Total charmer: The key to restoring and renovating an old home

Character is hard to reproduce. Character in property is generally something hard earned with years of use through generations of interaction.

The best, most character-filled homes are the ones that missed the 1970s and ’80s “upgrades”, where period detail was stripped from their frames and replaced with the brutal and austere lines of that period.

Some were spared because of owner malaise or lack of funds. Some were spared because their charm was recognised by some wise soul at the time, protecting the integrity and charm of the building.

Empire Property Group Australia

Jason and Sarah’s facade at 46D Regent St, Elsternwick. Photo: Channel Nine

Which brings us to the present day, Elsternwick, The Block 2017. These homes have just been completed, and the show wrapped up until next year, and surely anyone who has been watching has been awestruck by the transformations of these old darlings into fresh contemporary homes.

The key to restoring and renovating an old home is to understand the period. A California bungalow, as we’ve seen on The Block, doesn’t just mean one style of architecture, so it’s important to understand if yours sits at the beginning of the period, for example. It may have elements of Federation or Edwardian styles that preceded the period, or be inspired by the arts and crafts movement, art nouveau or even art deco. Each of these styles will be evident in the detail, so look at things like wall panelling, door handles, ceiling plaster and facades for clues.

California bungalows, like those on The Block, look best when their heritage is retained and not developed into a two-story franken house, but rather with the approach shown this season – to create a visually differentiated, modern addition while restoring the original section of the home and upgrading it for modern living.


Investment Property SydneyRonnie and Georgisa’s facade at 46c Regent St, Elsternwick. Photo: Channel Nine

A great place to start is the ceiling. If ceilings are damaged or incomplete, cast sections of the existing ceilings to fill in the gaps.

There are many plaster mouldings available that can replace new for old; make sure to match the correct period to your property.

Look then to the walls. Can they be repaired or is the right approach for your home to replace with smooth, new plaster board.

Floors can be a hidden gem, quite literally, under old lino or carpets. Finding floor boards that are in good shape is always a bonus, but an engineered board or replacement can invigorate an old home with new style. Restoring hinges, door handles and window hardware gives yet another opportunity to add detail.

By focusing on the period details of your home, you can restore charm, honour the building’s history and still have the opportunity to express your contemporary style.