How to design for a Period Property

How to design for a Period Property

We’re often asked how to design for a period property. How should we do it justice? What features should we keep, and which should we skip? Can we add contemporary twists? Let’s just say we LOVE creating a scheme for a home with history!

Sought After Properties, Period

Period properties are sought after, that’s for sure. Here around Manchester and Cheshire, we have some beauties. These homes often command higher selling prices. Much may be said for a new build or more recent property, which can offer up a blank canvas full of possibilities. There are no quirks or foibles and probably fewer restrictions on what you can and can’t do. Potential pitfalls and frustrations are minimised.

But. And it’s a big BUT. Period properties, those old, often significant, properties ooze rich history and character – and yes, quirks and foibles too. For all their challenges, they’re actually an absolute delight to develop and design – and for you to call home.

Homes with History

A period property can be anything from early last century and as far back as Tudor times. Many are described by the era when they were built – Edwardian and Victorian are plentiful, for example, and there are several examples of Jacobean and Georgian. Others, however, may be described using the style of the times, such as Art Deco or Arts and Crafts. The term ‘period property’ covers a multitude of styles and ages. Some UK properties date back half a millennium. All will need a carefully thought-out interior design scheme.

Hopefully, a period home will retain at least some of the era’s original details and features.

Sadly, all too often, these have been butchered, ripped asunder in the name of progress and faddy fashion. The sixties and seventies had a lot to answer for in terms of supposed modernising, didn’t they? Whose grandad nailed plywood over beautiful oak doors and panelling? Or ripped out original fireplaces to Artex a chimney breast?

A Design for Life

Progress and modernity aren’t always wrong. Even the oldest properties can take at least a touch of contemporary, a surprising twist here and there. There’s no rule to say you have to be enslaved to an era’s specific style – or even that, with the proper styling and diligence, you must adhere to it at all. But more of that later.

There’s no denying that when designing for a period property, preserving those architectural bare bones can give oodles of character and interest. Features like imposing ceiling heights, original cornices and other architectural mouldings, original flooring and fireplaces can inspire a scheme.

Reclamation to Rediscover

If your period property lacks desirable period features, find your nearest architectural reclamation or salvage yard. Sod it, ANY architectural salvage yards. Travel if need be. These places are veritable treasure troves. You could discover a new hobby and unearth entirely unique and authentic finds for your home.

Cast your eyes over the Salvo directory to find salvage yards nearby, or even take a virtual stroll through Facebook Marketplace, where people often give items away – especially large or unwieldy ones. Think stone flags, Belfast sinks, cast iron bathtubs, schoolroom radiators, barley sugar twist-legged tables and the like. Remember the adage that one man’s trash is another’s treasure? That’s especially true when the first man tries to avoid a trip to the tip! Even smaller items can be JUST the detail you’re after to finish a design scheme – doorknobs, cabinet handles, sink taps, tiles, frames or mirrors. Such details can be intrinsic to retaining the period look and feel.

Ideas and Inspiration for Period Properties

Where to look for inspiration when creating a design scheme for an older home? Yes, glossy magazines can be aspirational and give something to aim for. However, please don’t get bogged down and stick rigidly to their ideas. Inspiration is everywhere; you only have to look. History or historical books, stately homes and National Trust properties, buildings and quarters in towns and cities, museums and galleries, for example. Pinterest and Google searches can lead to targeted ads on socials, which may just lead somewhere interesting. Ultimately, anything that takes your fancy or speaks to you on some level can inspire a design.

Never try to copy, though – simply take inspiration for your OWN style. Emulate aspects you love or that move you, and design from there. Designing for a period property isn’t about slavishly following a style or filling a room with retro furniture for the sake of it. Think more of a focal point, a feature to add ambience and personality to design the room around. It could be a period fireplace, stucco plasterwork, or even a family heirloom.

Interior Design is More than Decoration

Planning your space, not just your design and interior decoration, is crucial and never more so than in a period home. Old houses’ layouts are often quite different to today’s, with distinct priorities:

  • Late Victorian and Edwardian houses tended to have disproportionately tiny kitchens
  • Some eras blessed us with oddly shaped rooms
  • Old houses have often been added to over the years
  • Doors hinged on the opposite side (apparently for discretion)
  • Fewer bathrooms (certainly no ensuites in the ‘burbs)
  • Toilets added as an afterthought (or to replace the outdoor privy)
  • Victorian terraces often had the only bathroom downstairs
  • Electrical issues, heating and insulation

And that’s before we even scratch the surface of more problematic issues like listed buildings or thatched roofs!

Planning Your Space for YOU

With any interior design scheme, we look at the form AND function of the space. That’s true whether it’s a family home, a holiday cottage, or a commercial space. What YOU need from your space, what YOU want to see, and how YOU want to feel are the driving forces behind any design. If an interior designer doesn’t prioritise the client, run away. Fast.

How do you intend to use the room? Who uses it most? At what part of the day? What matters to you and the family? Are you aiming for a relaxation area, a place for entertaining? What will you need in terms of storage, workspace, or space for staff? Such questions are merely the tip of our analytical iceberg.

Working with You to Work for You

When we work with you to plan your space, it’s ALL about you. Whether starting from scratch or incorporating your favourite pieces. Furniture placement is critical – especially in, say, period properties with odd angles or smaller olde-worlde cottages with small windows, low ceilings, and imposing beams.

We’ll consider the existing period features when designing for a period property. As restoration expert George Clarke says, choose what to cherish and what to chuck. From there, we can begin to work on lighting, followed by colour and decoration. And so, back to the issue of sticking with a particular style. Ultimately, it’s all about choice and taste. But here’s another one of those ‘buts.’ Think carefully before stripping out or even ignoring those period features. It’s one thing to embrace a more contemporary interior design style. Still, those original elements could make the difference between achieving or exceeding your asking price and accepting lower offers further down the line.

Period properties have stood the test of time for a reason.