There’s a lot to love about Victorian properties. With their ornate architecture, elegant proportions and intricate detailing, they were built to be admired, and they’ve stood the test of time, too.
One third of the houses in Britain were built before the First World War, and most of these are Victorian. Under Queen Victoria’s rule, Britain saw a boom in new builds – in a period of less than 75 years, over 6m houses were built, and the majority still stand today.
Maintaining a home that’s around 150 years old requires considerable work, and tracking down the best suppliers and products is half the battle.
Similarly, if you’ve fallen in love with a Victorian property that needs a lot of TLC, nothing could be more satisfying, or time consuming, than a complete restoration project. But restoring your property according to its period can be tricky…
Identify your property
What type of Victorian property do you have?
Gothic Revival The epitome of high Victorian taste, especially popular after Pugin designed the Houses of Parliament in Gothic style in the late 1830s. Look for pointed roofs and arches, stained glass windows, embellishments such as gargoyles and ecclesiastical touches such as turrets.
Jacobethan In contrast to the architectural excesses of the mid-Victorian period, this style, also known as ‘Tudorbeathan’, revived the style of Tudor or Stuart England. Look for castle-like fortifications, steep roof gables, intricate brickwork, high chimneys and half timbering.
Arts & Crafts The late 1860s movement that was a reaction to the Industrial Revolution, Arts & Crafts valued craftsmanship above all. Look for small cottage-style wooden casement windows, sloping roofs, and bare stone and brick work.
Art Noveau The most distinctive design style of the turn of the century, some late Victorian homes would feature Art Noveau details such as curving, plant forms, usually in detailing such as stained glass, tiles and fire surrounds.
Terraced The majority of Victorian builds were built as terraces, where the individual design of a house would be repeated over and over using identical features.
Look at the Plasterwork
Cornicing and plaster ceiling roses were the norm for Victorian houses, and the level of detail depended on the status of the room, so a reception room would feature much more intricate plasterwork than a bedroom for example.
After the introduction of mass-produced reinforced fibrous-plaster mouldings, plasterwork became ever more ornate, as prefabricated mouldings could be made and installed by general tradesmen.
- Surface stains, such as mould, can be removed by using a mixture of one part bleach to 16 parts water dabbed onto the ceiling. If the fine detail of the plasterwork has been obscured by many layers of paint, it’s best to strip it back to the original distemper – try PeelAway 1 paint stripper, £23.07 from decoratingdirect.co.uk.
- To replace damaged plasterwork, try Butcher Plaster Works – 020 7313 6509 – who can match almost all mouldings and make you a replacement, or create a new mould for you if they can’t match it.
- You can usually tell if a rose has been removed, from unevenness on the ceiling. When adding a new rose, align it with the centre of the chimney breast rather than the centre of the ceiling. You can order pieces from Lee Way (0121 449 8525) made from polymer, they are lighter than plaster.
- Poorly insulated sash windows are a common occurrence. Storm Windows (01384 636365), are specialists in fittingbespoke secondary glazing without hiding original period features. Price by quotation.
- If you need to replace windows entirely, go to a specialist, such as Bygone Collection (0800 591854). Their windows could cut heat loss by 75 per cent and they have a huge range of authentic styles to choose from. Price on application.
- Try The Original Box Sash Window Company (01735 858196) for single- and double-glazed sash windows, fully draft-proofed and made in timber that has been treated to last
Refresh the fireplaces
Every room in a Victorian house would have had a fireplace when built, but these have often been covered or removed by later occupants.
- If you wish to reinstate a working fireplace, its best to call in a builder to carry out any structural work. Some specialist firms, such as Acquisitions (0845 094 1644), can design you a repro fireplace and fit it for you.
- Browse through stock of several hundred original pieces, as well as reproduction items at Chesney’s Antique Fireplace Warehouse (020 7627 1410). Their experts can advise on the correct choice of fireplace for your home. The Victorian collection starts from £595.
- Try Stovax – 01392 474011 – for hand-cast reproduction cast-iron fireplaces for solidfuel and gas effect fires, from £379.
Bisque radiators has a range of traditional radiators with showrooms in Bath and London – the ‘Classic’ design is especially popular for Victorian homes.
- Beautiful fireplaces and surrounds can be found in salvage yards, so it’s worth investigating further. Visit salvo.co.uk.
Work on the floors
Victorian houses generally combinepine floorboards throughout the house with tiles in hallways. Both carpets and linoleum were introduced around the 1850s, but floorboards are key for an authentic feel.
Stripping back to the originals is an inexpensive way of recreating your home’s Victorian looks, although they would have been stained to resemble mahogany rather than today’s trend for lighter woods.
