank you so much, Hollie! Hope your sister finds this post useful. If she has any questions I’d be happy to help 🙂

      Reply
  5. Fiona
    3 months ago

    It is a privilege to live in a home with so much character. The building survey is a real essential. Knowing what you are taking on helps to make decisions on renovation budgets for essentials as well as your dream home must haves.

    Reply
    1. Juan Sandiego
      3 months ago

      Thank you for your comment, Fiona! You’re absolutely right. I’ve heard so many horror stories about period houses. They all come with problems, but it’s better to be safe.

      Reply
  6. Stacey Sheppard
    3 months ago

    I’ve never lived in a period property, always modern houses which have no character and don’t feel as sturdy. I remember visiting my grandma and cousins in Kent though and their homes were beautiful and full of character and little quirks. I’d love to live in a Victorian home one day. But I think this will remain a dream for me!

    Reply
    1. Juan Sandiego
      3 months ago

      Thank you for your comment, Stacey! The quirks are definitely present in old homes. But I must say some new properties are amazing. They may have no character at the beginning, but interior decoration can make wonders!

      Reply
  7. Tom Bellord
    3 months ago

    Great blog! I love the notion of letting go of “perfection”. People often lose sight of the fact that when always seeking perfection, that this can be at the expense of character and soul!

    Reply
    1. Juan Sandiego
      3 months ago

      Thank you for your comment, Tom! That’s right. No two walls are the same and that’s part of the magic of period homes.

      Reply
  8. Jilly Edwards
    3 months ago

    Great article fantastic research, huge congratulations.

    Reply
    1. Juan Sandiego
      3 months ago

      Thank you for your comment, Jilly! Glad you enjoyed it 🙂

      Reply
  9. Donna
    3 months ago

    Juan these photos are exquisite and making me feel I NEED to live in a period house one day!! These are great tips too and I agree that the older the house the more problems it can throw at you. However if you include a contingency in your renovation budget then it might not feel so painful on the wallet. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    1. Juan Sandiego
      3 months ago

      Thank you for your comment, Donna! Indeed, the budget has to be flexible as there’s always something that needs repairing.

      Reply
  10. Nicolette Lafonseca
    2 months ago

    This list has been my mantra for years I am on my 5th renovation now and 4th Victorian villa. I HATE when people think to achieve a contemporary look in their home they have to stat ripping out fireplaces and coving. I feel like crying.

    The thing slowing me down this time is every room has an additional 2 grand to replace the timber sash with new timber sash a full on labour of love but it will be worth it.

    Reply
    1. Juan Sandiego
      2 months ago

      Thank you for your comment, Nicolette! Wow, you’re a serial renovator. Sash windows are not the cheapest but the last as long as uPVC windows (plus you can change the colour as an when).

      Reply
  11. Natalie Holden
    2 months ago

    Great post! I love period properties! I grew up in a period property and my first property was a new build so I’ve had the experience in living in both.

    I love the high ceilings and big windows in a period property, they have so much character but as you say it can get expensive with unanticipated problems cropping up in the process.

    Reply
    1. Juan Sandiego
      2 months ago

      Thank you for your comment, Natalie! The big windows are indeed of their best asset. But as you say, the problems never seem to end.

      Reply
  12. Catherine
    2 months ago

    This is a fantastic post! I live in a 70s/80s build now but I’d love to move to an older property eventually. My Mum’s house had lovely old features like an original roll top bath and Victorian toilet, the new owners ripped them all out when she moved!

    Reply
    1. Juan Sandiego
      2 months ago

      Thank you for your comment, Catherine! Oh, no! That’s the sort of things that devalue the house. They could have blended the new with the old with a bit of effort and design mind.

      Reply
  13. Jumi Awomosu
    2 months ago

    Stunning post Juan I so believe in respecting the architectural features of a building and embracing its imperfections one in the same! Will be returning to read this again and again!

    Reply
    1. Juan Sandiego
      2 months ago

      Thank you so much for your comment, Jumi! I’m so glad you found it useful. Completely agree with you. The little imperfections are part of their charm.

      Reply
  14. Vicki
    2 months ago

    Having owned a Victorian House we went through a fair bit of work such as damp proofing, we were back to the brick in one room, wonky chimneys, a damaged fire (we replaced with a brand new but period reproduction, we had 80s windows to remove and so much more. It creaked and there was pebble bash on it which we couldn’t afford to remove. But we loved living there. Now we are in a mid century bungalow, less character sure, but also fewer issues and ££ being spent!

    Reply
    1. Juan Sandiego
      2 months ago

      Thank you for your comment, Vicki! It seems you had to manage quite a renovation project. I have roughcast on the back of the house and it’s going to stay there for a while because I can’t see it from the house. I don’t newer houses have less character, just a different canvas to design on.

      Reply
  15. Ruthie
    2 months ago

    Really interesting piece Juan, I love the idea of applying conservation area rules to your home. If everyone on our street had done that there’d be no front porches (including our own) xx

    Reply
    1. Juan Sandiego
      2 months ago

      Thank you for your comment, Ruthie! The last decades of the 20th century certainly did a lot of damage and sometimes we have to live with it. You’ve done a brilliant job with your front garden, though.

      Reply
  16. Fawn Interiors Studio
    2 months ago

    Some excellent points here and totally agree with you that new builds will not age as gracefully, nor feel so soulful. We’re firm believers in keeping the solid features (architraves, cornicing, floors, ceilings, windows, etc) traditional and you can break rules with all the bits that you can take away. That’s why mixing mid-century furniture with period features always looks so awesome, and you haven’t changed the fabric of the building. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Juan Sandiego
      2 months ago

      Thank you so much for your comment! You’ve articulated your thoughts so well. Unfortunately, many of the features in my home have already been obliterated. But I guess there’s always the option to reinstate some of those. Thanks again for popping by.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Thanks for visiting...

Grab your FREE Midcentury Guide before you go

No sign up required! 6MB PDF
close-link

Are you a Design Lover? Don't miss the Style-packed Newsletter

Get subscriber-only articles in your inbox every month!
Your details are safe with my privacy policy. Out-out anytime.
I’M IN 👍
X