Victorian House Renovation in London
What’s not to love about Victorian properties? Ornate architecture, elegant proportions and intricate detailing – these houses were built to be admired. And they’ve stood the test of time too! If you’ve fallen in love with a Victorian property that needs a bit of TLC, nothing could be more satisfying, and rewarding, than restoring it to its former glory. In our expert step-by-step guide, we show you what to expect in terms of repairs and restoration for your Victorian house renovation, and we give you some tips on how you can adapt your Victorian home for modern living.
What Style is My Victorian House?
Victoria’s reign saw a whole range of styles come in and out of fashion. From Gothic spirals to mock medieval castles – nostalgia was the cornerstone of Victorian architectural design. If you want to carry out a sympathetic Victorian house renovation, it’s important to identify which style your home is built in. Here’s a guide to some of the trends in Victorian architectural design to help you:
Inherited from the Regency period, the Neoclassical architectural style was inspired by the architecture of Ancient Greece and Rome. Think: The Royal Exchange, London.
The Renaissance Revival style drew inspiration from the renaissance palazzos of Italy. Osborne House, the holiday home of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert is a good example of this style.
Inspired by Norman architecture built in the late Roman style, Romanesque architecture was inspired by a nostalgia for the castles and knights of the golden age of chivalry. The Natural History Museum is a prime example of this style of architecture.
Jacobethan style blends characteristics of Jacobean and Elizabethan architecture: steep roof gables, balustrades, parapets, high chimneys and terra-cotta brickwork.
Horace Walpole, author of the Gothic novel ‘The Castle of Otranto’, started the craze for Gothic revival architecture when he commissioned his home at Strawberry Hill to be built in a fanciful style with turrets and pinnacles, recalling a bygone era of brave knights and damsels in distress. In domestic architecture, Gothic Revival is recognisable from its high-pitched roofs, arched windows, decorative tracery and open woodwork.
Queen Anne style, also known as English Baroque, was simple and elegant. It was typified by a sweep of steps leading to a carved stone entranceway, sash windows, stone quoins at the corners and a central triangular pediment set against a hipped roof.
Commonly known as ‘Mock Tudor’, Tudorbethan lost the towers and mock battlements of the Jacobethan style, in favour of a quainter style harking back to the cottages of “Merrie England” with half-timbered gables, stucco and patterned brickwork.
Arts and Crafts
The Arts and Crafts movement championed by William Morris was a reaction to the rapid industrialisation of the Victorian era. It urged for a return to the craftsmanship which was threatened by the rise of mass production. The focus was on simplicity of form, the use of natural materials and patterns inspired by nature.
At the end of the Victorian era, Art Nouveau was the first ‘modern’ architectural style. It was inspired by the design and art of Japan which had recently opened up to the West. It featured asymmetrical shapes and curving forms. New techniques in glass manufacture prompted embellishment with stained glass and mosaic.
What Changes Can I Make?
1. Look at the Brickwork and Pointing
Original brickwork is worth cherishing. During the Victorian era, industrialisation meant that bricks were produced in a huge variety of shapes and colours. If you are carrying out a Victorian house renovation, a basic understanding of brickwork will help you assess any repairs that are needed.
What to Look Out For
• Crumbling (spalling) bricks
• Loose, cracked or missing pointing
• Water spilling onto brickwork from gutters
• Damp patches (internal or external)
• Use of inappropriate mortars, paints and sealants
• Cracks through the brickwork
• Bulging walls.
Repairing Damaged Bricks
Spalled bricks are unsightly and allow water to penetrate which can have structural implications for a wall. There are a number of ways to rectify the problem:
• Consult a good bricklayer who is accustomed to working with old buildings. At DoBuild Construction Company, we have experienced, specialist contractors who work as part of our Victorian house renovation team.
