Restoration of a Victorian villa
Building of Townscape Merit, Conservation area
Most Victorian and Edwardian houses have inevitably been altered during their 100 plus years of existence. Post-war modifications to this 4 storey Victorian villa stripped it of its original features when it was converted into flats and then cheaply reverted back into a single house for rental.
Its current owners were looking for a challenge and after a year of design, detailing and obtaining the necessary planning permissions, they embarked on a 14-month on-site construction programme to restore the property to its former glory as their family home.
The house was already generous at just under 3,000ft2, but the areas did not connect or work for modern family needs. The solution was not to extend, but to re-order and modify the building to use the existing space to its best advantage.
Photography © Sue Barr 2017
Looking at the finished front elevation the observer could be excused for assuming that the house had simply been cleaned and redecorated. However, located within a road of presumably once identical double-fronted villas with imposing stone steps and porticos, this house had lost any original decorative features. It is only by looking at a ‘before’ photograph that it is possible to understand how much the house has been improved.
The missing portico has been recreated in cast stone, using moulds taken from the neighbouring property to ensure design, proportional and historical accuracy. The asphalt covering to the entrance steps is replaced with carved natural stone. New piers with feature cast stone urns make the arrival much more imposing.
A specialist wrought iron metalworker was commissioned to produce decorative balustrades, railings and a fender for the bay window, taking their design reference from the remaining original items found on neighbouring houses.
A 1970s garage door, which had been crudely inserted into the front elevation, was removed and a new window opening was created in brick detail similar to those found on neighbouring houses. Conservation style, slim-glazed windows were installed in the newly created utility room as well as to the first floor bedrooms, to provide additional acoustic insulation. However, where possible, the original timber sash windows and internal shutters, one of the few remaining original features, were retained and refurbished.
The rear elevation was featureless and the house did not naturally connect with the garden. This was remedied by the introduction of French doors; at upper floor level they opened onto a new metal walkway and at lower ground floor level directly onto a spacious patio. The walkway, with a spiral staircase, was designed to replace an existing crude concrete platform and stair, as well as to add interest and unite the elevation. Historic research showed that similar features could be found on many properties in in vicinity, to provide direct access from the upper family quarters down into the garden. The specialist metalworker restored and incorporated decorative metal balustrades from the original stair, creating a feature within the new railings.
A major element of the work was the structural modification, which had implications on all floors, with the intention that the property would be structurally sound for the next 100 years. The roof, including all rafters, was completely reconstructed and incorporated new rooflights. The joists over the first floor bathrooms were lowered by approximately 400mm to provide sufficient head height to create an additional bedroom under the second floor roof.
A new structural opening between two floors was created to extend the feature staircase down from the upper to lower ground level. Openings were made within the rear elevation so that French doors could be installed to open out to the garden and the original timber lintels over all the existing windows were replaced.
At the front of the house, the front entrance steps were reinforced to support the weight of the new stone portico, while the driveway was reconstructed and widened, with a brick-faced concrete retaining wall to support the neighbouring garden. At the rear a new upper ground floor metal walkway and spiral staircase was supported on slim steel columns, tied back to the house by decorative metal hoops.
In Victorian times the lower ground floor would have accommodated the kitchens, sculleries and servants’ quarters, and would have been separate from the main house, accessed only by a smaller, concealed staircase. This is at odds with modern requirements for connectivity. and so this stair and its enclosure were removed, a new structural opening created and the main feature timber staircase and balustrades were replicated by a specialist, to wind down to the lower ground floor family spaces.
The use of each of the rooms was reconsidered. The kitchen was relocated to the front of the house, with a small breakfast table in the bay window to benefit from the morning sun, as well as to visually connect with activity on the street.
Clearing the kitchen, along with a maze of smaller rooms and cupboards including scullery, utility room, WC and cloaks area, from the rear of the house enabled a large family room to be created with large French doors to connect directly with the patio and garden beyond garden.
On upper ground level, the rear living room was extended into a previous corridor space, to open across the full width of the house, which combined with new French door openings, maximised the potential for views across the garden.
The master suite on first floor was the outcome of combining and reordering 2 bedrooms and a bathroom, while the top floor benefitted from the addition of an additional bedroom.
Bedrooms versus bathrooms
Modern bathroom requirements, and especially the addition of ensuites, often means there is a trade off against the number of bedrooms, unless the house is extended. Although we provided a new master suite with luxury bathroom and separate dressing room, we were able to compensate for the resulting loss of a first floor bedroom by providing an additional one beneath the sloping roof of the second floor. This was achieved by the structurally lowering the floor level and providing more usable space below the sloping roof.
With most large-scale refurbishment projects, a lot of the work and expenditure goes on items that are not outwardly visible, but which make a considerable difference to how the house performs. The inclusion of new and efficient services, including plumbing, drainage and heating, as well as gas and electricity is a good example of this.
To ensure a 25+ year life, new services were brought in and new meters installed, alongside a water softener. Potable water was provided to all bathrooms.
Underfloor heating was installed throughout the lower ground floor, where it performs well below a tiled or engineered timber floor finish. Traditional style radiators were used throughout the other floors, where large furniture and carpet would restrict the performance of under floor heating.