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?
The most common feature retained in 21st century Melbourne property in regard to period homes is unquestionably the façade, often because of the intrinsic heritage regulations overseen by different municipalities and Heritage Victoria. There’s a strong sense of timelessness from an original façade, and something that contemporary architects are challenged to recreate in attempt of matching the very essence of their heart and soul. Solid brick and timber weatherboards are the most common sights in façade construction, with Victorians notable for their Hawthorn style brickwork and block front, while the grander homes fashioned their facades with tuck-pointing to bring out the detail of the brickwork. Victorian facades are characterised by their iron latticework while the later build Edwardian homes substitute the iron for timber fretwork in their detailing. Tessellated tiling is often a popular feature amongst the earlier period homes, with many companies selling new tiles to complement and restore the original designs.
With great ceiling height comes a sense of great space, even grandeur and perhaps a feeling of quality. The standard heights of ceilings are 2400mm (8 feet in old terms), whereas period homes can reach as high as 4200mm (14 feet). The height generally lowers in homes the later they were built, with Victorian homes often around 3300-3600mm (11-13 feet) and Californian Bungalow residences usually around the 3000mm (10 feet). The extra height does mean extra space to heat and cool, yet there’s a general desirability to have a home with high ceilings.
Some of the rich and decorative charm comes from the fine detailing in the ceilings and cornices of period homes. Intricate patterns, pressed metal, inverted domes and deep cornices make for an enchanting presence that is very seldom repeated in modern building. Only true luxury architects and home builders are afforded the expenses to worry about this sort of detail, yet it was standard in period times. The vertical glamour can even extend to archways which are particularly present in Victorian homes and toned down to timber fretwork in Edwardian homes.
Fireplaces were an essential part of every room in period homes for their only source of heat. There is still a sense of warmth and beauty to the original fireplace that makes a statement in the rooms as they are often dressed in charming tiling or marble surrounding the cast iron hearths. Timber replaced the marble in impoverished times as resources were stretched during the World Wars and The Great Depression. While some home owners like to maintain the original fireplaces as a working fireplace, most century old fireplaces are purely ornamental, with other forms of energy efficient heating used throughout the home.
Quality timber is one of the true testaments in building practice, so good old timber floors certainly carry an ambience of enchantment and quality. In keeping with the grand Victorian style, it’s quite amiss to not see the classic Baltic pine floorboards in place, while other forms of solid flooring including Tasmanian Oak as a regular feature in residences built throughout the 20th century. A keen eye will identify Red Pine, Cypress Pine or even mahogany floors in some more elusive homes. It was rare in its time too actually see the timber floorboards of the home, as they were actually considered the sub-floor – prone to gaps between the floorboards letting in drafts and insects, so most timber floors were covered with carpet or vinyl to keep the house warm.
The true intricacy of period character is found in the windows and leadlights of these homes, often combining with spellbinding effect. The front windows are often necessary to keep as part of façade heritage regulations, and they still certainly have their place in contemporary design. The bay window is a grand feature of a building which shapes the room, while sash windows are the most common window form. Leadlights and other decorative glass is often seen through the front windows and most notably the entrance to the home. The front door itself and the adjoining entrance wall is the regular point of decoration, with companies again specialising in making replica finishes for these areas.
Character homes are timeless in their appeal and buying a period home needs to have the due care and attention of maintaining its integrity. Historians and heritage architects prefer to call owners of period homes. ‘custodians’ as they believe that they have a custodial duty to retain the heritage. So, when you’re next on the lookout for a period home, make sure you appreciate buy a period home with the mindset that you are a ‘custodian’, helping to preserve its authenticity for the next generation.
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