Tony Pell of the Wood Window Alliance and Sarah Latham, founder of interior design agency Etons of Bath, look at the resurgent trend for period features in homes, and the key importance of windows.
With our fixation on the future and our need to always be at the cutting edge and seek the latest innovation, it is perhaps easy to lose sight of our past. Our heritage can seem immaterial to some, but in fact our history is a key factor that helps to provide our buildings’ identity.
Thanks to a myriad of factors, both cultural and economic, properties with period features are experiencing a resurgence in sales. But while this trend for ‘period’ is undoubtedly positive, it brings to the fore the challenge of how to rectify the commonly-held misconception that you must compromise aesthetics or historical accuracy for practical functionality.
Nowhere is this more relevant than windows. Inextricably linked to the architectural style of a house, windows define character. But too often, a misplaced and outdated fear of draughty wood windows, soaring energy bills and high maintenance requirements has left elegant properties scarred with starkly out of place windows.
In a time of uncertainty, people tend to look to the past for familiar comfort, a sense of belonging and a solid foundation, and nowhere is this more tangible than in period architecture. According to Savills, period features make historic houses some of the most sought-after on the market. With the rise of period TV dramas such as Downton Abbey and a flourishing trend for vintage, heritage clearly has both economic and emotional value.
PRESERVING THE PAST IN THE FACE OF THE FUTURE
The heritage movement is emerging from a volatile political world. A lot has changed in the last year and that’s feeding into the trend for vintage and period features – within properties, people are looking back to the past. Whether they’re lusting over the fabrics and fireplaces in Downton Abbey or are inspired by projects on The Restoration Man, period homes and interiors are being championed. They have a stamp of individuality, often the result of the touch of a local craftsman, or locally- sourced materials.
People are looking for a ‘project’, whether that’s taking on the renovation of an old property or installing period features, seeking out homes and products in order to cherish and preserve the history that comes with them. This ongoing gentrification, known as ‘Heritage Gain’, will see the ripping out of features once considered to be ‘improvements’ and the reinstatement of traditional features such as old fireplaces, timber framed windows, original floorboards and ornate cornicing.
PROTECTING THE ‘PERIOD PREMIUM’
Of course while the majority of self-builders are building their home to live in themselves, its value is still an important factor. Period architecture not only boosts the value of a house but makes it easier to sell, too. The desire for heritage means that people are willing to pay an average 11 per cent more for a house with well-maintained period features.
The ‘period premium’ suggests that, in the eyes of a buyer, heritage trumps all other practical considerations. Some years ago, English Heritage warned of a “plague of plastic on England’s houses” and said that unsympathetic windows and doors were the single biggest threat to property values.
Many homeowners still compromise aesthetics for functionality, often unaware of the technological advances in timber window frames which make this compromise redundant. Wood windows are far more energy efficient than people realise, as they can now be double or triple glazed. Switch the more modern PVCu windows for more authentic looking alternatives full of character. Think reclaimed or replica wood casements, Georgian sash windows and elegant, vintage frames that embrace period authenticity such as narrow mouldings and sightlines.
PUTTING THE HISTORY INTO MODERN HOMES
Heritage in the home no longer means adhering to one period style – 62 per cent of homeowners believe that period homes can have some modern elements and 49 per cent like mixing modern and period styles. For many, it’s more intriguing to blend elements of the past and the future.
The most important features for bringing heritage to a new home are fireplaces, doors and windows, with three in four homeowners citing these. Doors and windows are some of the most conspicuous elements of the facade and the interior of any home. They’re worth investing in, and because the wood can be painted in a range of colours they can be easily incorporated into any design scheme.
Another way to celebrate the heritage of a property is to use special period-effect glass or even leaded or stain glass. Forget the feature wall – this is all about the feature window, and the inclusion of a piece of stained glass that throws multi-coloured light across a room is a bold and increasingly popular interior trend.
Mixing elements of the past and future allows for more creative freedom. Be it an open-plan kitchen diner, underfloor heating, or smart home devices, there are some modern luxuries we just aren’t willing to give up. Research by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) found that Brits believe the ‘feel’ of a home to be more important than functionality. Mixing old and new in design and decor allows you to achieve this all-important character.
If adding an extension to an older property, don’t be tempted to try and replicate original features. Some of the best extensions to period properties are the ones that really mark themselves as being new. There’s juxtaposition between the new and the old, avoiding
pastiche. Creating something modern and contemporary can fit alongside and connect with the original building. When it comes to windows, a Georgian sash window has the history that goes with it, and beautiful proportions.
Upcycling is an effective way of bringing character into your home, finding unique items of furniture over generic items from big-name stores. And for those who don’t want to take the full leap into vintage and heritage, there are small details you can include that hint at the past. Exposed floorboards in the living room and timber frames painted to match the interior decor can provide a glimpse into the past.
This year we are seeing an increased focus on craftsmanship and detailing. Find something that is elegant and fitting but doesn’t look too fussy. Even basic necessities such as plug sockets and light switches can blend into a period aesthetic. The key message is that architectural detailing is one of the most powerful ways to bring character into a home.