Period and Mid-Century: The Importance of a Sympathetic Renovation

So, you’ve bought a gorgeous historical home that is overflowing with potential but is in need of some serious renovation. You want your home to retain at least some of its beauty and historical significance, but, in terms of liveability, it’s simply not possible as it currently stands. But where should you start? What can you envisage for this untouched gem? There is a current trend of reinventing the period home with a striking extension that creates a new dynamic feel for the home. But where is the longevity in that? Imagine in twenty or thirty years’ time, will it still look as good or would it look rather dated?

A contemporary renovation or possibly transformation may look great in the short term, but you have to do it with architectural precision that makes a statement, to ensure it keeps its authenticity. The reality is, there is a large majority of contemporary extensions to period homes that aren’t considerate of the original style of the home, ensuring that it will easily depreciate in value as buyers are only interested in seeing something that’s striking and new as a renovation, or something sympathetic to the original era, rather than mismatched designs from another era, even if it has family functionality. If you want to understand the importance of a sympathetic renovation on your period home, we’ve got four great tips for you.

Character and Longevity

In particular, period homes (1850s-1940s) and mid-century modern homes (1950-1980) remain popular in Melbourne because of their innate character. A period home or mid-century modern home is a unique remnant of the historical period in which it was constructed and therein captures its charm. A sympathetic renovation means respecting the character of the home and ensuring that any new elements that are brought into it or added onto it respect and blend with the original build. The very features that drew you to the home in the first place can be built upon and sometimes even exaggerated to turn the home into a contemporary masterpiece without demoralizing the original style. Continuing the elements of maintaining the same height in the ceiling throughout, continuing the same style of floorboard, picture rails on all the walls, similar skirting boards and architraves and possibly maintaining the same theme of terrazzo floors in the bathrooms are just a few ideas to maintain the home’s integrity. Retaining a timeless finish in the décor while having the modern conveniences and high tech gadgetry to be up to today’s lifestyle needs, keeps your period home the right balance between old and new. Your home can be as comfortable and up to date as you need it and at the same time an awe-inspiring classic masterpiece that impresses at every turn.

Understanding the Needs of the Home and of its Inhabitants

The beauty of period homes is the flexibility within their design. Using the original floorplan is easy to create a seamless transition through restoring the period character and adding contemporary needs that will add value to the home. For instance, the traditional floorplan of a central hallway with symmetrically set rooms, usually set up as the original lounge and dining rooms on one side, and two bedrooms on the other side, can easily be converted into a main bedroom suite, using the second bedroom as space for the walk in robe and ensuite, while maintaining a front lounge, but converting the dining room into a second bedroom. The same character is maintained in the rooms, but you’ve improved the spaces for modern living. Engaging an architect who is familiar with restoring period or mid-century modern homes will help you develop ideas that remain true to the original character while providing today’s functionality. Engaging experts is always a fantastic idea as is familiarising yourself with your unique treasure. Before renovating any home of historical significance, architect and mid-century connoisseur, Alistair McLean, advises to live in the home for at least a year to see what works for you and what doesn’t. If we do this, we can come to better understand a home’s flow and functionality and make informed decisions about renovating it appropriately. This is because we need to understand what makes the home liveable and comfortable rather than just appealing to its aesthetic. Among other things, we need to understand the inside/outside connection, the heating and cooling throughout the seasons, and the way the light comes into the home in different weather conditions.

Custodianship Not Ownership

It is perhaps easy to forget that a mid-century modern home may have existed for an entire lifetime and a period home may have existed for two or three! These homes are historically significant to our changing social culture and are likely to continue to exist for hundreds of years to come. This is why we should consider ourselves as ‘custodians’ of the homes, not ‘owners’. It is our duty to respect the character and class of the home, how it shaped a family’s lifestyle and how it can imitate the original social culture through careful transformation into today’s lifestyle. These homes are historical documents and enduring parts of what gives Melbourne its unique and loveable character. These homes trace the history of the city over many generations, which explains the existence of the heritage overlays that protect Melbourne properties and streetscapes.

Heritage overlays apply to both individual properties and particular areas known as heritage precincts. These overlays are great for ensuring that some of the character of the original home and the streetscape stays intact. If your home has a heritage overlay, you probably cannot alter its exterior, in particular the part that is visible from the street. You can however renovate the inside of the home and often you can add an extension with council approval. But, even though you may have the freedom to do as you wish with the inside of your home, it is often advisable to keep the inside of the home close to how it was originally built and to ensure that any extensions respect and blend with the original build. The beauty of a home’s original qualities, is that these period homes and mid-century modern homes are actually made to last. The quality of the timbers, the construction and the structure are actually conducive to Melbourne’s weather temperament, and have stood the test of time. Why mess with something that is not broken?

Reusing, Repurposing and Matching Original Materials and Design

To keep the authenticity, you might imagine that the materials you use should be the same as those with which the original home was constructed, and recycled materials are a great resource when working on a period or mid-century modern home. Ensure that you source materials that are considered safe, as some of these homes used asbestos, lead paint and thin glass, which we now consider to be dangerous. Many demolition companies will now go through a home to find what can be salvaged before doing a complete demolition on a home. They could salvage ceiling roses, weatherboards, skirting boards, fireplaces, light fixtures, picture rails, cedar boards, floorboards, plate ledges, timber paneling, carved timber overmantels, marble fireplaces, windows, traditional doors, leadlights, the list can go on… There are plenty of recycling depots which are drop off points for homes that have been demolished. Choose your materials carefully, and ask experts to help you (architect Alistair McLean recommends The Eco Group in Clayton and Renovator’s Paradise in Keysborough). Alternatively, you can choose many newer materials and match them aesthetically to the older materials in the home.

Do Your Research

If you use the first 12 months living in your home to do research, it will be worth its long-term weight in gold. Go to your local historic society to find out anything about your home – it’s previous owners, the reason why it was built, under what circumstances it was built, anything… Create a connection to your home’s past that will stand the test of time and create an emotional connection to the next ‘custodian’ of the home. Buyers are a sucker for a story, so any piece of history that will capture your heart, will also capture any future buyer’s heart, making them pay more and appreciate the beauty of the home.

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