Choosing a Period House

You have found two Victorian or Edwardian houses to buy. Both are well enough located, of a similar size and similarly priced. But one is heavily modernised and the other largely untouched. You would like to have a house with a period look and feel. What should you think about when choosing? What are the factors which should guide your choice?

Both of these houses will require you to spend money; one to undo and one to modernise.

The high cost projects are:

  • anything structural, for example managing subsidence, major cracks in external walls (say more than 1 cm wide)
  • complete re-roofing
  • replacing windows (renovating old wooden windows is much cheaper)
  • exterior render and paint removal
  • major drainage work
  • major replastering
  • restoring period features such as plaster coving, fireplaces and chimneys
  • removing concrete floors, particularly in cottages or pre-1850 houses

Any of these can break the £10,000 barrier. They require more skilled people and high cost materials.

When looking at a modernised house, it may look 'nice' but you could spend substantial funds undoing ill-advised work. The house-builders of the past knew more than we sometimes give them credit for - modern technology is not well understood and poses threats to old houses. You may therefore aim to remove modern materials such as waterproof paints and papers, concrete tiles, and cement-based pointing and renders. There are differing views on this - for example removing cement pointing can cause brick damage, but leaving it poses risks to the brickwork; you pays your money(!) and takes your choice. The objective is to think about the risks and costs of each. Damp, whilst not fatal, is the big worry - aim to help to let it escape, rather than try to prevent it getting in.

You then have the cosmetics to think about, externally and internally. Again, some things will offend you more than others; if the house suffers from aluminium windows you may choose to put up with them until other projects have been completed. Perhaps you can live with weak plaster - it is messy to replace, and won't cause further problems if left until the soul (and pocket) is ready.

The other dimension is to what extent do you want to live in 1865 or 1910? Each house has evolved since then, and many people want to be warm, have a TV etc. Kitchens and bathrooms are usually the two rooms where the compromise between period look and modern life is not easy to achieve.