Period style remains a firm favourite with many self-builders who believe traditional style is still worth emulating. Although there are some fantastic examples of new period style houses, it is surprising just how many housebuilders both private and commercial manage to get it so wrong. The common sins are either using details that are out of keeping with the era of the design, or attempting to save money on prominent features.
Thankfully it is not always necessary to spend a fortune to achieve a perfect traditional house. There are areas where significant savings can be made without compromising on the finished result.
It is important to understand the details of the various architectural periods in particular those most commonly emulated. Mixing and matching architectural features from various eras may well result in failure.
1702-1714 Queen Anne
1714-1727 Early Georgian
1760-1812 Late Georgian
1820-1830 Late Regency
1837-1860 Early Victorian
1860-1901 Late Victorian
1901-1910 Edwardian (The Edwardian era loosely covers 1900- 1918)
Other periods are:
Gothic Revival c1750-1900s
Greek Revival c1819-1840s
Arts and Crafts 1880s-1914
The trick in creating an authentic looking period house is to create a consistent architectural deceit. This requires not just an authentically styled and proportioned design, but the right combination of materials and building techniques appropriate to the scale and style of the building, as well as to its location and standing. To help inform all of these decisions, spend time studying local buildings and take note of materials and details. Decide not just what period you are working in, but whether your home is to be rough i.e. rustic, such as a simple cottage or farmhouse, or smooth i.e. a larger more genteel property such as a merchants house, vicarage, rectory, or a small country house. Rough houses tend to make use of simple, local, natural materials, whilst smooth buildings often incorporated more craftsmanship, and higher quality materials such as brick and dressed stone.
The final trick is to create an amalgam of additions, alterations and extensions to create the appearance of a house that has evolved and adapted over time.
The External Walls
Rather than choosing any old brick, or the cheapest cladding option you can find, put some thought and time into researching the type of brickwork, stonework or other external wall finish which would have been used on an original house of your chosen period.
Brick: Brick manufacturing used to be a very localised business and so each area tended to have its own style of brick, distinct in colour, size and finish. If you are using brick, the planners may want to be sure that your choice fits in with the local vernacular. In some cases this may just mean that they will insist that the bricks come from a particular colour range, but in Conservation Areas they may even specify exactly which brick to use.
A brick exterior will prove cheaper than stone or tile hanging, and although more expensive than render, will require less maintenance over the years. Like natural stone and clay tiles, bricks should improve with age.
Along with the vast range of new bricks available, there are also many businesses specialising in reclaiming bricks from old buildings. It takes 60 modern metric bricks per square metre of single skin brickwork, although you should allow for some wastage if you are planning to use reclaimed bricks. If you want to use the traditional imperial size bricks, slightly larger than modern metric bricks, these are still available from some manufacturers, as are other smaller special sizes for building Tudor style chimneys and fireplaces.
If your budget limits you to anything less than 250 per 1,000 then you may find your choice of brick is restricted although some wire cut facing bricks can be picked up for 150 to 275/1,000 but if you can afford to pay this amount or more you will find you have a huge choice. It is near impossible to imagine what a brick will look like when part of a whole house just by looking at a manufacturers display board, so try and arrange to see the bricks you like in situ on a building.
Achieving the right detailing in terms of colour, size, texture, bond and style, as well as the colour of the mortar joints, is crucial to the success of your house. However much you spend on your bricks, they will always look monotonous and boring if you lay them in a stretcher bond broken only by upright brick soldier courses on steel lintels above the windows.
Stone: Whether stone or brick was used to build a house depended largely on the relative cost of the material and the wealth of the owners. Although stone is far more time consuming to lay than brick, labour used to be cheap and so it was the price and availability of materials that usually dictated what was used. In the stone belt areas, rubblestone and flint was effectively a free material and so was widely used for all rough buildings, with dressed stone or brick used sparingly where required to form openings for doors and windows and sometimes as quoins the external corners of the walls to help tie the walls together. Finer houses tended to have more dressed stone, cropped into regular blocks and laid in courses.
The stone types most widely used in house construction are limestone, sandstone, slate, granite and flint. Although some fine houses may use stone shipped in from elsewhere in the country, most stone houses were built using stone from the local quarry. Although many quarries have closed, most types of stone are still available. Stone is not a cheap material to build with. The cheapest option is to use man-made reconstituted stone, as the regular, even-shaped blocks reduce laying costs, although this rarely looks as good as the real thing. Natural stone cropped into regular blocks is the next cheapest option, followed by rubblestone. Finely dressed natural stone is as expensive as cladding options get.
Render, Timber and Hung Tiles: Render is the cheapest cladding option and suitable for many period style houses, such as those emulating cob (earth) construction, oak frame construction, or rubblestone, which was often finished in lime render. Painting with earth pigment based colours creates an authentic period look for render, as does mixing local sand in with a lime and white cement based self-coloured render mix.
