TO RESTORE OLD HOUSES?
Because they have so much to tell us about our
past, social customs, interior and exterior
decoration of their period, architecture and the
history of building technology. Old houses are the
antiques in which we live and should be cherished
and appreciated for their very special qualities.
Restoring an old house will not only give you a
nice, warm inner glow but can also put a lot of
money in your pocket. Houses that have been
faithfully restored command premium prices in the
real estate market.
IS IT OK TO
USE MODERN MATERIALS IN OLD HOUSES?
Yes and no: it depends on what you're talking
about. If it means replacing the original timber
windows with modern metal-framed windows the answer
is no. If it means crafting new parts for a timber
window to carefully restore the damaged or decayed
original the answer is yes. Keep as much of the
original fabric of a building as possible.
Not necessarily. It won't cost any more to use
the appropriate materials in the appropriate way
than it does to use the wrong materials in the
wrong way. Sometimes second-hand materials, such as
doors, windows and bathroom fittings are not only
much cheaper than their new equivalents but are
also of better quality and more suitable. Hiring
tradespeople yourself and supervising them is
another way to economise, although many people
prefer to engage a builder or architect to take
charge of the whole job. You may also acquire funding from home improvement loans to help finance work on your house.
EVERY OLD HOUSE NEED TO BE RESTORED?
A large number of old houses, perhaps the
majority, has been subject to changes which have
altered their original form and character. In many
cases, a significant number of minor changes has
been made which dilute the original character of
the building. Whoever said 'God is in the details'
could have been speaking about old houses. The
reinstatement of original details can make an
enormous difference to a building. Some old houses
have sustained very little alteration and require
what might be called enlightened maintenance. There
are an even smaller number of extremely rare
buildings which are completely original - right
down to the interior decoration, fabrics and
WRONG TO MAKE MAJOR CHANGES TO OLD
Old houses have always been changed and always
will be. If changes are made in the manner and with
the materials of the original structure, with
respect for a building's place in the streetscape,
then there is no reason for complaint. We do need
'house museums', with buildings preserved as if in
aspic and open for public inspection. These serve
to tell us about our past in a way that the written
word can never achieve but the vast majority of old
houses have to earn their keep in today's world by
providing shelter for people.
HOUSE IS NOT VERY GRAND SO I SUPPOSE IT DOESN'T
MATTER WHAT I DO TO IT?
A lot of people make the mistake of thinking
that only the grand houses of the rich and famous
are important. Cottages are just as interesting as
any mansion and often a great deal more comfortable
to live in. They are easy and inexpensive to
restore and it's astonishing how an old cottage
will shine with the right sort of care and
SURELY YOU CAN'T GET THE TRADESMEN OR THE MATERIALS
THAT YOU NEED?
You do have to watch what's going on. But often
if you tell your tradespeople exactly what you want
and explain why it's important to do things in a
certain way they will cooperate and become very
enthusiastic. The most important thing for the
owner is to know as much as possible about their
house and its period and to understand the
principles of conservation. To give a very simple
example, don't let your tradespeople use modern
screws or obviously modern hardware in a Victorian
building. A lot of traditional hardware has been
reproduced and is readily available. But some
people still prefer to use old fittings as they
have the patina of age.
SORT OF DETAILS ARE IMPORTANT?
The things that you need to pay attention to
include some of the following: the design of the
front fence, garden design and planting, interior
and exterior hardware and light fittings, windows,
doors and other joinery, exterior decorative
features such as cast ironwork or fretwork,
exterior colour schemes and interior decoration,
including colour schemes, stencilling and wall and
ceiling papers, soft furnishings and fabrics. And,
of course, you can furnish some or all of the house
with the appropriate period furniture.
OLD WALLPAPER OR STENCILLED DECORATION IF YOU FIND
IT IN AN OLD HOUSE?
Original decoration is a very important record
of the culture of its period. It's also very rare
today, particularly if we consider Victorian or
Edwardian decoration. Decoration tells us a lot
about the people who lived in a house and about the
society in which they lived. If it's faded, dirty
or damaged do what you can to enhance its
appearance: dirt can often be removed by washing
with warm water and a soft soap or with a rubber.
But be prepared to accept that fading is part of
the ageing process. An old house should look its
IS CRUMBLING AND FALLING OUT FROM BETWEEN THE
STONEWORK (OR BRICKWORK) OF MY OLD HOUSE. IS IT OK
IF I PATCH IT UP WITH CEMENT?
No! If the mortar's crumbling it's because it's
doing its job. It sounds crazy but that's what it's
there for! Old houses were constructed with soft
lime mortars which tend to crumble in time. Mortar
should always be softer than the brick or stone of
a wall in order to allow the building to absorb
movement, and to carry away any moisture that finds
its way into the walls. Damp will always follow the
path of least resistance as it evaporates. Damp
from the ground carries harmful salts which
crystalise as they reach the air. These crystals
expand as they form and can flake away the surface
of brick or stonework. But they do very much less
harm if they cause mortar to crumble. Replace it
with soft lime mortar, using a traditional recipe,
and your old house will be much better off than if
you were to use a modern, hard cement mortar.
IT'S OK TO COPY NICE DETAILS OFF OTHER HOUSES TO
MAKE MY HOUSE MORE INTERESTING?
Sorry, but it doesn't work that way. Be faithful
to the original appearance of your old house and
don't try to turn it into something that it was
never meant to be. Try to find old family
photographs to find out what it was really like
before you make any decisions about changing the
present appearance of the building. You may be
surprised to find how many changes there have
ABOUT KITCHENS AND BATHROOMS?
A traditional bathroom in, for example, a house
of the early twentieth century is as functional as
any modern bathroom. As for the kitchen, it's
possible to retain original character while still
incorporating everything that people expect in the
way of modern appliances. You don't have to wear
Victorian clothes and think Victorian thoughts just
because you live in a Victorian house.