Owning and renovating a Victorian home brings with it implicit assumptions shared by other older and heritage homes, albeit with a few additional considerations.
In addition to the typical issues you would come up against with an older home – outdated wiring and plumbing, uneven floors, doors, and windows that do not close properly, foundation issues, and so on – you may have to contend with previous botched attempts at updating or, if the home is in a historic neighborhood, you may need to get approvals from a historic preservation committee, adding to the timelines and complexity of the project.
A Brief History of Victorian Restorations
Built in the mid-to-late 19th century, Victorian homes represent a range of architectural styles. The name itself follows the British (and French) tradition of naming architectural styles after the reigning monarch of the time.
Victorian homes are generally more ornate than modern-era homes. In a restoration, your options are directly tied to what architectural style you have.
There are four distinct types of Victorian architecture:
- Queen Anne features rounded turrets, large, curved porches, carved wood panels, stained glass, and other intricate design details.
- Gothic Revival favors vertical lines, steeply-pitched roofs and dormers, intricate finials and decorative features.
- Italianate homes are rectangular, two-to-three stories high, featuring tall first-floor windows, gently sloping rooflines, and overhanging eaves with rows of decorative corbels.
- Stick-Eastlake is a transitional style that lies somewhere between Queen Anne and mid-19th-century Gothic.
While these features are what define these types of homes, they do make the process of restoration a little more delicate and often more expensive. Irregularly-shaped windows, curved walls, and the range of decorative features can be a challenge.
Considerations For A Historic Home Restoration
One of the biggest challenges in restoring a Victorian home is in sourcing the materials you will need. Many of these materials are now quite rare or costly and in many cases, you will have to make a decision as to whether to recreate the feature or replace it.
In every historic restoration, we put a great deal of effort into preserving the materials and features that are in good shape and we prefer to repair rather than replace, wherever that is possible.
For exterior work, we like to stay true to the period during which it was built as well as the original architect’s intent. Our intention is to always be mindful of enhancing the original vision as much as possible.
Challenges In Restoring A Victorian
The design of a Victorian home presents some inherent challenges to restoration. Central heating systems were inefficient , and servant’s areas and kitchens were typically closed-off from the rest of the home. Pocket doors, decorative plaster, dumbwaiters, and more are all as old as the home itself and probably don’t function as they should. Ultimately, there needs to be a balance struck between the architectural design and your own personal taste.
There is a major difference between permanent features, like wood paneling or the main staircase, and the way the rooms are painted or decorated. You can strut your personal style through paint, wallpaper, and interior design – but altering the architectural details is something you should think long and hard about before committing to something you can’t undo.
Cottage Industries’ approach is many-layered: we focus first on ensuring that your needs as a homeowner are being met, and secondly on the preservation aspects of the project.
Taking it room by room, we discuss what needs to be saved (such as a fireplace insert or tile) and what can be reworked.
For instance, when we worked on Kate Brown’s Haverford home, there were a great many things that were sentimental to her as she had grown up in the house. We always try to save what we can, both to make the work more budget-friendly and also to satisfy a heartfelt need.
We don’t necessarily always restore back to the architect’s original intentions – we update according to what the homeowners wish to achieve. Sometimes, the budget can’t cater to both ideals, but we try to strike a balance that delivers on needs without taking away those things that make the home special.
Here are some tips for any of you who are considering a Victorian restoration:
- Choose a contractor who has experience in historical preservation.
- Tour the home room by room with your contractor so that you can discuss what is needed and learn about the costs you might be looking at.
- If your home is designated historical, consult with a team like ours prior to doing the work.
Victorian Restoration On The Main Line
If you are thinking about updating your Victorian Main Line home, Cottage Industries is ready to help. We are Philadelphia’s historic preservation specialists and we love what we do. Schedule a conversation today and discover what’s possible.