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Don't kill off your Victorian features and replace them with modern styles - celebrate their charm instead!

  • Glassy modern extensions are ruining the character of historic homes
  • Renovations should be sensitive to architectural features
  • It's time to celebrate the elegance of sash windows and tiled fireplaces 

The country has been having a long-term fling with glassy extensions. It’s half the reason Grand Designs is still going strong after 18 years.

These light-drenched expansions might be expensive and the building work chaotic, but they tend to provide a solid return on investment and awaken under-used areas, converting dark corners to warm social hubs. 

Tasteful: An interior by designer Anouska Tamony, which is in keeping with the architecture

Tasteful: An interior by designer Anouska Tamony, which is in keeping with the architecture

But I’ve fallen out of love with these glass boxes. Everyone seems to have them — and they all look identical.

The same could be said of other restoration fashions. Which is a shame, because some period properties have been so incongruously modernised that they have become unrecognisable and even garish.

Sadly, we are seeing a return to the Fifties and Sixties, when it was fashionable to cover up Victorian fireplaces and dispense with ornate plasterwork. But don’t rip everything out. Celebrate what you have.

SAY NO TO FAKES

Often a garden is the reason people most want to upsize. But many green-fingered buyers have their hopes dashed when they spot an increasingly popular trend: fake grass.

This synthetic turf, much-loved by dog owners keen on easy clean-ups and those with north-facing gardens who struggle to grow a uniform lawn, would alarm our Victorian and Edwardian ancestors.

The real thing: Say no to fake grass and cultivate a proper lawn which you and the local wildlife will enjoy

The real thing: Say no to fake grass and cultivate a proper lawn which you and the local wildlife will enjoy

Not least because gardens were places where food was grown and herbs nurtured. They also provide habitats for insects, birds and small animals.

Thankfully, the inclination towards static, bogus ‘grass’ can be reversed. Get the gardeners in and, while they’re there, set them to work on removing decking. It’s a well-known home for rats. Gardeners cost an average £150 per day, and re-turfing a 50 sq m lawn may set you back up to £700. A DIY approach will keep the costs down, but do not forget that laying turf is physically demanding work. 

LET FLOORS SHINE

The past 50 years have seen an increase in homeowners razing original period floorboards and replacing them with various versions of imitation wood or laminate alternatives.  

There is nothing more charismatic than a home in possession of its exposed, age-battered treads, so be brave and unmask the old.

With the right maintenance — cleaning floors, avoiding the use of wax or soapy detergents and keeping your property well-heated and its overall humidity low in order to deter woodworm — they will wear well.

Fabulous flooring: A traditional brown wooden floor by The New & Reclaimed Flooring Co.

Fabulous flooring: A traditional brown wooden floor by The New & Reclaimed Flooring Co.

If the originals have disappeared, consider better alternatives to cheap linoleum, such as a luxury vinyl like Amtico or Quick-Step, which is often impossible to tell apart from the real thing. Standard Amtico costs about £70 per sq m, plus VAT.

SASH REVIVAL

The Victorians preferred ‘two over two’, while the Georgians opted for ‘six over six’ — either way there is no mistaking sash windows or ‘eyes of the facade’ as they are known.

But why is it so many homeowners remove sash windows and replace them with modern versions?

An outward opening, triple-glazed, thin-framed, modern window might have its benefits, but it lacks the charm of a sash and can compromise the authenticity of an old dwelling, particularly one in a conservation area. 

Prized eyes: Historic windows should be treasured rather than replaced with modern equivalents

Prized eyes: Historic windows should be treasured rather than replaced with modern equivalents

What’s more, a sash is designed to be pulled apart and altered with ease. The same cannot be said for modern windows, which often need replacing after ten years and require specialists to fix.

These days, sash windows can be draught and sound proofed, and are less likely to become jammed as a result of broken cords or paint accumulation.

KEEP IT REAL

Original fire surrounds, or the intricately hand-painted tiling that lined Victorian fireplaces, are easy to come by. Why? Many have been removed from properties undergoing refurbishments.

As a result, eBay, Gumtree and some car boot sales are awash with surrounds going for a song. But if you don’t have time to hunt, suppliers such as The Antique Fireplace Company will do the running for you. Then you can toast your toes — and even crumpets — in style.

The Antique Fireplace Company is selling a striking Victorian marble fire surround for £8,500, while an Arts & Craft-style one, complete with intricate dark green tiling, is £3,950.

 

Tags Property

ABOUT THE AUTHOR celebrityrave

Journalist, writer and broadcaster, based in London and Paris, her latest book is Touché: A French Woman's Take on the English. Read more articles from Agnes.

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