Claudia Ludwig · June 21, 2022

Converting an Edwardian property into a contemporary home

Edwardian homes present an interesting set of opportunities and challenges for interior designers and architects.

Edwardian properties are generally well built, but they do tend to have shallow foundations which can cause difficulties when looking to extend. In areas such as Hampstead, the ground will consist mainly of clay, and therefore the lack of a deeper foundation can cause floors to drop and walls to crack. There are of course solutions to problems such as these. In my own, Edwardian home, we improved the strength of the foundations by adding a basement, and further enhanced the new structure by adding in light shafts on both sides of the property to flood the new room with natural light. 

One of the great joys of working with Edwardian properties are the number of architectural features and details that can be enhanced or restored as part of a renovation project. The increasing use of electric light that the Edwardians had over their Victorian predecessors meant that they could be much more elaborate with their decorative fixings. When restoring my own property, I was able to put back cornicing to the walls and a ceiling rose which would have featured in the original property. I also reinstated an Edwardian style fireplace. 

Edwardian houses are usually fairly wide and so are well suited to modern living, particularly when it comes to the entrance hall and sitting room. An Edwardian kitchen tends to be on the ground floor, rather than the basement, which means that the pipes and drains required for a kitchen are already at the right level. However, Edwardian kitchens tend to be smaller than contemporary kitchens where we are more likely to eat or entertain, as opposed to simply cook. This will mean that we may have to rejig the layout of the ground floor. The kitchen in our  house was effectively a corridor leading off the entrance hall. We decided to add a glass extension to the rear of the house, adding a steel frame to remove the load bearing walls and to maximise flexibility. We installed floor to ceiling sliding glass doors to the garden. We thus created a modern open plan kitchen/dining room with access straight into the garden.

Edwardian doors often have an attractive front door with stained glass panels, but those early 1900s doors are less secure against some of the more modern threats we face. In our property, we decided to replace the original door with a new door that mirrored the design of the old door.  We removed the old stained glass and tracked down an Italian glass artist to painstakingly restore the door to its former glory. The new panels were then fitted into the new frame and we added security glass on the inside of the stained glass. We were therefore able to enhance the original by adding modern security and improved insulation features.

Staircases are another feature of Edwardian houses which have often been lost to subsequent generations of paint and other coverings. We had our staircase stripped of its many layers of gloss paint to reveal the beautiful wood grain underneath. We then lime washed it to help allow that grain to shine through and to add some protection to the original wood. 

We discovered an intricate, curved fretwork baluster with pillars at the bottom of the stairs beneath the old plasterboards. At the top of the staircase, we fitted a dramatic glass chandelier to the top of the staircase. It beautifully follows the line of the staircase from the loft to the basement and highlights this original feature of the house, intended to immediately impress the visitor to an Edwardian home. 

Edwardian homes would often have a tiled floor made from multi-coloured encaustic tiles at the bottom of the staircase. In our house these had been removed by a previous owner. I undertook some research into the patterns and colours of Edwardian tiled floors and then designed a new floor with a pattern of grey and white mosaic tiles. This creates a trump l’oeil effect and is a contemporary take on traditional Edwardian style. It is a good example of how we can take an Edwardian theme and develop it into something more modern, while still preserving the spirit of the property. 

It is not uncommon to find an Edwardian property where the house has been divided by subsequent owners into several units, perhaps bedsits or flats. There was no central heating in our house when we bought it, just coin operated meters in each room, and the pipes were in poor condition. We therefore had to instal a completely new plumbing, heating and electrical system. This afforded us a good opportunity to future proof the house by installing modern amenities including underfloor heating, sparkling and hot water taps, an integrated Electrolux central vacuum system and automated blinds. We also improved the home energy efficiency by replacing the old and rotten window frames with double glazed sash windows. The window frames had to be detailed as precisely as the original windows to comply with conservation area requirements. 

One point to bear in mind when deciding on large scale renovations to an Edwardian property is that there may well be planning restrictions on what you can and cannot alter, particularly if the property is in a conservation area. I have already mentioned the restrictions we had, and indeed embraced, when it came to restoring the windows. But that being said, generally speaking there will be fewer restrictions on alterations at the rear of a property if it is not readily visible to the wider community. 

One of the popular structural alterations undertaken are glass extensions to the rear, perhaps for a new kitchen as we did, or a conservatory. It is likely that a significant alteration of this nature will also require some structural strengthening, replacing the original wooden framework with steel. While this can add to the cost, it also provides more flexibility when planning a new layout. If you did not want to lose some garden space with a rear extension, many properties allow for a side extension, quite often into space that would otherwise offer little use. 

Edwardian properties often feature a pitched roof, which can be ideal for a loft extension. We were able to put a guest bedroom and ensuite bathroom plus some additional storage areas into our roof space. An additional benefit is that the space provides a great view of central London. 

Following the death of Queen Victoria, people felt the need to change from the more formal and traditional style that she represented to the more relaxed manner of King Edward. This is reflected in the use of much lighter, pastel colours and floral designs inspired by nature. There is a much greater emphasis on bringing light into the room with big bay and sash windows, and of course in lighting generally as the use of electricity increased. It is these features that, in my opinion, make Edwardian architecture work so well with a modern and contemporary style. So, while there can be some challenges in adapting properties from that era, a sympathetic restoration can be so rewarding and make overcoming those challenges so worthwhile. We sometimes have to go that little but further when restoring details, as we did when we had to find the right glass artist for our front door, but the benefits of paying attention to detail will be reflected not just in your enjoyment of your property but also its value.