Developing a Victorian Property

As I’ve mentioned before, it’s never an easy ride developing a property for profit. Developing a listed property is more difficult still and not to be recommended for the novice developer. That said, it’s almost always period properties that manage to keep their romantic appeal over the more modern ones.

The vast majority of period property purchasers are pleasantly surprised to find that period features have been retained and enhanced. It can be quite disappointing for viewers to a period property to discover that the interior has been cleared of features and looks like a new-build. Therefore, it’s important to remember that if a property is a period one, you must keep the internal and external features.

Victorian properties are probably the most common of all listed properties. This is because the Victorian era covered many years. It took over from the Georgian period and began in approximately 1840 and lasted until around 1900. It’s fairly easy to notice the crossover period between Georgian and Victorian, unsurprisingly Georgian architectural features blended gradually into Victorian. A specific feature of typical Georgian architecture is symmetrical and proportional windows of many small panes, where the height of the windows is exactly double that of the width. Victorian properties however have very tall and narrow windows of only one or two panes. Technology had moved on to facilitate larger panes of glass which allowed more natural light to enter the property.

At the small end of Victorian properties, there are the long rows of terraced houses. These are situated in almost every town and provide the novice developer with an ideal property to learn the ropes on. They tend not to vary too much in layout; the only differences are the orientation of the stairwell and which floor the bathroom is on. Victorian properties tend to be robustly designed and built but occasionally turn out to have no foundations. This means that a survey is highly recommended as it’s not unheard of to find subsidence to some degree in these properties. On a more optimistic note though, most of these houses that were built without foundations have now had the necessary work carried out to prevent catastrophic movement. Always make sure though…remember – caveat emptor.
Larger Victorian properties are often built in a ‘villa’ style. This means that they were built in a certain architectural style that the smaller terraced houses weren’t. This style can be shown in the ornate features that these properties have, such as intricate window mullions and projected porches. Much of this was influenced by the gothic revival period (1850-1880). These houses often had cellars and attic space for servant’s accommodation. Victorian houses tended to be either terraced or detached in towns and cities. Semi-detached Victorian properties are more likely to be found in rural areas as they were built for the workers on the large estates.

The Victorians were the first to introduce the beginning of what we know now to be Building Regulations.  From the middle of the 19th century, there was an increased importance placed on sanitation in properties. Of course this wasn’t always particularly comfortable in the small properties (i.e. outside toilets) but larger houses were more likely to have a (downstairs) cloakroom built. Proper drainage (meaning the sewers were enclosed) was also introduced. Towards the end of the Georgian period, it was only a very few properties that had running water. By the end of the Victorian era, hot and cold running water was available in the majority of homes. The cellars of Victorian houses were used for the storage of coal. The pavement outside and immediately in front of the property would have a small flap or cover that allowed the coalman to pour the coal directly into the cellar without having to carry the coalbags through the house.
The Victorians strongly believed that a ‘bare’-looking interior was a sign of very bad taste. Subsequently, they tended to fill their homes with as many knick-knacks as possible. It is extremely unlikely that anyone would follow such a trend in modern times. However, it’s also not a good idea to attempt to incorporate a modern, almost minimalistic look into a period home unless you absolutely know what you are doing and it can be done sympathetically. Most people can’t.   A compromise between the two would be to look for comfortable and classic looking fixtures and furniture to acknowledge the history of the property without overfilling it. The general intentional feeling of Victorian homes is of comfort. The Victorians prized their home-comforts more than the Georgians.

In common with the Georgian era, Victorian house interiors in towns and cities were generally not painted in particularly bright colours. This was because of a combination of the pollution and the fact that paint technology was not very advanced. As the era progressed though, more interesting colours became popular such a rich greens and reds. The general idea was to use a single colour as a main one and add several ‘secondary’ colours to compliment it. These secondary colours were intended to compliment the main one by giving a contrast but without clashing. Varying textures between mouldings, ceilings and woodworks was also popular towards the end of the 19th century.

The most obvious features of Victorian interiors is coving, cornicing and ceiling roses. Originally, Dado rails were fitted in dining rooms at chair-back height. This was to protect the walls from dining chairs hitting them whenever a diner stood up. Picture rails were fitted in drawing rooms and parlours, where they did actually support pictures hanging beneath. Coving and ornamental woodwork should be painted in gloss white paint. This gives a ‘clean’ look that contrasts with the colour of the wall (just make sure the lines are straight…).

Wallpaper also became popular in the Victorian era. Although it was not quite as you might imagine. The patterns were extremely bold and were full of florals and swirls. In common with the idea of filling the property with lots of ornaments, it’s unlikely a developer would seek out Victorian style wallpaper unless it was intending to be a very accurate ‘museum’-type property. A good compromise would be to look at the Laura Ashley type of wallpaper. This would be regarded as sympathetic to a Victorian property, without being too accurate (i.e. dark). There’s no reason for a Victorian property to ever be dark. If the interior furnishings and decoration are light, then in combination with the tall windows, a Victorian property can be a very pleasant place to be.

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