Timber siding, such as shiplap, is also a relatively inexpensive cladding option, but is only acceptable to the planners in areas where there is a timber tradition. Oak frame construction, infilled with render panels, is a popular way of building a period style home, but not a cheap option.
Tile hanging, plain clay tiles or slate, is a common wall cladding in some areas, usually in combination with brick or render. Because clay tiles and natural flint are relatively expensive, and tile hanging is labour intensive, it is more expensive than brickwork.
For many years those on a budget shied away from natural materials for the roof, due to the belief that they are much more expensive then their man-made counterparts. However, many manufacturers are now developing ways in which on the roof costs of natural products can be reduced.
Concrete vs. Clay: Almost every developer-built home will have a concrete tiled roof. The reason? Concrete is inexpensive, fast and, therefore, cheap to lay, and if well designed, can look quite attractive especially pantiles.
Despite what many people think, concrete and clay tiles can be hard to tell apart when laid the difference usually becomes more obvious as they weather. It is often the case that after 10 years or so, concrete tiles can look washed out, whereas clay tiles really do improve with age plus they hold their value.
Although the price difference between clay and concrete used to be huge, it is gradually becoming smaller at present there is a 20% premium for clay.
Interlocking Tiles: The cheapest roofing option is large format or interlocking concrete tiles – just one of these tiles should cover the same area as six plain tiles. Concrete interlocking tiles have another advantage that makes them very popular with developers and those working on a budget they can be laid at a very shallow pitch. Low pitched roofs have a couple of plus points: their surface area is smaller, meaning less money spent on roof coverings; and they are not as visible. Pitched roofs vary from 25 to 55. An area of 55 will be 60% larger than a 25 roof and so will require more tiles. However, when replicating period style buildings, low pitched roofs may look out of place. They are also only really suited to simple roof designs, however, so if your design has a complicated roof with valleys, hips and dormers, it is unlikely that large format interlocking tiles will look right.
Plain Tiles: Also known as small format tiles, plain tiles are available in either concrete or clay, with handmade clay versions lying at the top of the price range. With 60 tiles required per m2, plain tiles are expensive to lay, whether clay or concrete the laid price for machine-made plain clay tiles is around six times that of basic interlocking concrete tiles. One way to reduce costs is to go for interlocking clay tiles designed to look like plain clay tiles. For examples of some of the best simulated handmade plain tiles, take a look at Forticretes range, or Sandtofts 20/20 which requires only 20 tiles per m2.
Slate: If you are planning to build in Victorian or Edwardian style, note that they were generally roofed with slate. This was most commonly Welsh slate in England, although it was sometimes Cumbrian (porches were sometimes covered with terracotta tiles). Those building in a Georgian style should also opt for slates, which were commonly partly laid in diamond or fish scale patterns and topped with terracotta ridge tiles or cast iron crests and finials.
Unfortunately, Welsh slate is now just as expensive as handmade tiles. If you want slate without the cost, there are a number of alternatives. Prices for Spanish slate are far more reasonable, although check its quality and try to get a 30 year guarantee. Chinese slate is also cheap, and widely available. You could also try to source second-hand slate, with prices working out at about the same as imported slate.
There is a variety of slate substitutes available. Although fibre cement versions are the cheapest option, they do not always wear well. However, products made from reconstituted slate dust such as Redland’s Cambrian and Sandtoft’s BritLock are a much better, mid-priced, alternative to artificial versions.
Stone: In stone belt areas roofs were often covered in natural stone tiles, usually limestone or sandstone. New stone tiles are an extremely expensive option, as are reclaimed. This is one area, however, where man-made substitutes are both very authentic looking and very affordable.
Thatch: It is still possible to build a new house with a thatched roof and it can give a period style home instance character. Thatch is not a hugely expensive roof covering option, but it will need replacing every 10-15 years.
Windows and Doors
The windows and doors can be the easiest way to spot the difference between good traditional design and bad. The most important factors to get right are the proportions and detailing, followed by the colour, the opening mechanism and finally, the material used. Authentic looking period windows are available in timber and uPVC, plus timber composites timber internal frames clad in either aluminium, uPVC or vinyl.
The type of window you choose sliding sash or side-hung casement will play a very large part in dictating period style, so do your research. Victorians, for instance, set their windows and doors back into the brickwork. Although this can add to masonry costs, it looks far better than a cheap-look brick faade with windows that are just stuck on to the face of the wall. Another benefit of setting windows and doors back is that they will be less prone to weathering and should, therefore, last significantly longer than those that are exposed.
Your window openings are also an area with the potential to save you money. Off-the-peg windows, be they timber or uPVC, are made to fit standard window openings. If you start to introduce unusually shaped windows, you will add unnecessary costs.
Most of the factors that apply to windows are also relevant to front doors. Off-the-shelf timber doors are the cheapest option, but they can be susceptible to twisting and warping. Hardwoods are less prone to these problems, but often still suffer from movement.
