Restoring period homes to their former glory

restoring period homes to their former glory

Owning or buying a period home is a pleasure and privilege, but not without its maintenance challenges. 

Reflecting current and recent trends, the National Trust is noticing an uptake in the restoration of period residences from the 1940s to 1960s.

As a general guide, there are several aspects to consider when caring for, or renovating, an older house — style, research and a close inspection.

Starting point

An online search or even your local library is a good place to start if you want to identify the style of your house.  

Period styles

Broadly speaking, the following list summarises period housing styles:

Colonial, 1835 to 1850: Simple cottages of which not many examples survive.

Victorian, 1851 to 1900: Houses that date from the discovery of gold, and cover many styles including Gothic Revival, Italianate and Boom style. Many inner-city terraces date from the Victorian period.

Federation, 1901 to 1918: Includes the styles known as Queen Anne, Federation or Edwardian, typically in red brick with terracotta roof tiles and chimneys and complex roof shapes.

Inter-War, 1919 to 1939: This period is notable for the California Bungalow style, as well as Spanish Mission, Tudor Revival and Moderne.

Post War, 1946 to 1959: In a period when materials and labour were in short supply, houses became simpler with more open-plan design, use of lightweight cladding materials, flat roofs, and carports instead of garages.

Reference guides

Not only can it be fascinating to find out more about your house, but it will also be a great help in guiding your restoration or renovation works.  

Be prepared to spend time and be persistent. First, see if your house has already been researched. To do so, try checking with the local historical society, state libraries, university libraries or the National Trust. 

It may be included in a conservation study commissioned by your local shire or municipal council.

These sources may also provide contacts for restoration specialists of period homes. 

In addition to historical records, a detailed inspection of your house can provide clues to its past. You may be able to identify changes that have been made to the house during its life.  

Shine a light on renovation clues

Take a torch and look in the sub-floor for new or different-sized pieces of timber used in floor framing, or different construction methods, to see if there is any debris of former materials.

Look under carpets and floor coverings for changes in floorboards — for example, strips of new flooring or an area where floorboards run in a different direction may indicate where a wall was removed. 

Similarly, check the roof space via a ceiling hatch and see if there are any clues to changes in the roof form. You may find evidence of the original ceilings above the existing ceilings if they have been lowered.

Outside your house, look for differences in bricks, roof shape, roof cladding, chimneys or window frame sizes and materials. All of these should help in determining if the house has had previous renovations or additions.  

Inside, differences in doors, skirtings, cornices and architraves may indicate that alterations have taken place.  

Older buildings are most likely to have had a bathroom added later, as toilets were initially housed in a separate outside building and baths were often not a permanent fixture.

Once assessed, taking time, consideration and consulting a restoration specialist for maintenance advice and amendments will help bring your period home to life.