Old Home, New Life.

According to the latest figures, 86 per cent of England’s homes were built before 1990. Here are 10 ways to give your period property a modern update

Create a contemporary contrast

A modern design could be the best approach if you are extending a historic building, as seen in this glass addition to a Grade-II listed Cotswolds home by Jonathan Tuckey Design (020 8960 1909; jonathantuckey.com) and Eastabrook Architects (01451 830 541; eastabrookarchitects.co.uk).

‘It’s a solution that planners have come to see a lot of sense in, especially when a building is protected. We find that the higher a building’s listing, the more planners encourage a contrasting approach,’ says Jonathan Tuckey.

This glass was chosen for what Tuckey calls its ‘almost liquid quality’, which reflects the surroundings during the day and seems to disappear into the darkness at night. A lightweight single-ply roof was used to remove the need for bulky support columns.

‘The challenge with historic buildings is to work with a form, size and material that will be complementary and have a degree of subservience,’ says Tuckey. ‘You have to look hard at what the existing home is telling you to do. The finished addition should always look as though it is specific to that place.’

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Incorporate industrial glazing

The beauty of steel-framed doors and windows is their versatility – they can be used internally or externally, and look as good in warehouse conversions as they do in Victorian or Georgian homes.

‘Metal-framed windows and doors are ideal for open-plan living because the thin profile helps divide the space, yet the glass maintains a flow of light,’ says Chris Eaton at Stiff+Trevillion Architects (020 8960 5550; stiffand trevillion.com), which added a 1.5x1.7m steel-framed window to an existing opening in this London home, at a cost of around £3,000.

‘Steel-framed glazing needs meticulous detailing to avoid thermal bridging (cold spots where the window or door meets the wall), plus it is more difficult to adjust on-site than timber windows,’ says Eaton. You also need to consider longer lead times, which can be around 12 weeks. For a similar look, try Crittall (01376 530 800; crittall-windows.co.uk).

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Use sliding doors

Barn-style doors mounted on a runner work well as a rustic counterpoint in a contemporary interior, although the bulky hardware can overwhelm a smaller room, so they are best used in larger spaces. This Californian renovation by Artistic Designs for Living (+1 415 567 0602; adlsf.com) incorporated a sliding door to create a relaxed division between a bedroom and an open-plan living room.

‘We wanted to separate the living area and the private space, but a typical door would not have provided the sense of symmetry or interest,’ says Tineke Triggs at Artistic Designs for Living. ‘The biggest challenge with a door like this is that it’s harder to lock, heavier, and requires more wall space.’

Invest in the best-quality hardware you can to ensure a smooth glide, and, as a rule of thumb, make your door 15cm taller and wider than the opening. Häfele’s Classic Flat Track system costs £237.20 from Locks Online (0845 230 0201; locksonline.com). For vintage doors, try Retrouvius (020 8960 6060; retrouvius.com), or get the look for less with the cottage panelled knotty pine door, £38, B&Q (0333 014 3098; diy.com).

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Celebrate Original Features

There’s no point renovating or converting a period property if you’re not going to embrace its historic character, as Snook Architects (0151 707 0100; snookarchitects.com) has done with this Grade-II listed Yorkshire barn.

It was close to collapse after the previous owners added timber trusses that were too weak to support the roof, causing the walls beneath it to bow. Snook Architects saved the building with wider roof supports and a new steel structure within the barn’s walls. It also revised the interior scheme, transforming the two floors of boxy rooms into a seven-metre-tall kitchen-dining space in the middle with a cosier living room and bedrooms on either side.

‘All drama and sense of space had been destroyed,’ says Neil Dawson at Snook Architects. ‘It’s pointless buying a barn if you’re going to try to pigeonhole a suburban house inside it,’ he adds. ‘People like barns for their utilitarian qualities and their volume, so it’s important to celebrate these aspects.’

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Get Clever With Levels

Wonky walls and unusual split levels are part of the character of many period homes, and these can be made into an asset. When Zminkowska De Boise Architects (07792 293 056; zdbarchitects.com) knocked through a wall to open up the centre of this narrow Edwardian house, it made a virtue of a one-metre change in level between the front and back rooms by incorporating shelves into the steps between them.

‘We liked the idea of the steps being more than just a means of circulation,’ says architect Hanna Zminkowska. ‘The owners say it’s now easier for the family to spend time together, and that the steps have become not only a place to chat, read, write and draw, but also a stage where the children put on shows.’

