Despite housing prices in London falling at the fastest rate in nine years, according to data published by Halifax last year, high-end properties in areas like Kensington and Chelsea are still very much in demand. London’s abundance of traditional Edwardian, Victorian and Georgian townhouses in wealthy areas make for lucrative investment opportunities and restoration projects. London contains over 5% of the country’s listed buildings, however, which makes some restoration projects challenging. Restoring traditional London homes to their former glory goes beyond the skills of the average building company in the phone book: that task falls to specialist companies with specific skills in restoring period homes, and thanks to the demand for high-end properties, business for these companies is thriving.
The pull of period properties
At a time when living space in London is scarce, many period properties offer higher ceilings, larger rooms, and often more rooms than their modern counterparts.
The real attraction for buyers, however, is that period properties in central London come with character that can rarely be found in modern architecture. From the tall windows and pediments of Georgian houses to the large bay windows and intricate interiors of Victorian architecture, period properties boast unique and characterful design that investors are drawn to. It is these details that add charm and bring buyers in, but owning these properties comes with its own complexities, and careful consideration must be applied even to routine maintenance: cast iron gutters, for example, are common in period homes, as opposed to the plastic guttering of modern architecture, and original plumbing systems require careful navigation. In order to maintain and restore the very features that make these homes desirable while modernising electrical and plumbing systems, specialist contractors are required, making London a prime business location for restorers and renovators.
It is of no surprise that a variety of skilled craftsmen are required to restore the original features of a period home. Features such as tiled hallways and porches; wooden window frames; outdoor ironwork; wooden-framed porches; and intricate plasterwork must be approached with care if the original design is to be preserved. While some companies specialise in restoring the whole property, there are dedicated London businesses for each facet of a period restoration. Repairing plasterwork is a straightforward job in modern houses, but for the character of a Victorian living room to be preserved, a decorative plaster specialist is required. London-based business, Fine Art Plasterwork, uses traditional techniques to complete maintenance jobs in period homes, restoring and repairing traditional cornices, ceiling roses and mouldings. Their services have even been engaged by Winsor Castle and The Victoria and Albert Museum to recreate original features. PJ Wright & Sons are specialist fireplace restorers based in Crystal Palace. As well as supplying reproduction fireplaces to London homes, companies like these are well-equipped to restore antique fireplaces, preserving the intricate details of the original architecture. The London Front Garden Company, meanwhile, is dedicated to restoring period front gardens in London, taking care to restore and maintain ironwork, tiling and original steps. Each facet of home design must be considered in the restoration and maintenance of a period home, and there are craftsmen dedicated to each task.
The rate at which a period property in London appreciates in value is higher than that of a modern home, with research demonstrating that properties built before 1919 rose by 461% between 1986 and 2011. While these properties tend to be more expensive than their modern equivalents, investors who restore and maintain their original features, preserving the character and charm of the architecture, stand to make a profit when they come to sell them on, allowing a steady flow of business for the specialist companies who restore them. While competition may be fierce in the home maintenance business, the traditional techniques and craftsmanship employed by companies dedicated to restoring period features allow them to stand apart from the crowd and thrive in the London market.
So long as the demand for high-end property in London continues, so will business for specialist craftsmen and renovators. Part of the city’s charm is the rich diversity and contrast in its architecture, and the variety of traditional crafts required to maintain it ensures that this diversity is echoed in its trade.