How to source and replace original features

The UK is home to nearly six million period properties, almost 500,000 of them listed. Sympathetic restoration of these properties requires skill, patience and dedication. Sometimes frustrating, always time-consuming, restoring your period property is an immensely fulfilling job and one that will reward you with a handsome return on your investment. Here we look at five original features to restore or replace to give your period home an authentic look and feel.

How to source and replace original features

Sourcing and replacing original features

Interior designer, artist and presenter of The New Reclaimers Charis Williams says a cast iron fireplace is the first thing to bring a Victorian home back to its former glory. “It’s a major feature and focal point and instantly adds character and value to a property”.

But before you start knocking out your chimney breast and measuring up, she advises checking both chimney and flue are in good working order and also that your floor is level. “And now to the fun bit. SALVO is a great place to start researching reclamation yards in your area and you can also buy from listings. I’d also look on eBay as you can get some fantastic deals.”

But how to tell if a fireplace is original or reproduction? “There are three ways” says Charis “first check the back of the fireplace, if the screws are new it’s a tell tale sign. Second, check the detail: on an original the detail should be crisp and clear but repro moulds lose detail. And third, check for an indented manufacturer name as on reproductions it will stand out.”

Any tips on cleaning a cast iron fireplace? “Use methylated spirits to remove old dirt, not water as it will encourage more rust to form. You can also remove old paint with paint stripper. If a good clean doesn’t bring it up as well as you’d hoped use high temperature stove paint.”

Mark Hassall of Authentic Reclamation adds, “If the fireplace is going to be a working fireplace, make sure it is complete with grate, grill and ash pan or something to hold the ash back. The more complete the fireplace, the more expensive it will be – going for something cheap that has pieces missing is not always the best option as the missing pieces can be difficult or expensive to replace.”

Sash windows
If the glass in your sash windows has subtle waves, ripples or tiny glass bubbles it’s likely to be original Victorian glass and should be preserved whenever possible. However, call in a ‘window expert’ and the advice could well be to have them replaced. Beware! A new sash window will last 30 years at best but if you have original joinery and glass that’s stood the test of time for 150 years you could be doing irreversible damage by having them replaced.

Says Roger Mears of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) ‘Timber is not the same quality these days. In the past the wood was slow growth pine with a really tight grain. Modern timbers are fast growing with a wide grain, which are very susceptible to rot.” So when possible with sash windows, restore rather than replace. Call in a professional to service your sash windows by re-aligning, re-cording and adding a new brush pile to stop the draughts.

If however your original windows have been replaced with uPVC and you want to revert back to their former glory, call in a FENSA registered window specialist and read more advice at The Victorian Society.

Ceramic Tiles
There’s no doubt that original Victorian tiles make an imposing feature, either surrounding a fireplace, on a hallway floor or as a decorative kitchen addition. Dorton Reclaim in Sussex stocks spare Victorian tiles from £5 each up to a whole floor costing £590 per square metre.

As impressive as they are, Charis caveats that they can be hard to come by in the exact colour, design and quantity you require. “Whole sets of matching tiles are rare and therefore expensive so if you’re on a budget try putting together a patchwork design of originals. Always keep an eye out for Delft or hand painted Victorian tiles”.
She adds that if you’re trying to match tiles she suggests taking a photo of the tiles and emailing reclamation yards.

If you’re in the Cotswolds area check out Charis’s personal favourite reclamation yard MASCo, an extensive architectural salvage site which the Sultan of Brunai once bought a bandstand from! If you decide that repro is the route for you check out the range at Original Style.

Cast iron radiators are so much more beautiful than their standard modern counterparts and costing from £50 for a classic two column radiator, considerably cheaper. Nick Knowles explains the different types of radiator available at your local reclamation yard.

You can buy either fully restored radiators or you can choose to pressure test, sandblast, prime and paint yourself. The latter is the riskier option because it’s often difficult to detect any defects or hairline cracks until your radiator is hanging off your wall, leaking all over your reclaimed Victorian tiles!

Charis always recommends getting a qualified plumber to fit your radiator and advising up front that it’s cast iron, so they bring the right equipment. Cast iron radiators are weighty things! The Old Radiator Company has a good selection of original radiators, including some ornately carved designs.

“For internal restoration our bestselling items are four panel Victorian pine doors” says Mark Hassall of Authentic Reclamations. When buying reclaimed doors from a salvage yard be sure to check them vigilantly as some may have replacement hardboard or plywood panels, filled rebates for hinges or patched up locks. For a good quality original Victorian stripped pine door expect to pay around £80.

Feature doors such as vestibule doors, front doors with stain glass, porticos and bronze or wrought iron gates will really pack a focal punch. When buying any door, remember to triple-check your measurements. It’s absolutely heartbreaking getting it wrong!