It is true that renovating a Victorian house can be a challenge, but the chances are, the very fact you have bought the house and are in the process of planning a renovation means you are not only well aware of this, but you are more than up for the challenge too.

But why are Victorian houses difficult to renovate? In truth, not all of them are, and like any house, it depends how much you need or want to do. However, with the typical Victorian house renovation the challenge can be down to the fact that silly mistakes can be very costly and you can’t afford to cut corners. This can cost you in terms of repairing your mistakes or in critically de-valuing the house by losing a prominent feature.

Victorian houses usually age gracefully as they were built to last. Therefore, you should be respectful to its infrastructure and main features, and you can’t renovate ‘on the cheap’ and expect to retain that same feeling of grandeur and Victorian splendour. You need to be sympathetic to the period essence of the building and retain the many ornamental flourishes you are likely to come across, as these are the kind of original feature that can add value to the house and are much sought after.

Three golden rules when looking to renovate a Victorian house

Like any house renovation, other than essential items that are dictated as part of the sale from a building survey, what you choose to renovate is up to you. You may choose relatively simple jobs external to the house that retain the character of the home, such as changing the front door, upgrading the windows, pointing the brickwork or upgrading the front path, as long as you are sympathetic to the original design, and take some pointers from neighbouring houses perhaps, you can’t go far wrong. However, in terms of any renovations you undertake, essentially there are three golden rules:

  1. Do your research

You need to read about Victorian architecture and understand its importance. This could enable you to find out the year of construction and picture the home in its original context. The Victorian era spanned six decades, so design trends changed dramatically, and doing your research will enable you to change features but retain consistency of eras. People will notice if you replace Victorian architrave with Georgian architrave, for example, or Victorian ceiling mouldings with Edwardian ceiling mouldings.

  1. Do the right work and get the right people to do it

Essentially, if you can’t do the work, find someone who can, get several quotes from specialist contractors and ask to see examples of their work. Any costs will pay for themselves eventually.

But firstly, a proper building survey when you buy the house will identify a lot of the work you NEED to do. Certainly the essential repair work will be identified and many of the cosmetic flaws. It will be more expensive than a regular homebuyers survey, but with period housing you can’t afford to be left awaiting nasty surprises.

When deciding what other work to do, it is always advisable to restore original features rather than replace them. These are what makes the property special, and could be floor tiling, bannisters, fireplaces or skirting. You also have to accept that the finished results won’t be perfect, because Victorian houses weren’t built that way. Rooms, doors and windows will be different sizes and walls not quite straight.

  1. Budget patiently

You must wait for the right moment to carry out the work and should budget accordingly. You can probably live with a lot of the problems you inherit – other than those essentials the survey found – until you can afford to have them done properly. Don’t rush or do them half-heartedly, the house doesn’t deserve that. Also, you need to think long term with respects to what features you add and what will be fashionable if and when you come to sell the house.

Whether you are just dealing with relatively simple changes such as Victorian architraves, Victorian skirting or moulding, or knocking through rooms, converting lofts and adding a downstairs toilet, a Victorian house is a generously-proportioned and robustly-constructed home that can be brought well up to date for the 21st century.


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