10 clever period home renovations

Projects where contemporary updates complement the property's original character

By Anna Winston | 4 March 2021

These period home renovations demonstrate that an older building can be transformed into a unique space for modern living. Overcoming issues such as listed features, previous alterations and dilapidated structures can be tricky, but these examples provide a diverse source of inspiration and prove that the charm of a period home can be retained and even enhanced.

1. Merging space and time

Spread over the drawing room level of two Georgian townhouses in Edinburgh, this period home renovations is by architects Luke and Joanne McClelland. The couple spent years living in London and wanted more space. They saw potential in the generous proportions of the property. So, they reconfigured the interior to create an open plan kitchen-diner and a large living room. They set to stripping back the three bedrooms to reveal original features. A previous owner replaced the living room fireplace with an orange brick fire surround. Luke and Joanne painted it black to create a bridge between the Georgian architecture and their mid century furniture.

Spread over the two Georgian Townshouses, Architects Luke and Joanne McClelland renovated this flat in Edinburgh

Luke McClelland Design cleverly adapted Ikea cabinets in the kitchen. Photo: Zac and Zac

2. Made flexible

A two-bedroom flat in a north London Victorian house is a live-work space for a young couple. Architecture practice Morales Finch were able to salvage what was left of its original bones and reorganise the layout. The practice focused on creating flexible spaces, preserving the generous proportions as well as the natural light. New openings allow for easier movement through the flat. Retaining and refurbishing original features was important. But where unrecoverable, modern versions at the same scale make great substitutes. This creates visual links between the rooms without completely glossing over all evidence of the previous alterations.

period home renovations kitchen with open storage

Morales Finch reorganised the layout of this Victorian home. Photo: Demarrage studio

3. Small change, big difference

When transforming a single-fronted terraced house in Melbourne, Australia, the owners held on to an extension added in the 1990s. Austin Maynard Architects carried out ‘keyhole surgery’ to transform the house for the couple, their two children and the family dog. The front and the back remains largely untouched. The key to the project’s success is the removal of a wall dividing the kitchen and a small, dark dining room. There’s also a new pitched glass roof with sliding awnings.

A through living room that leads to the kitchen and dining areas

Austin Maynard Architects performed ‘keyhole surgery’ on this house. Photo: Tess Kelly

4. Letting in light

Renovating and extending this Grade II listed terraced house in Primrose Hill, north London led to a gigantic pair of pivoting glass doors at the back. It creates new sight lines through the house and out to the garden. The owners have been living in the house for more than 20 years. But they wanted to rethink the rooms to suit their changing needs. They commissioned Robert Rhodes Architecture + Interiors, who worked closely with the local council.  The scheme preserves the historic fabric of the four bedroom home and won the project planning permission. Taking down the ground floor conservatory made way for a two storey space with a first floor glass box. The structure merges with the landing and provides new views of the garden.

Rear exterior of a Georgian house that has been updated with a two-storey modern extension

Robert Rhodes Architecture + Interiors’ scheme preserves the original fabric. Photo: Matt Clayton

5. Grand on a small scale

Period home renovations need not be on a grand scale. A Victorian cottage in Darling Point, Sydney, has been updated inside for a young family of five (pictured below). It has plenty of space for privacy despite the building’s limited footprint. Moving the stairs, four bedrooms and a garden terrace led to a whole new layout. Each of the children’s bedrooms has its own desk, wardrobe and play area. The family bathroom references historic winter gardens with a steel framed skylight and timber panelling on the ceiling. So, Architect Alexander & Co included a number of period features to make the small house feel more like one of the bigger traditional homes nearby. These include a grand staircase and lightwell, paved limestone flooring in the kitchen, a contemporary update on traditional wall panelling.

These period home renovations demonstrate that an older building can be transformed into a unique space for modern living. Overcoming issues such as listed features, previous alterations and dilapidated structures can be tricky, but these examples provide a diverse source of inspiration and prove that the charm of a period home can be retained and even enhanced.

1. Merging space and time

Spread over the drawing room level of two Georgian townhouses in Edinburgh, this period home renovations is by architects Luke and Joanne McClelland. The couple spent years living in London and wanted more space. They saw potential in the generous proportions of the property. So, they reconfigured the interior to create an open plan kitchen-diner and a large living room. They set to stripping back the three bedrooms to reveal original features. A previous owner replaced the living room fireplace with an orange brick fire surround. Luke and Joanne painted it black to create a bridge between the Georgian architecture and their mid century furniture.

Spread over the two Georgian Townshouses, Architects Luke and Joanne McClelland renovated this flat in Edinburgh

Luke McClelland Design cleverly adapted Ikea cabinets in the kitchen. Photo: Zac and Zac

2. Made flexible

A two-bedroom flat in a north London Victorian house is a live-work space for a young couple. Architecture practice Morales Finch were able to salvage what was left of its original bones and reorganise the layout. The practice focused on creating flexible spaces, preserving the generous proportions as well as the natural light. New openings allow for easier movement through the flat. Retaining and refurbishing original features was important. But where unrecoverable, modern versions at the same scale make great substitutes. This creates visual links between the rooms without completely glossing over all evidence of the previous alterations.

period home renovations kitchen with open storage

Morales Finch reorganised the layout of this Victorian home. Photo: Demarrage studio

3. Small change, big difference

When transforming a single-fronted terraced house in Melbourne, Australia, the owners held on to an extension added in the 1990s. Austin Maynard Architects carried out ‘keyhole surgery’ to transform the house for the couple, their two children and the family dog. The front and the back remains largely untouched. The key to the project’s success is the removal of a wall dividing the kitchen and a small, dark dining room. There’s also a new pitched glass roof with sliding awnings.