Doors, windows and ironwork were all painted in the same colours and, until the Edwardian era, all paint was either matt or semi-gloss. Late Georgian front doors were black or occasionally dark green and in the late 18th century bright blue was also seen. Victorian doors were normally painted green or grained and up until the end of the 1860s other colours were also used, such as dark blue, chocolate brown, deep red and olive green. The Queen Anne period saw the use of dark green or white.
Which Brick for Which Era?
Georgian houses were made of brick or stone and, because they were generally constructed from local bricks, they tend to vary in colour depending on where they are, although yellow bricks did replace red as the fashionable choice in London during this period, due to the feeling that it gave a more ‘stone-like’ appearance.
Although stone was the most desirable material, it was often stucco that was actually used sometimes only at ground floor level painted to resemble the local stone.
Victorian houses (1837-1901) were almost invariably brick grey brick in the London area and red elsewhere in the country. If you want to build an authentic looking Edwardian style (1901-1918) house, bear in mind that rustic bricks were often the preferred choice.
Formally beginning in 1867, the influence of the Arts and Crafts movement was felt until the end of the Edwardian era. Experimentation with natural stone, timber and even concrete was all encouraged, but brick was still the primary material used. However, brick was often concealed during this era, with many houses, such as those built by Voysey, given a covering of rough stucco.
With so many different types of brick available, it is not surprising that many people feel a little daunted when it comes to choosing the right brick for their home and this is one area where limiting factors, such as the planners preferences, could actually make your decision easier.
Having been used as a building material for hundreds of years, stone is one of the most traditional building materials around. Natural stone, however, is most definitely not the cheapest material from which to build your period style home.
Stone architectural details make a beautiful addition to period style homes and are a much more cost-effective way of incorporating stone into your homes faade, through details such as quoins, cills and window and door surrounds.
Using cast stone as an alternative to natural should also help you to keep costs down. Cast stone is a mixture of aggregate and cementitious binder intended to resemble, and be used in the same way as, natural stone. Cast stone is often seen in areas where the local vernacular is stone but cost is an issue. Cast and natural stone are comparable in appearance and performance, but cast stone usually costs significantly less, except for when handmade finishes or intricate moulds are called for.<
There are those, however, who feel very strongly that cast stone is no substitute for the real thing, claiming that natural stone offers far more choice of style and colour. The Stone Federation of Great Britain believes that natural stone performs better both in terms of appearance and the way in which it weathers.
The most obvious uses for stone on the details of traditional faades are for door and window surrounds, cills and quoins (the large masonry blocks used to give emphasis to the corner of a building).
Small pane windows are considered most appropriate for period style homes. Panes were small due to limitations of early glass technology. Most Georgian and early Victorian houses have sliding sashes with multiple glazing bars.
Most houses of the Victorian and Edwardian periods had sash windows throughout. The arrival of plate glass in 1832 saw large window panes become the norm, and six, then four paned sash windows with a single glazing bar down the middle became popular.
At the end of the century, Queen Anne Revival style became popular and glazing bars returned, primarily in the upper sash, with the lower as a single pane or split vertically in two.
Edwardian windows were bigger and stained glass was often used, mainly in the upper lights of casement windows. Mock Tudor houses had leaded light casements, sometimes stained.<
Many early houses, and some Arts and Crafts style houses have leaded lights, sometimes set in metal frames.
Sliding sashes are notoriously difficult to get right when building a new house. The key to successful windows is to establish the right period. If the house you are building is Georgian in style, you must decide whether the house and windows are to be early, mid or late period there were many subtle changes in sash windows during the Georgian and Regency eras. Sliding sashes with painted softwood frames were popular throughout the Georgian period and the 19th century. Although early versions of sliding sashes often had just one sliding sash and thick glazing bars separating around 24 small panes in each sash, several refinements were later added in the 18th century. These included double-hung sashes, which enabled both the upper and lower lights to be opened, thinner glazing bars and larger panes of glass amongst them.
What to Avoid
Many people assume that a period style design is a simple way of creating an attractive house. As these examples prove, however, without research into particular styles, or the correct specification of windows, doors, bricks, canopies, roof shape and tiles, and even rainwater goods, the results can be to put it politely slightly erratic.
1. The first thing that strikes the visitor to this house is the light coloured brick, which is almost entirely inappropriate for what can only be described as a neo-Georgian design. The top-hung PVC sash effect windows are set out of proportion to the size of the main elevation and the white plastic downpipe is an unwelcome addition.
2. This is what agents would call an imposing Georgian style town house and the additional storey helps the proportions of the house. The mix of stone and brick is a positive aspect but the windows let the overall effect down.
3. Choose your windows carefully. Many self-builders on a budget settle for something like these cheap looking top-hung sash effect windows. There is no real substitute for sliding sash windows.
4. A dominant Victorian style canopy cannot save this small developer home from a distinctly 1980s feel.