• Carefully cut out and turn the brick round to hide the decay
• Make up the face of the damaged brick with a tinted lime mortar
• Cut out and replace severely damaged bricks. Use replacement bricks that match as closely as possible in size, durability, colour and texture. Exact replication is very difficult but there are a number of good suppliers producing reproduction handmade bricks at reasonable prices. Any new bricks should be laid in the same way as the original ones. Leave new bricks and mortar to blend in naturally over time.
Be cautious about using salvaged bricks – they can be damaged or underfired and unsuitable for external work.
Old pointing should be replaced if it has deteriorated to the point where water can settle on the edges of the bricks and penetrate into the structure. Here are some tips:
• Repointing requires patience and skill – make sure the person doing the work has both! At DoBuild Construction Company we have experienced specialists who work on our Victorian house renovation projects.
• Trial a small area before trying to repoint a whole wall
• Never use an angle grinder to remove pointing
• Rake out loose, soft mortar to a depth of at least 10mm
• Repoint with a suitable lime mortar.
Caution: areas that have been repointed with modern cement mortar, rather than traditional lime mortar, can trap moisture leading to spalling.
Repointing is not always in the best interest of the building. Sometimes it can cause more damage to the face of the bricks so if the pointing is not causing any problems like damp, it may be best to leave well alone. If in any doubt, seek advice from the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) or an experienced contractor in Victorian house renovation like DoBuild Construction Company.
2. Look at the Plasterwork
Mass production meant that ornate cornicing and decorative plaster ceiling roses were a standard form of ornamentation in Victorian homes. How elaborate the plasterwork was depended on the status of the room – a reception room would feature much more intricate decoration than a bedroom for example.
Surface stains – mould and other surface stains can be removed using a mixture of 1 part bleach to 16 parts water applied to the stained parts with a dabbing motion.
Old paint – over the years, the fine detail of plasterwork can be obscured by many layers of paint. This should be stripped back to the original distemper.
Damaged plasterwork – it’s often possible to match period plaster mouldings. Specialist outlets can often make a replacement for you or create a new mould if they can’t match it.
Ceiling roses – You can usually tell if a rose has been removed by unevenness on the ceiling. Tip: a new rose should be aligned with the centre of the chimney breast NOT the centre of the ceiling. You can order pieces from specialist outlets made from polymer which are lighter than plaster.
3. Look at the Sash Windows
Original sash windows can be elegant and beautiful, but they can be ‘painted in’ or unopenable because of broken sashes. Sash windows can be repaired or there is a huge range of reproduction sash windows available from specialist window suppliers. Many reproduction sash windows come with secondary glazing which improves insulation without hiding original period features.
4. Work on the Floor
Victorian houses usually featured pine floorboards and tiled hallways. Stripping back original floorboards is an inexpensive way of recreating your home’s Victorian look, while catering for today’s trend for lighter woods.
Specialist manufacturers produce a range of reproduction Victorian tile designs or you can try a salvage yard if you want to get hold of authentic originals.
5. Look at the Roof
Roofs are more likely to develop faults than any other part of older properties, so understanding their traditional construction and knowing how to spot typical defects is useful. If you can see the undersides of the slates or tiles fixed to thin timber battens in your loft, your roof is probably original.
Common Problems in Victorian Roofs
In Victorian times, any moisture seeping through in stormy weather would have dried out thanks to lofts being well ventilated – underfelt beneath the tiles is a modern concept. If an old roof has been re-clad and under felted without adequate ventilation, damp can become a problem. Modern ‘breather membranes’ which prevent rain getting in while allowing air to pass through are the best solution.
Damp brown patches on your bedroom walls or ceilings are often a sign of a leaky roof.
• Look out for chinks of light showing through the roof tiles in the loft where a few slates or tiles have slipped or are missing. Replacement tiles can easily be slotted in and secured with new corrosion-proof fixings.
• Cracked cement mortar at junctions like flashings or valleys is the most common cause of roof leaks. Repair them with leadwork and re-fix or replace loose or damaged flashings.