A through living room that leads to the kitchen and dining areas

Austin Maynard Architects performed ‘keyhole surgery’ on this house. Photo: Tess Kelly

4. Letting in light

Renovating and extending this Grade II listed terraced house in Primrose Hill, north London led to a gigantic pair of pivoting glass doors at the back. It creates new sight lines through the house and out to the garden. The owners have been living in the house for more than 20 years. But they wanted to rethink the rooms to suit their changing needs. They commissioned Robert Rhodes Architecture + Interiors, who worked closely with the local council.  The scheme preserves the historic fabric of the four bedroom home and won the project planning permission. Taking down the ground floor conservatory made way for a two storey space with a first floor glass box. The structure merges with the landing and provides new views of the garden.

Rear exterior of a Georgian house that has been updated with a two-storey modern extension

Robert Rhodes Architecture + Interiors’ scheme preserves the original fabric. Photo: Matt Clayton

5. Grand on a small scale

Period home renovations need not be on a grand scale. A Victorian cottage in Darling Point, Sydney, has been updated inside for a young family of five (pictured below). It has plenty of space for privacy despite the building’s limited footprint. Moving the stairs, four bedrooms and a garden terrace led to a whole new layout. Each of the children’s bedrooms has its own desk, wardrobe and play area. The family bathroom references historic winter gardens with a steel framed skylight and timber panelling on the ceiling. So, Architect Alexander & Co included a number of period features to make the small house feel more like one of the bigger traditional homes nearby. These include a grand staircase and lightwell, paved limestone flooring in the kitchen, a contemporary update on traditional wall panelling.

Image: Alexander & Co updated this Victorian cottage in Sydney for a young family of five. Photo: Tom Ferguson

6. For the love of timber

The owners of this Grade II listed barn bought it in the 1990s. But set about undoing some of the original conversion work in 2017. The idea was to reinstate historic features and celebrate the timber frame structure. Gresford Architects oversaw the restoration and refurbishment of Great Barn. The 404sqm home is in the green belt and conservation area of Beaconsfield Old Town, Buckinghamshire. The project saw the stripping away of the 1990s alterations. Removing a bedroom in the roof space gave a double-height kitchen. While a new staircase and study separate the kitchen and dining areas from the living space at the other end of the house. Upstairs, a private staircase is hidden inside the timber panelling, leading up to a guest bedroom and bathroom in the attic of the garage.

Looking through open double doors into the kitchen of a converted barn

The Great Barn is in Buckinghamshire’s green belt and conservation area. Photo: Gresford Architects

7. Flipping the layout

The owners of this three bedroom ground floor flat in a Glasgow tenement have backgrounds in design. They drew on their experience to update most of their home themselves. But they asked architect Loader Monteith to help with the job of reconfiguring the dining area and kitchen. The layout was flipped by moving the kitchen into what had been the dining room to help it feel less cut off. The space has a high ceiling and original cornicing that opens onto the hallway. The rear of the flat now feels bigger and brighter. Lowering the windowsills and fitting frameless windows, as well as moving the washing machine and boiler to a utility space by the backdoor all helped.

The Collectors Home 129 ME

Reconfiguring this single-storey extension opened up the space. Photo: Gillian Hayes

8. Tradition restored

Architect Ben Mailen and his wife have updated Manor Cottage in the Didcot conservation area, Oxfordshire. They share the four bedroom family home with their two-year-old son. Period home renovations demand great care and attention. This cottage has a stone lintel above a fireplace that bears the stonemason’s initials and the construction date of 1672. It has been through a number of layouts, including being divided into two homes in the 1700s and serving as a village general store. The aim of the period home renovation was to restore the oak timber frame and masonry. And remove the layers of additions and modifications. Wood fibre insulation and natural lime render allow the original structure to breathe. Historic materials are complemented by a palette of neutral tones and mostly natural materials.

Kitchen beams

Wood fibre and natural lime render improves insulation and allows the structure to breathe. Photo: Mailen Design

9. Conservation area update

In the words of Norwegian architect Siri Zanelli (collectiveworks.net), UpSideDown House in Highgate, north London, was ‘an absolute dump’ when she bought it. So it was hard to get a mortgage. But the transformation of the Victorian property proved to be worth the pain for Siri, her husband and their two sons. Siri wanted to be bold with the use of colour and texture. And design a home that is both functional and cosy. She collaborated with Koi Colour Studio to create a vibrant palette, using tones of pink, yellow, green and blue. A stepped extension won over the planners in the tricky Highgate conservation area. Holes were punched through the interior of the structure to open it up. The kitchen forms the heart of the home, while loft and basement extensions created enough space to add two extra bedrooms, taking the total to five.

UpSideDown House, Highgate, North London

Architect Siri Zanelli wanted to be bold with colour and texture. Photo: Margaret M. DeLange

10. A new arrangement

Period home renovations can offer a new way of living. Johan van Staeyen was originally invited to refurbish three kids’ bedrooms on the top floor of a 19th century townhouse in Antwerp, Belgium. But his efforts helped the family realise the rest of the house didn’t reflect how they could live. So they asked him to take that on too. While reorganising the interior – including removing walls and floors to bring in more light – Johan preserved original features. He set about restoring the stained glass ceiling light above the staircase, the ceiling mouldings and parquet flooring, even adding more in the kitchen. The back wall came down to extend the kitchen and dining area and create a better connection to the garden. Bespoke built-in furniture provides ample storage in the corridors and bright splashes of colour inject some fun.

A new arrangement, Johan Van Staeyen | Grand Designs Magazine

Johan van Staeyen restored this 19th century Flemish townhouse. Photo: Van Stayaen Interior Architects

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