29 January 2017

A Quick Guide to Renovating a Heritage Home

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‘Heritage’ can be a bit of a dirty word when it comes to buying and renovating property. The thought of having to navigate your way through a complicated set of building restrictions has many prospective buyers lumping an otherwise great house in the too-hard basket.

And while it’s true a decent dose of bravery is needed to restore a heritage-listed house, there’s also something magical about peeling back the layers and breathing new life into a tired beauty.

It’s a topic close to my heart, having just completed the restoration of an iconic 1929-built property in Fremantle’s West End for my latest venture, World of Renovation – a multi-level retail store where people can come and explore ideas to transform their own homes.

So before you reject that sweet old house that’s popped up on your real estate search, here’s what you should know about renovating a heritage property.

Heritage listing

When it comes to heritage homes, there are roughly two types – those that are independently heritage listed by either the state government or your local council and those that are located in a heritage conservation area.

Typically, homes that are listed by the state have a tighter set of guidelines. That’s because they’re considered to be more historically significant.

In Western Australia, you can search for state-listed homes on the State Heritage Register.

Heritage Conservation Area

Heritage Conservation Areas (HCA), sometimes called Heritage Overlays, are areas considered significant for their architectural style of buildings and gardens.

HCAs are all about protecting an area’s streetscape so you’ll need to ask your local council what guidelines and restrictions are in place if you live in one of these pockets of Perth.

Generally speaking, any new additions must be sympathetic to the original building as well as clearly distinguishable, so that you can see what’s original and what’s not.

Another good tip is that you can usually get away with more at the back, if it can’t be seen from the street.

What it all means

The development restrictions imposed on heritage properties are there to protect what’s worth preserving for future generations – and while they can make the renovating process trickier, heritage listed homes can still be renovated to suit the way we live today.

Day-to-day maintenance and other smaller tasks, such as repainting or replacing missing materials, don’t usually require development approval if the same colour scheme is applied and the work is done with like-for-like materials.

If you’re planning to change the original fabric of your home – such as re-roofing or replacing window frames with different materials – you will need development approval.

Regardless of the scope of work, it’s always worth calling your local council first to avoid any costly mistakes.

And if your home is state-listed, you’ll need to seek advice about work to your home’s interior, too.

Do your research

Before you start planning your reno, make sure you’re across all heritage guidelines for your particular property. Time is money so you want to get the development approval applications right the first time – even then, it can take a good few months to get the paperwork lined up.

If your home is listed by your local council, chat to the heritage officer on staff while you’re still in the concept stage.

Similarly, get in touch with the development team at the State Heritage Office if your property is state-listed.

If you’re looking at a major renovation or addition, engage a heritage architect to help you navigate the planning stage.

Know your home’s story

Built in 1929, the World of Renovation building started out as Union Bank of Australia offices, built for a crazy 17,000 pounds. In the 1950s it became a branch of the ANZ Bank and in the 1990s, it was used as a marketplace.

This evolution is part of the building’s story and now, World of Renovation is part of its story too.

Knowing your home’s story can also help inform the restoration decisions you make.

It’s a good idea to check if its original building plans are on file at your local council so that you can see what the property looked like when it was built, compared to its current state.

Expect the unexpected

There are some things that are almost a given when renovating an older property. Rewiring is one of those things and you’ll need to have a plumber re-run all of the old gas lines, replacing the galvanised pipes with copper ones.

There can be a lot of unknowns too because you don’t know what you’re going to find once you start peeling back the layers.

Factor them into your budget by including an emergency fund. A good general rule is to set aside 5-10 percent of the property’s value.

It’s all in the detail

The charm of an old home is in its character details, so get those ornate ceilings and timber sash windows looking ship-shape.

Contemporary colours and fixtures, by contrast, will help your home’s period details to shine. Think playful wallpapers juxtaposed with freshly painted picture rails and cornices, and vintage window trims with modern roller blinds that don’t hide or swamp any restored features.

At World of Renovation, we’ve used simple glass pendant lighting and a palette of mostly soft greys and crisp whites to best highlight the building’s stunning Art Deco features.

Using a simple colour palette can help hide imperfections in an older building but if it’s a feature or quirk worth celebrating, consider helping it stand out with a darker shade or a glossier paint product.

World of Renovation opens May 13 at 86 High Street, Fremantle.