MAYBE it’s because we have such an amazing housing stock from which to choose – from medieval dwellings, to Tudor cottages, Georgian rectories to Victorian villas. But living in a period property is something we Brits seem very drawn to.
It’s great for the environment – after all, what could be greener than a home made from mud, plaster and trees which were felled 400 years ago, as many cob cottages are? It’s also good for our heritage because it means that someone – you! – are taking care of the fabric of the nation and preserving it for the future.
According to research by Savills, published in 2016, in areas with the highest proportion of listed buildings sellers could expect to receive a desirable 50 per cent more than the regional average.
So, with the right care and renovation, a period home could be an excellent investment.
Get it wrong, however, and it’s not hard to see why period properties can be regarded as the proverbial money pit.
Depending on the age and condition of your home you may find yourself having to source specialist craftspeople, such as thatchers, or pargeters, or age-appropriate fittings, such as ogee, or cornicing.
And if your older property is Listed – that means it’s been deemed by the government to be of national importance in terms of historic or architectural interest – it’s easy to fall foul of the law. Listing means there is outside control over what you can and can’t do to the part of your building regarded as listed. It can even affect buildings on the land associated with it, if they were constructed before July 1948. Given that the maximum penalty for some offences concerning listed buildings is a two-year prison sentence – and ignorance of the regulations is no defence – you can quickly see how important it is to know what you are doing.
Even if your new – old – home isn’t listed, you won’t want to harm it or strip out its old-school charm. But, equally, no one wants to live like a Georgian, with damp and cold and no proper bathroom.
I can understand this because, a few years back, it was me living in a lovely old stone house which looked beautiful and had bags of character. Inside, however, it had a damp problem which meant I had to have a dehumidifier on all the time.
It was only when a builder explained that it had probably had one of its walls painted in modern vinyl paint – which meant the stone couldn’t breathe – that I realised old houses need decorating differently and started researching the needs relating to them
Some old properties need the kind of paint you buy from Farrow & Ball, such as casein distemper, which lets plasterwork breathe. Others may need specialist plasterers who are used, perhaps, to dealing with horsehair plaster.
Older properties can have ceiling heights much higher or lower than a standard home. Windows can be an issue, too, and if your home is very old, built-in storage can be tricky because of the wonky walls and uneven floors.
These challenges are just one of the reasons you should always consider using an interior designer if you’ve bought a older property. They are also the reason I love working with older places; helping owners to make great design choices and avoiding common pitfalls and clichés, as well as ensuring their renovations don’t fall foul of the law.
Whether you need to extend, reconfigure or just re-decorate it is too easy to make mistakes with an older house, especially one that’s Listed. And that’s just the big stuff.
Interior designers can help with the smaller design choices, like bathroom and kitchen styles – just because you live in a thatched farmhouse doesn’t mean you have to have a traditional farmhouse kitchen, for instance.
I love it when clients call me in at the beginning so I can help avoid expensive mistakes with lighting or floor-coverings. And designers are great at troubleshooting other issues too. The wrong height of skirting board can make a period room look awkward, as can the wrong style of door.
Because we plan it out together it means that when the homeowner is ready to call in the builders or craftspeople they know what’s going to happen.
Years of helping owners design their period home means I’ve got a list of names; from builders who specialise in old or ancient properties, plumbers and electricians sympathetic to the older house, and decorators who understand the importance of using the right paint or wall-covering on the right wall.
And, when it comes to decorating, like most good designers I have notebooks stuffed with the best places to buy fabrics, furniture and the kind of interior details that will make your new home come alive.
If you’d like to know more about how Coral Interiors can help you with your period home, contact me on 07784 469 334