• Roof junctions between terraced houses can be a weak point so look out for signs of damp there.
Moist or steamy air from downstairs which finds its way into a cold loft will condense back into water and drip down onto the ceiling causing damp which can rot roof timbers and render insulation useless. Plug holes and make sure the loft hatch closes properly.
Thin gable end walls can allow damp to permeate. Repair any cracks, eroded pointing or blown render and treat any decayed timbers before dry-lining walls with insulated plasterboard.
Single-storey bays with small flat roofs can get damp from blocked rainwater pipes which can seep into the front wall over time and cause serious hidden rot to the big timber lintel above the bay, robbing the wall above of support.
Common failings with dormers include leaks at roof joints, and thin, poorly insulated walls and ceilings, prone to condensation and damp.
Check any pipework and tanks in the loft for leaks, and ensure they are properly insulated and protected from frost.
The roof accounts for at least a quarter of the total heat loss in a typical home so it is important to check insulation levels. Your loft insulation should be at least 27cm deep above the joists.
Missing Firebreak Walls
In terraced and semi-detached houses, each loft should be separated from nextdoor’s by a brick or stone firebreak party wall. Unfortunately, this was something Victorian builders were tempted to skimp on. If there are no walls separating your loft from the neighbours’, it is a fire and security risk and could cause problems with mortgage lenders.
Lightweight, hardwearing and long lasting, Welsh slate was the most common Victorian roof covering. Failure is usually due to the nail fixings becoming corroded, causing the slates to slip.
By the late Victorian period, affordable manufactured tiles became fashionable and widely available. Tiles were available in plain or ornate designs. They can eventually become porous, absorbing moisture from rain which makes them vulnerable to frost.
In the late nineteenth century, many Victorian houses had their roofs re-clad with large interlocking concrete tiles whose weight caused some roofs to sag.
Original Victorian ridge tiles are a charming architectural feature well worth preserving and can often be repaired, or replicas made using broken old pieces as a template. Missing or loose ridge tiles need to be replaced or secured by re-bedding in mortar.
6. Restore or Repair the Front Path
Many Victorian tile paths have survived, but over a century down the line, they can have cracked or broken tiles and are in need of repair. Original tiles can be sourced at architectural salvage yards and reproduction Victorian tiles are fairly easy to come by. Once damaged tiles have been replaced, grouted, sealed and then re-sealed, all the path will need is regular cleaning.
7. Update Your Kitchen
Whilst you won’t want to literally restore the kitchen of your Victorian house to its original state, it’s possible to have a design that complements the style of your Victorian home while providing all the mod cons. You can go for a classic style like the popular shaker design or a clean contemporary look to bring a fusion of modern and traditional to your renovation project.
8. Update Your Bathroom
Improved water supply and advances in ceramics during the Victorian period led to the birth of the bathroom. Today, period touches such as roll-top baths and copper ‘slipper’ baths are a popular choice for Victorian homes.
9. Add Space with an Extension
With the average price per square metre of London real estate standing at £4000 even in the cheapest areas, increasing your space can be a lucrative option. What’s more, it can often be done without planning permission. At DoBuild Construction Company, we have over 15 years’ experience in building extensions that complement Victorian house renovations in London. You can find out more on our [House Extension] pages but we’ve given a summary of some of the more popular options below.
If you live in a detached or semi-detached house, it is often possible to build a fairly generous rear extension under permitted development.
If you don’t want to lose any of your rear garden space and you live in a detached or semi-detached house, a side extension is a good alternative to a rear extension because it utilises the space along the side of the building.
Wrap Around Extension or Side Return Extension
This is one of the most popular types of extension and can significantly increase the size of your property because it extends both backwards and sideways.
Double Storey Extension
The advantages of a double storey extension are twofold – firstly, you can add additional bedrooms or bathrooms as well as extra living space. Secondly, a double storey extension is more cost effective than a single storey extension of the same square footage because you are only paying for the staircase and extra floor when you add an extra storey.
