Interior Design for Period Properties

I was recently invited by The National Design Academy to write a guest post on designing for heritage homes.

Whether listed or unlisted, the architectural details and charming quirks of period properties make them unique, and it can sometimes feel overwhelming to make design decisions. It is very unusual to find a period house without any of the original details and it can become tricky to decide what to keep, add or get rid of when working on a design scheme for a heritage home.

Don’t Rush into Anything

Live with your house as it is for a while and take your time to find out as much as you can about your period home. Take a closer look at the existing architectural features (the bare bones of the house) and try to determine whether any of the original details are missing. If possible, do some research on your period property. It’s amazing what you can find out from your local library, parish council and even the online census records. You could also employ the services of a heritage consultant who does research on buildings for homeowners and architects. They’ll be able to tell you quickly what’s original, what’s not and if your property is listed, what you can and can’t touch. Talking to other homeowners in your street or neighbourhood is also a good idea in the research stage. Comparing notes on the interior of your period property will help you to identify whether any of the original features in your house have been removed or altered over time. Chances are your neighbours will have dealt with some challenges and obstacles that you’re bound to stumble across so learning from their experience can help things to run more smoothly for you. 

Interior Design for Listed Buildings

If your house is listed, you should be able to find it on The National Heritage List for England (NHLE). It is the only official and up to date register of all nationally protected historic buildings and sites in England. When a house is listed, it means that the owner will have to apply for Listed Building Consent for most types of work that affect the ‘special architectural or historic interest’ of the building. Your first point of contact should be your local authority who will put you in touch with the conservation officer.  Both the interior and exterior of a listed building are protected by law. You’ll need consent for any alteration to internal walls, ceilings, anything structural so interior design for period properties can take a lot more planning than for a ‘normal’ home. You’ll need to submit a written and visual plan when you make a listed planning application so you might want to consider speaking to an interior designer or architect who specialises in period properties.

Restoring Original Architectural Features

Once you have more of an idea on what the house looked like originally, you can start thinking about possibly restoring or replacing some of the original features. It’s always worth restoring original plasterwork, fireplaces and tiling as these can be relatively inexpensive and make a huge difference to an interior design scheme in a period property. They’re statements worth investing in and there are lots of suppliers out there who specialise in reclaimed, original period features.

Jamb has a beautiful selection of antique fireplaces and they are also able to produce replicas with a high level of historical accuracy.

In period properties, original features should be treated just as you would treat your furniture or your artwork. The design of the space should be planned around the them rather than thinking of them as an after-thought.

Be careful not to automatically pick out picture rails, dado rails, cornices and skirting boards in white. By matching the skirtings to the wall colour, you can create a much softer effect without contrasting lines breaking up the wall.

Before the 18th century, dado rails with the dado below were used to protect the expensive wall coverings from being damaged by the furniture. Dado rails or chair rails aren’t used for this purpose anymore but if yours are still intact, think about ways to use them rather than removing them.

Dado Rail at Blickling Hall in Norfolk