When most people think about buying a house in need of modernisation, they think of period homes: neglected Victorian and Georgian houses that have in-built character, or unloved tumbledown cottages full of ivy and damp — houses that may not be looking their best but which once stood resplendent.
Rarely, however, do people dream of transforming an inter-war (1920s and 1930s) bungalow or a post-war (late 1940s to 1950s) ‘box-shaped’ house, most of which suffered from a shortage of both materials and funds. Similarly, during the 1960s and right up until the 1980s, there was the need for a huge expansion of accommodation which resulted in a proliferation of big housing estates — and this rush meant many essential design aesthetics were forgotten. Then you have houses that are generally viewed with some disdain for their failed attempts to replicate the charms of period properties — think brash mock-Tudor houses and failed faux-Georgian homes. And, although at glance there is little to give these houses much appeal to buyers looking for a home with individual character and charm, a closer look reveals that there is actually a great deal going for them.
Period homes are much in demand, but buyers looking for a more ‘ordinary’ home not only have a greater stock to choose from, but also end up taking out a smaller mortgage.
Unlike many period houses, more modern buildings are less likely to be listed, so unless they are situated in a Conservation Area or have a covenant attached to them, there will be less red tape. In fact, many local planners are often happy to see improvements being made to this type of housing stock.
These houses are also less likely to be suffering from structural complications, making them not only easier to remodel, but also cheaper. And, although they seldom have the same character as period homes, you are presented with what is often a blank canvas to make your mark on and will not have to worry about remaining true to the period. It is generally better to aim for a contemporary interior design approach in these houses as opposed to trying to recreate a period feel.
Replacing Windows and Doors
The windows of a house make up a significant proportion of its façade and so have a huge effect on its appearance — changing them makes a massive difference.
Swapping discoloured or tired old PVCu or damaged metal windows for aluminium or timber windows is certain to improve the exterior of a house immeasurably.
Timber windows are available in pretty much any style you require and need not cost the earth if you choose softwood over hardwood — just ensure they are primed and painted to avoid them warping or rotting. Another popular option is anodised aluminium windows, which come in a huge range of colours. Powder-coated aluminium windows are another option which, although cheaper, are generally not felt to be of the same quality.
The same applies to any external doors. Replacing an unfashionable front door with a design more suited to the style of house you are trying to create will massively alter the appearance of a building.
It is also worth reviewing the position and size of your windows and doors – perhaps the new façade may benefit from the front door being in a different position, or maybe creating a new feature window would add to the house – again, this will depend on the size, shape and style of the house you are working with, as well as the area it is in, but don’t feel restricted by what is already there.
New windows and doors will be subject to Building Regulations approval and, in Conservation Areas or on listed buildings, may require planning consent
Changing the Roof Covering
Many houses built during these years were topped off with poor-quality concrete roof tiles that do nothing to add to the appeal of a building. Changing these for a material suited to the locality and house design is yet another way to transform a house. Slates are a fantastic option and perfect for both a more traditional as well as a contemporary look. Prices vary, with Welsh slate being one of the more expensive choices and imported slates from countries such as Spain and Brazil being a little more affordable.
The other option is clay tiles, although those on a budget would be well advised to opt for machine-made tiles over handmade versions.
Of course, you may wish to opt for replica slates or clay tiles and although this may sound a bit like replacing like for like, some of the better quality replicas are now extremely convincing and are coloured all the way through to avoid the problem of colour fading over time.
For something a little more contemporary, you might wish to consider a zinc covering, popular with many top designers at present.
There are many small, subtle – often cost-effective – yet very successful ways in which to liven up a boring house. Replacing unattractive fascias and soffits can have a huge impact on the façade of a house, whilst exchanging faded, twisted or damaged rainwater goods for new ones will really smarten up a home. Consider any trees on the property too — would the house benefit from them being cut back or even cut down (you will need to check with your local authority before doing this) to allow more light inside?
Many houses of these periods lack any real distinguishing features and can appear a little ‘flat’ so adding a new dimension with a porch or portico will liven up the exterior, costing relatively little in relation to what it will add in terms of style.
Don’t dismiss the smaller details either. A new front path or re-paved driveway, a rejuvenated front garden, stylish new fences, railing and gates, smart door furniture and even swapping grubby-looking window dressings such as yellowing nets for a set of Venetian blinds, will all play a role in making a house stand out for the right reasons.
Changing the Cladding
Perhaps the most effective way to change the appearance of a house is to re-clad it in a different material. The vast majority of standard houses built between 1950 and 1980 were brick clad and very seldom was much thought given to creating interesting brick patterns or to using particularly high-quality bricks. The cheapest and certainly fastest way to alter the external appearance of a house built with ugly bricks is simply to paint the brickwork using masonry paint — it may sound obvious but it can make a huge difference.
If, however, the brickwork could do with being hidden altogether, for example if poorquality extensions have been added over the years, you might want to consider having the house rendered. There are several ways in which to do this: the house can either be completely rendered, or you might choose to just have panels of render or only one storey rendered. Take your cue from the local vernacular, the proportions of the house and the look you are trying to create.Whilst an ultra-contemporary look will suit a complete coat of render, a more traditional appeal can often be achieved with just partial rendering. Whilst most people opt for standard render which can be painted in any colour you wish, self-coloured render is another option which cuts out the task of repainting the whole house — although it is considerably more expensive. Rendering costs approximately £48/m², including labour.
A hugely popular cladding choice for many people at present, and one that is particularly prevalent in areas of Kent and Sussex, is timber boarding. There are several ways in which to do this. Shiplap boarding has straight tongueand- groove edges, whilst feather-edged boarding has slightly irregular edges and is fixed in an overlapping pattern.
You can choose from either softwood, which should be stained or painted, or hardwood, such as oak, which can be left natural. Oak, cedar and larch are fantastic choices, as all will weather to a beautiful silvery shade over time.
Composite weatherboarding is another great option. Although it tends to cost a little more than timber boarding, it will not warp or twist over time and usually comes prefinished. It is also very fire resistant.
As with render, the choice of how much of the house to clad with boarding should be made based on the local style, the design of the house and its aesthetics. US-style houses are often fully boarded, as are many barn-style homes. Timber boarding starts from around £42/m² fully installed.
Tile hanging is popular in some regions and is most often seen on traditional houses – so may look out of place when used on a contemporary design – it costs around £46/m² fully fitted.
A Word on Planning Permission
This will all depend on where you live and what alterations you plan to carry out to the property. If you live in a listed building or in a Conservation Area you will certainly need planning permission before making any external alterations. If the house you are planning working on is on an estate, you should also check that there are no covenants attached to it. Otherwise, there is plenty you can do without planning permission, such as painting, weatherboarding, hanging tiles or rendering, replacing or creating new windows and doors and incorporating integral garages into the house.