Understanding Period Home Design: Georgian & Victorian
Fraher & Findlay
By Lizzie
May 2020
The Greenest Project is the building you save:
In the studio we have worked on buildings from 1750 - 1970. The vast majority of houses that we have worked on are from the Victorian and Edwardian period, and it's fascinating to look at the design and plan layout of these buildings. How were these spaces originally designed to support family life and how has this changed?

There are no hard and fast rules about how old a property has to be before it is described as period. In general terms however the term "period property" refers to buildings that pre-date the First World War. Of course there are a number of distinctive architectural styles dating from after this such as Art Deco but for the most part it is buildings from earlier times that we refer to as period.

Styles don't immediately change with a new monarch and so the eras below roughly reflect the changing styles over broad time periods.
We will take a very quick snap shot view of the Tudor and Stewart House, focusing more on Georgian and Victorian houses.

Tudor/Elizabethan (pre 1603). Tudor buildings were either often timber framed or full timber construction. However in 1666 the Great Fire of London wiped out over 13000 Tudor houses leaving only a handful in London today. Most Tudor Buildings are now listed.

Stuart (1603 – 1714) After the Great Fire, homes in the Stuart period were re built in full-brick construction and other characteristics include:

  • small rooms at the top of the house for servants.
  • wood panelling.
  • elaborate fireplaces.
In 1696 the window tax was introduced which led to some homes having some window spaces bricked up. Whilst many of these windows were reinstated when the tax was repealed in the 1850s it does account for a number of bricked-up windows that can be seen around London.
The Georgian House (1714-1837)

Georgian homes are probably the oldest that most people may encounter. Typical features of the Georgian period include:


  • Townhouses arranged over three or four storeys often around garden squares.
  • Sash windows with smaller panes with tall windows on the first two floors and smaller windows above.
  • Symmetrical facades with tall windows to bring in natural light.
  • Emphasis on order via geometry and proportion.
  • Main entrances to one side with fan lights above.
  • A stucco-front in a plaster material that covers the construction material beneath.
  • Decorative railings to the front.

  • A balanced interior layout. Geometrically proportioned rooms are on each floor, one front and one back, with staircase to one side and chimney flues within party walls.
  • Upper ground and first floor rooms with highest ceilings, hierarchy of rooms reflected in lowered ceilings to lower and upper floors.
  • Basements with kitchens and stores.
  • Coal hole storage often in vaults under the pavement.

In London, Bedford Square, is one of the best preserved examples of a Georgian garden square and is also one of the very earliest examples of a planned neighbourhood. The builders needed to fit as many houses as they could on one street - hence the tall and narrow with long thing gardens.

We have worked on many Georgian houses in the studio and all of these have been Grade 11 Listed. A robust heritage statement is needed for applications for any works to these buildings, along with a sensitive design proposal - a pre planning application submission is always helpful. Works at roof level (ie. mansard extension) are very high risk, with extension opportunities more possible at the rear lower ground floor level of the building.

Original buildings are single glazed and have no insulation and so provide an environmental problem when looking at how to sustainably pro-long their life. Slim Lite Conservation sash windows can be used to replace glazing in non listed buildings, but in listed buildings secondary internal glazing is the more likely option to be supported by the council.
Victorian (1837 – 1901)
From 1841 to 1901 the British population more than doubled and the huge Victorian house building wave was a reaction to this increase. High density terraces were built on cheap land and development was delineated by class. The Victorian workers cottage lacked ornament, bay windows and moulded brickwork.
Characteristics of Victorian houses include:

  • Coloured brickwork and a brickwork porch. Buildings became more alike due to standardised materials. Mass produced glass available - hence the introduction of the bay from the 1850's
  • Roofs were pitched steeper with the use of hips and gables, and were embellished with elaborate wooden barge-boards, ornate ridge tiles and finials.
  • Slate was still the most common roofing material and chimneys were tall and decorative with projecting brickwork courses.

  • Narrow hallways with geometric tiles. The front door were set to one side in pairs.
  • Additional room (normally the scullery) within the rear back addition (the part house guests were not meant to see). This is what creates the typical L shaped house plan we are most familiar with.
  • Fireplace in every room often with ornate skirting and coving.
For me the building decoration is not the most interesting part to understand: I am going to focus a little more on what activities these rooms that many of us live in were designed to support:
Front Parlour: The largest room in the house, serving as a reception hall and is typically a showplace for the home. Here, vases, statuettes and other decorative items that symbolised the status of the family are displayed.

Back Parlour: The smaller back parlour in most Victorian homes served as the recreation and dining room. In this small space, the entire family assembles for games, conversation, music, and meals.

Kitchen: The kitchen is the busiest room in the house where food is prepared. The coal-burning range is the central heat source heat for the entire household. Due to its importance, the kitchen is often as large as the parlour.

Scullery: The scullery is a small room adjacent to the kitchen often at the end on the closet wing where the dirty work takes place. Boiling clothes and cleaning equipment happens here.

Bedrooms: The bedrooms small and dimly lit -they were designed just for sleeping. Each household had on average 4 children, often sleeping in the same bed.

Bathroom: The bathroom was a luxury. Only well off families have a bath tub and washstand, and a toilet is rarely installed inside the house. The toilet is housed in a closet-sized shed, located outside behind the scullery.
How life has changed in the last 150 years, yet the plan layout of many Victorian buildings remains unaltered. The most common changes to the Victorian plan involve the introduction of an infill extension with the kitchen becoming full with and opening up between the front and rear parlour.

It is this change in lifestyle pattern that is the brief to much of our work, re-configuring these period buildings to support 21st Century family living. The Victorians were brilliant house builders and today we resonate with the details of the Victorian homes (they often sell for up to 30% more) - however we need to find a way to retrofit them to upgrade their environmental performance as well as their spatial performance. This is the focus of much of our research within the studio...... and we have some exciting ideas bubbling!

In the next blog we will be looking at Arts and Crafts and Edwardian House Design.

If you are thinking of starting a project, please do not hesitate to contact us in the studio: hello@fraherandfindlay.com