Renovating an Old Colonial Regency style home

It's almost 200 years since the heyday for Old Colonial Regency style homes in Australia. Nearly two centuries on, these classically proportioned, elegant homes are prized and many are heritage listed. This is what you should keep in mind when thinking of renovating a house from this era.

A brick house with a car park next to it
ARTICLE Persephone Nicholas

It’s almost 200 years since the heyday for Old Colonial Regency style homes in Australia. Nearly two centuries on, these classically proportioned, elegant homes are prized and many are heritage listed.
Homes from this era are usually symmetrical and may have brick, painted brick or rendered exteriors, multi paned windows and shallow eaves. Rendered porticos with decorative column supports are typical of the era, but vary from house to house according to the style of the original architect or builder.
The original floor plan of these houses was symmetrical too, with the ground floor typically being two rooms wide and two deep. Timber floorboards were the norm and most rooms had a fireplace. Ornate plaster cornicing was very much in vogue and front hallways often had an ornamental arch. If original and in good condition, these features can add great value to a home. Well-executed restorations are also highly sought after.
Before renovating a house from this era, you should contact the local council and find out if there are any overlays or regulations that will affect your renovation.
Neglecting this part of the process could result in a lot of wasted time and money further down the track, as a renovator in Sydney’s Miller’s Point recently discovered. He bought a heritage listed colonial house and began renovating it without the necessary approvals. By the time he was stopped, he’d removed skirting boards, joinery and internal plaster that was listed as ‘being of exceptional significance.’
The renovator was fined $60,000, a fraction of the maximum ($1.1m) penalty in the NSW Land and Environment Court, but it was money that could have been much better spent restoring the home and, of course, those heritage features were lost forever.

Uncovering history

Knowing when your property was built will help you renovate and restore it sensitively. Your local council archives or library may be able to provide the original building plans and/or photographs of the exterior of the property and the local streetscape at the time. If not, why not ask older neighbours who’ve lived in the area for a while if they can help?
A living room with brick wall and cream sofa

Renovation or restoration?

Respecting the history and heritage of your property doesn’t mean you have to return it to its 19th Century condition. In fact, it makes more sense to carry out work in keeping with the building’s heritage, but which can still be identified as having being done at a later date.
If you’re planning a new addition to the property, there’s no point trying to make it match the original building. Just ensure your architect understands that the new space must complement the old.

Survey sense

When buying a historic home, a comprehensive building inspection is a must in order to identify any structural or other issues. Foundations, for example, must be sound before you contemplate other work.
Knowing if there has been any movement or subsidence, water or termite damage, or dry or wet rot, will enable you to get more accurate estimates on the cost of remedial works and may help you decide whether or not you have the resources to take on such a project.

Inside inspiration

If you’re looking for interior inspiration, rediscovering vintage colours and designs is a useful starting point. Original paints and wallpapers will probably have been painted or wallpapered over but, according to Ian Evans of World of Old Houses, an online treasure trove for those interested in the restoration of period homes, small areas may have been preserved in areas hidden beneath elements added after the house was built.
For example, there may be original paint under windowsills or behind meter boxes on the exterior of the property and you could be lucky enough to find wallpaper as well as paint beneath door hardware or under architraves on the interior.
A sunny bedroom with wall decoration

Heritage hues

Many widely available paint brands now produce heritage shades, making choosing an appropriate colour scheme much simpler. Resene, for example, has worked with leading conservation architect Ian Bowman, to create a heritage colour palette that incorporates modern paint technology.
Bear in mind when choosing paints, that coloured paint was generally used for exterior woodwork as it had greater weatherproofing benefits, while interior joinery was more often waxed or oiled, which nourished the timber and allowed its natural beauty to shine through.

Feature fireplaces

In most Australian states, there are only a few months of the year when fireplaces are needed, but they certainly add period character to a home. You may be lucky enough to find a property that still has its original fireplaces, but if you need to repair, restore or find a replacement, it’s worth visiting Heritage Building Centre. The company specialises in period fireplaces and can also assist with converting existing fireplaces to gas.

You might be interested in reading about Renovating a pavilion style home.

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*All information is believed to be true at time of publishing and is subject to change.

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