How to Unlock the Timeless Magic of Decorating a Victorian Terrace

CEO Khai Intela
In this hallway, renovated by Momo & Co, traditional encaustic flooring sets the tone. Its graphic, monochrome pattern is echoed in the interior paintwork and edged stair runner. Photography by Juliet Murphy Victorian terraces are...

victorian terrace In this hallway, renovated by Momo & Co, traditional encaustic flooring sets the tone. Its graphic, monochrome pattern is echoed in the interior paintwork and edged stair runner. Photography by Juliet Murphy

Victorian terraces are a ubiquitous part of British housing stock, known for their decorative features and unique charm. With their sash windows, slate roofs, ornate moldings, encaustic flooring, and tiled fireplaces, these properties hold immense appeal. However, their configuration can pose challenges when it comes to modern living. But fear not! With a creative architectural and decorative approach, you can easily unlock the timeless magic of these homes.

A Balancing Act: Layout is Key

victorian terrace In this room designed by Alice Leigh, simple shuttered window treatments allow the architecture of the building to shine. A classic furniture arrangement makes the most of the room’s proportions. Photography by Jonathan Bond

When modernizing a Victorian home, it's tempting to strip out everything and start from scratch. However, it's often more beneficial to work with the existing layout and assets of the house. Architect Rodrigo Moreno Masey recommends a gentle reappraisal of the building's layout, preserving integral design elements such as cornicing, fireplaces, staircases, skirting details, and architraves. These features can be removed, rearranged, or repositioned elsewhere during the renovation process.

Victorian terraces often have a two-up, two-down configuration, with narrow hallways and middle living spaces lacking natural light. One solution is to create larger openings between rooms to allow for more light and a sense of spaciousness. Glazed French doors and additional fixed glass panels can be used to draw in light and make the space feel more generous. Additionally, reconfiguring the middle room as a utility space can optimize functionality while preserving the traditional division of rooms.

Room to Grow: Space Expansion Considerations

victorian terrace In this bathroom scheme by Laura Stephens, a freestanding double basin and a marble chequerboard floor lend a classic feel. Photography by Chris Snook

Expanding the space of a Victorian terrace is a crucial consideration. Whether you decide to preserve the existing footprint or go for a contemporary addition, it's essential to maintain a connection to the building's vernacular. An uninterrupted sightline from the front door to the garden is often a sought-after goal when renovating these properties.

A side return extension is a classic solution to create roomier living spaces. It offers valuable communal space for families, particularly when space is limited. Another option is to consider garden rooms, which are often affordable and can be quite spacious. They can be an excellent opportunity to add something striking to the property.

When planning rear extensions, it's advisable to stay within reasonable depths. A three-meter addition typically looks most proportional to the original building. However, if the rear garden is small, it may be more practical to remove an existing outhouse and channel more light into the deepest part of the home. This space can then be transformed into a redesigned kitchen-diner or another functional area.

Restore and Refresh: The Renovation Process

victorian terrace Tongue-and-groove joinery in this design by Studio Peake provides a textural contrast in this contemporary extension. Photography by Alexander James

Preserving architectural elements such as cornicing and architraves is key to maintaining the character of a Victorian terrace. Combining contemporary and traditional schemes can add unexpected depth and create a visually interesting space. Consider using traditional-style joinery, such as a hand-painted kitchen, to tie in seamlessly with tongue-and-groove bookcases. By incorporating cozy textures and warm patterns, you can counterbalance any sense of coldness often associated with rear extensions.

Effective storage solutions can be built into dead corners, optimizing space and cohesion. Designing storage boxes that narrow behind the front door, cubby holes for shoes, and clever console shelves can enhance the functionality and aesthetics of the interior.

Robust materials that age well over time, such as timber, marble, and stone, are beneficial choices. These materials not only improve your environmental footprint but also breathe better, last longer, and enhance well-being. Playing with contrasting textures and materials can create a visually appealing and timeless interior.

Tales of the Unexpected: Decorating with Delight

victorian terrace In this scheme by Louise Robinson, rich mid-green tones pick out the hues in the inset tiling of the original fireplace. Photography by Anna Stathaki

Victorian interiors were known for their clash of cultural influences, vibrant colors, patterns, and textures. Embracing a sense of playfulness and delight when decorating these homes can yield unexpected results. Introducing variations in tile colors, mixing old and new, and adding contemporary contrasts can create unique and vibrant living spaces. The juxtaposition of rich tile colors such as dark green, blue, crimson, and brown can add authenticity and depth to an updated scheme.

Adding playful contemporary elements, like monochrome chevron tiles on a restored fire surround or a contemporary inset gas fire, can breathe new life into stripped-out fireplaces. Surprising design elements, such as jewel-colored fabrics or decorative wallpapers, can serve as vibrant focal points, adding a touch of excitement to your Victorian terrace.

As you decorate your Victorian terrace, embrace an eclectic mix of antique, vintage, and contemporary pieces. Celebrate the unique space and allow it to evolve naturally. An eclectic, thoughtful, and comfortable approach will ensure the well-loved architecture of your Victorian terrace continues to shine.

Words by Emma J Page. Article originally published in The English Home May 2022 edition.