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Edwardian Impact

18th January 2013

A period property is high on the wish list of many a purchaser, and Victorian houses, particularly, are known for their character. But before joining the queue to acquire one of these undoubtedly handsome properties, why not consider instead a property from the era which directly followed? An Edwardian house has much to recommend it, says Jacqui Gray, who also offers tips on recreating the look in the 21st century…

The Edwardian house in context

‘Edwardian’ refers precisely to the period during the reign of King Edward VII, from 1901 to 1910, although it is sometimes used more loosely to describe houses built from the turn of the century up to around the time of the First World War. The period saw much social change in Britain, and this was reflected in the houses built.

Television, in programmes such as the 1970s’ series, Upstairs, Downstairs, often portray the world of the wealthy Edwardians, living in grand households, looked after by a retinue of servants. Yet, at the other extreme, poor and cramped housing conditions for the working class still endured.

It was also the time of a fast-growing middle class, and of the spread of suburbia. Various ‘garden suburbs’ appeared – planned housing developments with well-built homes sited on spacious plots with gardens, and green spaces, as house builders attempted to create more pleasant living environments for the emerging middle class, and many social philanthropists aspired to do the same for their workforces. Pioneering developments like these were the precursor to the later house-building models of the 1930s. And, in this post-Industrial Revolution period, technological change too was making itself felt, and the Edwardians saw, for example, electric light starting to be introduced into their homes.

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Architectural styles

Edwardian architectural style might more accurately be called ‘styles’ since, as in many other recognised design periods over the centuries, there was actually more than one direction. Like the Victorians before them, Edwardian architects looked for inspiration from earlier eras, such as Georgian, Queen Anne and Tudor, and reinterpreted these styles in the homes they designed. One particular influence on Edwardian homes was the Arts and Crafts movement, which began as a reaction against the increasing mass production methods of industrial Victorian Britain, and a desire to emulate the hand-made workmanship of the skilled artisans of yesteryear. At the heart of the movement was the designer William Morris, who founded his own company, Morris and Co, producing wall-paper, fabric and tiles. As the movement grew, it inspired a number of architects, who looked to England’s pre industrial age. They designed houses informed by vernacular from the past, and used traditional local materials. These lovely homes are very distinctive with their ‘cottagey’ look, often having traditional coverings such as stone, half-timbering, or pebble-dash; a deep and sloping roof; tall chimneys and mullioned windows; and inside features such as inglenook fireplaces and wooden panelling.

Edwardian homes can be found in various types, from large detached villas, through semi-detached to terraced properties. Externally, though similar to their Victorian predecessors, there are subtle characteristics that give a clue to their being of this period…

Recognising an Edwardian house

• Edwardian properties are often constructed in red brick, and may have rendering such as pebbledash, and gables, which may be timbered or hung with decorative tiles.

• A decorative white-painted porch or balcony is a frequent feature, and in semi-detached houses, the porch may extend across the two properties.

• Edwardians liked to let light in, so bay windows are typical, sometimes extending to two storeys in larger properties, and may be angled. Windows may be sash, often with smaller panes in the top half, or casement, and in contrast to earlier recessed Victorian windows, the Edwardian window tends to sit flush with, or even extend out from, the wall.

• The use of glass with leaded lights is in period for doors and windows.

• Plots tend to be broader than Victorian antecedents, and this is often noticeable in a hallway that is wider than the typically long, narrow version of Victorian homes, allowing Edwardians space for a side window next to the front door.

• Edwardian houses are less likely to have cellars than Victorian properties.

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Edwardian interiors

• Interiors became lighter, with a more ‘feminine’ colour palette replacing the darker Victorian preference.

• Edwardian homes also tended to be less cluttered with knickknacks, but would still feel busy by today’s standards.

• Decorative details, such as coving, became less elaborate too. The picture rail migrated lower on walls, to sit level with the tops of doors; the dado rail became less ubiquitous, tending to be found only in halls and on stairs.

• Walls could be plain, but Edwardians liked wallpaper, with stripes, florals and nature motifs being particularly popular. Embossed Anaglypta-type wallpaper was used in areas of heavy use such as below dados in hallways and on stairways. And above the picture rail, a decorative frieze, or stencilling, which became popular at the time, might be used.

• Soft furnishings were often matched to wallpaper, with chintz being particularly popular.

• Wall tiles were often used too. In kitchens and bathrooms, white was a favourite colour, and Edwardian homes also included Art Nouveau and Arts & Crafts designs in tiles, particularly around fireplaces.

• Art nouveau designs were also used in stained glass in hallways and front doors. Look out for original examples, which can be a lovely feature.

• As in Victorian homes, encaustic floor tiles continued to be laid in hallways while quarry floor tiles, often red or red and black, were often used for kitchens. Black and white tiles became popular for floors, and front paths might be tiled in a chequer or diamond design.

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The Edwardian look in 2013

While slavishly recreating the Edwardian look in every detail could end up with your home looking rather like a museum, a looser interpretation can work well. The Edwardian shift from the darker, more oppressive feel of the Victorian home to a lighter, more spacious interior, lends itself well to modern décor and lifestyle. For a 2013 take on the era, try the following:

• Keep the colours for walls and soft furnishings light and airy. Consider soft pink, green, blue, lavender, lemon and grey.

• Include a wallpaper: floral is very much in keeping with the era, as are soft stripes and nature motifs.

• Complement plain walls with curtains and a matching sofa in a pretty floral or nature motif. If that feels too ‘sweet’, dilute the sweetness by teaming a floral with a soft stripe.

• Floorboards stained dark, and overlaid with rugs, are the Edwardian way.

• If your Edwardian home has lost its original picture rail, then reinstate it.

• Built-in cupboards are correct for the period.

• Tiffany-style lamps are also in period.

• White, brickwork-style tiles in kitchens are right up to date, and also lend themselves to an Edwardian look.

• The encaustic tiled floors often laid in Victorian houses were still used in Edwardian hallways. Black and white floor tiles were also popular, along with parquet flooring. If you have an Edwardian home without the original tiles, you can replace them with good reproductions.

• Update the lace curtains and nets popular in the Edwardian era with a simple white blind.

• Look out for tiles in Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts designs for fireplaces.

• Include a large mirror over the mantel.

• Include a grouping of pictures on a wall: a selection of family portraits would be effective.

• A metal bedstead is typical. Complete the look with a dressing table under the bay window, and pretty perfume bottles plus silver-framed pictures on top.

• For real Edwardian charm in your home, always have fresh flowers…

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