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1930s House Renovation: How to Maximise Potential

1930s house renovation
(Image credit: Architect Your Home)

A 1930s house renovation offers so much to the modern-day homeowner. Although there are semi-detached houses from many different eras in the UK, those built during the 1930s are arguably more prevalent than any other — in fact, according the The University of Nottingham, there are more than three million 1930s houses in the UK.

There’s no single reason that there are so many 1930s houses scattered throughout the country, but one of the biggest factors was that they were a relatively cheap way to build lots of new homes quickly after the depression in the early 1930s and the destruction wrought by WWI. As the economy recovered and employment began to rise again in the first half of the decade, people were easily able to afford these properties. 

While 1930s house renovations are not always seen as desirable as a Victorian house renovation project, they actually have an awful lot going for them.

Those taking on a 1930s house renovation will often be faced with a layout consisting of a front hall, two reception rooms and a kitchen at the rear. On the first floor there are usually three bedrooms, two larger and one much smaller, along with a bathroom — often with a separate WC. 

Other common features of 1930s semi-detached homes include:

  • Generous plot sizes
  • Garage
  • Bay windows — often at both ground and first floor levels. These were commonly bowed
  • Wood panelling
  • Parquet or wood floor boards
  • Chunky tiled fireplaces
  • Half timbered or pebbledash exteriors
  • Diamond pane windows
  • False beams

Here, we look at some of the best design solutions out there for anyone renovating a 1930s house, showing just how to transform a dull and dated semi-detached house into a bright, open home.

Replace a Tiled Fireplace

Fireplaces in 1930s semis often took their design influences from the Art Deco trends of the time. Many in place today are bulky in form and are feature tiles in shades of light brown, pale yellow and beige. If this isn’t your thing, replace it with either a fireplace you prefer from the same era (there are some great Modernism-inspired designs out there) or remove it to create a crisp opening for a new log burning stove.

renovated living room

In this renovation project the original dated fireplace was removed completely. A crisp white surround now houses a woodburning stove.  (Image credit: Architect Your Home)

Create Contrast

The architectural lines of many 1930s semis are actually quite distinctive and strong, so it makes sense to echo this in the design of any extensions you add. This doesn’t mean matching the original, but rather creating something that complements it visually. 

1930s house extension

On this project, by Granit Architects, a flat-roofed extension, with dramatic overhangs, perfectly offsets the steeply pitched roof of the original 1930s house.  (Image credit: Granit Architects)

Create a Split Level Layout 

Split-level layouts don’t just add architectural interest internally to a home; they also help to define separate zones within open-plan spaces. As well as creating novel living spaces, in some cases this can actually be the most practical solution. In the case of extensions, it can make sense to step the new addition down so that it sits more in line with the garden, creating a better connection. This can also help to set the new and old sections apart. 

split level living room

In the extension and remodel of this 1930s semi, designed by Granit Architects, the existing extension had no connection to the garden so was stripped away and replaced with this addition. The floor in the extension is lower than those in the older section of the house, bringing it more in line with the garden. This has created some exciting design possibilities, including the opportunity to create a mezzanine study. The stepped layout has also provided a handy spot for two built-in wine coolers. (Image credit: Granit Architects)

Highlight Original Features 

Stained glass is a common find in 1930s house renovations — it often featured in sections of windows or front doors. If you still have any original stained glass in place, ensure it stands out by creating a neutral backdrop around it, as has been done here. Other original features to highlight might include arched openings, curved windows and wood panelling. 

hallway with stained glass door

The hallway of this renovated house is brought to life through the bold pattern of the stained glass fanlight and sidelights of the decorative original front door.  (Image credit: Architect Your Home)

Broken Plan Makes Sense

The generous room sizes of 1930s semis mean that an open-plan remodelling or extension scheme often makes sense. However, for many people, what works better is a semi-open-plan – also known as broken plan – layout. 

Broken plan layouts are only partially divided up, employing half-walls, screens, changes in floor level and ceiling height as well as larger items of furniture.  

broken plan kitchen diner

Here, opening up the hallway has resulted in a light and spacious entrance to the home, and the steps down into the extension capitalise on that by making it feel like the space opens out even further. The original staircase acts as a divide between the living area and the kitchen dining room, ensuring each part of the house feels distinct. (Image credit: Architect Your Home)

Bring Wood Panelling Up-to-date

Dark wood panelling was popular in the 1930s. If you are wondering what to do with it, a lick of paint can refresh it and bring it up to date. Wood panelling and timber cladding can really bring a room to life with the right finish. 

bedroom renovation

The wood panelling in this bedroom has been given a lick of on-trend forest green paint to give it a modern, warm look.  (Image credit: Architect Your Home)

Add a Full-width Extension

With their generous plot sizes and large room proportions, 1930s semis can handle large, full-width extensions easily. 

If you are thinking about building an extension to increase space in your 1930s house renovation, aim to include plenty of glazing in the form of bi-fold doors or sliding doors and combine these with rooflights or roof lanterns. By doing this you will ensure the original sections of the house will benefit from the extension, as opposed to it cutting off their source of light. 

kitchen extension

An expanse of glazing has been used in combination with a bank of rooflights in this extension to bring in as much natural light as possible and connect the room to the garden. (Image credit: Architect Your Home)

Create a Large Loft Conversion

Many 1930s semis are crying out for a loft conversion. However, there are many different types of loft conversion so be sure to choose a design that makes the most of the space you have available. 

loft conversion

Here, a full-width dormer loft conversion has been added, which is balanced out by the full-width extension to the rear of the house below, adding a nice sense of symmetry to the design.  (Image credit: Architect Your Home)

Consider Metal Windows

Steel windows were all the rage during the 1930s, particularly on Art Deco houses, where they were often seen curving around corners. Why not embrace this feature, by incorporating a modern interpretation as part of your renovation? 

These days, industrial style windows are available in materials other than steel — consider aluminium or painted timber instead. 

industrial style kitchen

These black-framed metal windows and doors allow for a nod to the house’s history whilst suiting the classic modern finish perfectly.  (Image credit: Architect Your Home)

Incorporate the Garage

If, like many other houses built in this era, your 1930s semi has an integral or attached garage, think about whether you are currently making the most of it. If it has become a dumping ground then it could be worth carrying out a garage conversion so that it can be used as living space, a home office or spare bedroom instead. 

garage conversion

This garage has been transformed into a useful snug and hobby space with a mezzanine level above.  (Image credit: Architect Your Home)
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Natasha is Homebuilding & Renovating’s Associate Editor and has been a member of the team for over two decades. An experienced journalist and renovation expert, she has written for a number of homes titles. She has renovated a terrace and is at the end of the DIY renovation and extension of her Edwardian cottage. She is now looking for her next project.