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5 Rules To Keep In Mind When Decorating A Heritage Property

Taking on a period property is the dream of many individuals, and the opportunity to put your own stamp on a little piece of Australian history. However, before getting straight in and starting a redecoration project, bear in mind there are five rules that need to be considered from the outset.

1. Respect the heritage of the property

This includes both the architectural and the cultural heritage. First of all, walk around and take note of all, or any remaining heritage features of the house. From carved ceiling roses to tiled fireplaces, and decorative cornices, they all add to the look and feel of a heritage property. Check for any rot or damage, and arrange for a sympathetic restoration before redecorating in lighter colours. This will add to the fresh modern feel of the room without the original features dominating the overall look.

2. Run a check with the local authorities

The local authority and planners will be able to inform you if this is a listed property with any preservation orders in place. It could be there are pre-existing requirements placed on the home owners regarding lighting, replacement of doors or windows or even colour themes. They may request you contact a heritage architect in order to make a submission to them as part of any planning approval.

Today’s modern homes are more open plan with a free flow footfall which may be at odds with some of the older homes that were designed with smaller purpose-built drawing rooms, or dining areas. If opening up internal walls and using grey toned colours to bring space and light into the property are your decisions, do be mindful of any building regulations and structural requirements for the property.

3. Go for authenticity

This is not about rigidly sticking to the style of the times, but more about working with the property rather than against it. Older houses lend themselves well to furnishings and accessories that complement the era in which it was built. These can be turned around with a modern twist. For example, an old treadle sewing machine that is no longer functioning can be upcycled into a side table. Wooden dressing tables and shelves can be repurposed to house the television or music station, or you can commission bespoke pieces in a traditional style.

4. Paint and other finishes

Make an evaluation of whether any existing paint finishes are significant enough to either preserve, or to match before deciding to overpaint. If there have been years of overpainting, it is easy enough to take paint scrapes to get down to the existing colour without damaging the fabric of the building. Go for a sympathetic colour scheme if you cannot reproduce the original, and avoid the modern high gloss or satin paint finishes. For the outside of the building, if painting the masonry, choose water-based paints which breathe more than oil based for example. Research paint references such as Miles Lewis & Alison Blake Exterior Paint Colours published by Australian Council of National Trusts which will help identify suitable hues and tones for the age of the building. Waxed finishes and shellac are more in keeping with a period home as well, so take note of this if replacing old floorboards, or revamping original kitchen and storage areas.

5. Mix and match

If you have a favourite piece of period furniture, or if the property has a feature such as a decorative fireplace, then take that as a starting point. Play around with mixing the styles and eras, but keep to the colour palette of the tiles for example, so this will pull all the different pieces together.

If the property has Art Deco glass fronted windows, this sets the scene for a clean modernistic look that combines well with chrome and leather sofa and chairs. A 1950’s built property is really bang up to date with the revival of the “kitsch” look that current lighting specialists and furniture retailers are showcasing. Keeping to a pale palette for walls and floors will allow for bold bright pops of colour on lamps and soft furnishings to blend together in a harmonious way, and not jar the senses.

Following these five basic guidelines will allow you to enjoy your period property and celebrate its heritage and charm, while leaving it intact for the next generation.

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