The architect worked closely with the contractor to design and build the steps and study nook, which were made-to-measure on-site. The total cost for the ground-floor renovation, including new flooring, joinery and demolition, was £64,500 excluding VAT.

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Add a Mezzanine Level

Space might not be on your side in a period property, but for barn conversions and industrial buildings, height often is, which is where mezzanine levels work a treat. Seattle-based practice Olson Kundig Architects (+1 206 624 5670; olsonkundigarchitects.com) took advantage of the 5.7m ceilings in this 37sqm cabin, using half the height to create a mezzanine sleeping loft above the kitchen and living area.

‘For a small project such as this, getting multiple uses out of each space is really important,’ says architect Tom Kundig. ‘Another function that works well is a small office.’

Kundig advises a minimum height of about 2.5m for a mezzanine space, depending on the proportions of the room.

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Go Bold With Your Stairs

Hallways in houses get the heaviest traffic and are the first things that guests see, which makes stairs the perfect place to introduce more adventurous colours and tactile materials into an older home.

‘The bannister is one of the few areas that your hand touches regularly, and more than any other part of a house, a staircase dictates the way that you move, so it’s a great place to experiment with colour, material and form,’ says architect Chris Bryant at London practice Alma-nac (020 7928 2092; alma-nac.com), which added an element of surprise to this Victorian refurbishment by painting the underside of a new plywood staircase red. It was prefabricated off-site and cost £17,000.

‘The primary concern must always be how the stair feels to walk up or down, which will be determined by factors such as the incline, a comfortable handrail and the choice of materials, which shouldn’t feel slippery or create too much noise or echo,’ adds Bryant. ‘Living with an uncomfortable stair can spoil the way you experience a good house.’

10 ways to give your period property a modern update 1

Extend into your side return

Building sideways might be an expensive way to gain a little extra space, with all the demolition, structural work and glazing required, but its impact can be truly transformative. Mustard Architects (020 8533 8162; mustardarchitects.com) doubled the size of this London home’s poky kitchen to create a social hub with a better connection to the garden.

‘The owners love to cook and entertain, so they wanted a bigger room that opens on to the garden,’ says architect John Norman. ‘The challenge was ensuring the space did not become too hot or cold with the large amounts of glazing installed, which we achieved with additional insulation in the walls and floor and triple glazing for the roof lights.’

Norman also used raw, unfinished materials such as concrete flooring and exposed bricks on the wall to give the new space a more timeless quality. The build cost £110,000 excluding VAT and fees.;

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Give Your Facade a Makeover

The phrase ‘period gem’ is rarely applied to post-war homes, and this Eighties mews house in London was no exception. The owners originally planned to add a new shower room and windows, but ended up giving the confused mock-Georgian exterior a full-scale makeover.

Studio 54 Architecture (studio54architecture.co.uk; 020 7729 7818) created a sleek charcoal-stained larch facade. ‘The existing frontage was dated and tired. There was nothing about it that warranted retention,’ says architect Charles Thomson. ‘The new exterior is bold and simple, with a restricted palette of materials. We like to think this has injected new life into the building and enhanced the street,’ he adds.

The new shower room and exterior, including gutters and windows, cost approximately £32,500 excluding VAT and fees. Planning permission was required as the house is in a conservation area, but may not be necessary for other places. Check with your local authority before starting.

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Convert Your Loft

Many period houses have a large, unused roof space that is ripe for conversion, and this type of extension is also one of the most affordable ways to add square metreage to your property. Simon Astridge Architecture Workshop (020 7267 3413; simonastridge.com) turned wasted space at the top of this Victorian London home into a master bedroom, and lined it entirely with birch plywood to make the room feel warmer and provide a neutral, calm retreat from the world.

‘My advice for loft conversions is to maximise storage in other areas of the house so you can keep the entire floor space clear, right down to the eaves. This creates the illusion of a larger room,’ says Simon Astridge. ‘It’s also important to incorporate a dressing area and an en suite, though these don’t have to be defined by walls – they can be open-plan,’ he adds.

Astridge advises budgeting between £35,000 and £50,000 excluding VAT for a similar project.

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Words: Luke Tebbutt

Credit: Dirk Lindner; Kilian O'Sullivan; Eric Rorer; Tom Cronin; Andy Haslam; Benjamin Benschneider; Jack Hobhouse; Tim Crocker; Sarah Blee; Nicholas Worley

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