10. Expand Upward with a Loft Conversion
Because Victorian properties were often built with spacious lofts, they are ideal for loft conversions. To find out what you can achieve with a loft conversion in your Victorian house, why not check out our dedicated loft conversion for more details of Dobuild’s loft conversion process .
11. Convert the Basement
A basement conversion is a great way of achieving additional space because many Victorian homes were built with some kind of cellar or basement. They are easier to get planning permission for because they don’t have much impact on the exterior appearance of your period home. With modern technology you don’t have to worry about damp or lack of light. You can find detailed information on Dobuild Construction Company’s process, the options and the average costs on our basement extension.
12. Interior Decoration
Incongruous modern doors can be replaced with reclaimed doors from a salvage yard or one of the many reproduction period door designs that are widely available. Victorian door furniture such as original or reproduction letterboxes, door knobs and latches can be purchased from architectural salvage warehouses or specialist outlets.
The Victorians favoured deep and shapely skirting boards and many original designs can still be bought from stores.
Dado rails were used to protect wall coverings from chair backs. You can usually see where a dado rail would have been from the plaster.
These should be placed 30-50cm below the ceiling cornice.
Reproduction wallpapers are available from the extensive period archives of specialist companies like Cole & Son.
Farrow & Ball stock a wide range of traditional shades originally developed for renovation projects carried out by the National Trust.
Zoffany are experts in 19th-century fabric designs. Colefax and Fowler offer traditional English fabrics such as chintzes and velvets as well as coordinating trimmings.
Refresh the Fireplaces
Original Victorian fireplaces have often been covered or removed. If you want to reinstate a working fireplace, its best to call in a builder for the structural work. Architectural salvage warehouses offer original Victorian fireplaces from around £500. You can also get reproduction cast-iron fireplaces for solid fuel and gas effect fires.
Cast Iron Stoves
You can install a salvaged Victorian wood burning stove or a modern reproduction designed for solid fuel or gas.
There are a range of traditional radiator designs available which are popular for Victorian homes.
How Much Does a Victorian house renovation Cost in London?
Victorian house renovation costs depend on what the project includes and the specification for build and finishes. As a guideline, you can expect your Victorian house renovation cost to be from around £1,250 per square metre. You can find more details on our [House Renovation] page or by clicking the links in the table.
|Some Typical Numbers for Victorian House Renovation Costs in London
|Item||Typical Rough Cost
Single Storey from £1,600—2,100 per m2. Expect to pay 75% of this for each additional floor.
£15,000—65,000+ depending on type.
Around £1,500+ per m2 for a simple conversion of an existing cellar. More, if excavation, light-wells, etc, are needed.
High-end as much as £75,000 or more
|Bricks per 1000||
Standard bricks £400+
Character bricks £1000+
|Welsh roof slate||
£100 per m2
Standard finish £50 per m2
Decorative plasterwork (coving, ceiling roses, etc) £++
|Heating||Basic radiator system £35+ per m2
Under-floor heating £75+ per m2
Unsure How to Get the Most Out of Your Victorian House Renovation? Let Our Expert Team Help You
Thinking of restoring your Victorian home but not sure where to start? With over 15 years’ experience in delivering high-end Victorian house renovations in London, we can help you realise your vision – engineered to perfection and delivered on-time, on-budget and defect-free. You are assured of:
• accurate, fixed-price quote and detailed cost breakdown at the outset – no spiralling costs and no surprises!
• structural expertise at all stages of design and build
• high quality design, construction and finishes from skilled designers, construction experts and specialist craftsmen
• full transparency – follow the on-site progress of your project online through videos and photos as they are updated each week; view milestones and percentage of work complete, and monitor cashflow.
Contact our expert house renovation team today to learn how we could benefit your Victorian house renovation project. Call us on 0203 916 5327 or email us at email@example.com to arrange a free no obligation consultation and quote.