- Manufacturers of all types of hardwood flooring, Heritage Woodcraft (01455 890800) has a large stock of strip flooring and planking, ideal if you are repairing sections of a wooden floor.
Criterion Tiles (020 7736 9610) is an invaluable resource for wall and floor tiles from the Victorian period, including discontinued tiles.
Kit out your kitchen
Kitchens have come a long way from the hot, overcrowded powerhouses of the mid Victorian household, so a faithful recreation of a period kitchen would hardly suit the demands of modern living.
It’s still possible to have a design that has all the mod cons, though, while complementing the rest of your Victorian home.
Smallbone of Devizes’ (020 7589 5998) Mandarin collection, with its lightly recessed panels, takes inspiration from the Arts & Crafts tradition and would suit a 1860’s Victorian house.
Magnet‘s ‘Shaker’ kitchen combines freestanding pieces and a Belfast sink for a traditional look, from £5,273.
Crabtree Kitchens (020 8392 6955) make bespoke designs using traditional joinery techniques, and are happy to match a kitchen to your home’s architectural features.
Update your bathroom
The combination of an improved water supply and advances in ceramics and iron led to a revolution in sanitary ware during the Victorian period, making the bathroom an increasingly important part of the house.
Today, period touches such as roll-top baths and copper ‘slipper’ baths are a must.
Fired Earth’s (01295 810832) ‘Shaker’ range incorporates freestanding washstands for an authentic Victorian look, from £1,041.
- The ‘Savoy’ bathroom suite from The Bath Store (0800 023 2323) is influenced by Victorian design and starts from£20 for a robe hook.
- Heritage Bathroom’s (0844 701 8501) ‘ New Victoria’ suite combines a freestanding bath with claw feet and a pedestal wash basin, from £2,715.
The Water Monopoly (020 7624 2636) has an extensive range of freestanding baths and showers, including rare antique pieces in copper and ceramics.
CP Hart’s (0845 600 1950) freestanding baths are a modern take onthe traditional roll top bath, ideal for a subtly contemporary feel.
- Opt for a cast-iron bath – the ‘Spey’ bath, from £3,450 from Drummonds. 01428 609444.
Add the finishing touches
London Door Company – 020 7801 0877 – offers period and contemporary doors madein solid hardwood.
- If your doors are beyond repair, try a reclaimed door from The Original Choice in Birmingham (0121 778 3821).
- For finishing touches, The Victorian Ironmonger (01588 660157) has original letterboxes, door knobs, eschutcheons and latches.
Victorians used deep and shapely skirting boards throughout their homes. Most original designs can still be bought from stores, such as B&Q.>
These were used to protect wallcoverings from chair backs. You can usually see where a dado rail would have been. Try House Martin
0845 838 1296 – to choose from a selection of rails, as well as adhesives and tools needed for the job. From £4.49 per 200cm rail.
These should be placed 1ft to 1ft 8in below the ceiling cornice to form a frieze. Wickes do a pine picture rail from £5.05, which best resembles the Victorian style, or try ukhomeinteriors.co.uk for more elaborate styles.
Samuel Heath’s ‘Fairfield’ taps and mixers are available in a variety of delightful finishes. 0121 772 2303
Twyford bathrooms was established in 1849. Try their ‘Persuasion’ range for a traditional look.
Wallpapers Hamilton Weston Wallpapers and Design (020 8940 4850) reproduce wallpapers from their extensive period archive. If you have an existing wallpaper you want to match, Alexander Beauchamp (01253 730479) reproduces period papers. Cole & Son also (020 7376 4628) specialise in archive papers.
Paints Dulux Heritage (01753 550555) is a collection of shades specific to the Victorian period. Farrow & Ball (01202 876141) also stock a wide range of traditional shades.
Fabrics Zoffany (0870 830 0350) are experts in 19th-century fabric designs. Colefax and Fowler 020 7244 7427 – offer traditional English fabrics such as chintzes and velvets as well as coordinating trimmings.Find out more
Standen Arts and Crafts House, West Sussex (01342 323029). An Arts & Crafts family home with beautiful William Morris wallpapers and textiles on display.
Osborne House, Isle of Wight (01983 200022). Osborne House boasts Victorian opulence and extravagant interiors.
Tyntesfield, North Somerset (0844 800 4966). A gothic revival masterpiece created by one of England’s richest commoners, William Gibb.
Linley Sambourne House, 18 Stafford Terrace, London. The only surviving example of a middle-class, late-Victorian townhouse.
The Victorian Society (020 8994 1019) campaigns for the preservation of Victorian and Edwardian architecture, and organises events and lectures around the country.