Decorating a period property

June 12th, 2020

Working with our friends over at Foxtons, one of London's largest Estate Agents, we have outlined some of the key factors you need to consider when renovating and decorating a period property...

Period properties are often considered to be more charming than their modern counterparts, but there are many more elements of the renovation process to think about when decorating a traditional home. The older the property is, the more care you need to take when tackling a new project, as there can often be hidden problems associated with older building materials and more delicate design details.

Removing old paintwork

Think carefully before you remove existing paint in an old property, as the chemical properties in older paints are often more toxic than those in modern paints and if the surface is in good condition, painting over the old paintwork is often the most effective way of safely treating the surface. If you do opt to remove the old paint then many paint removal products are suitable for use on old paintwork, but always double check before you use them.

If you are sanding and scraping old paintwork, then make sure the room is thoroughly dust protected and do not use an electric sander as you must ensure dust levels are kept to a minimum. When working with lead paint make sure you’re familiar with the guidance from the HSE.

Always keep the area damp when scraping or sanding by spraying it with water or using a sponge sanding block, as this will reduce dust. And once you’ve removed all the paint, make sure you sand the wood whilst damp too.

Pro tip: Be sure to consider your own personal protection by using suitable dust masks and goggles where appropriate.  Bag up all debris in suitable rubble sacks, and dispose of in accordance with local authority guide lines

You will also have to be very careful when cleaning the room once you’ve finished, ensuring that you thoroughly vacuum and wash all the surfaces, avoiding re-contamination when you go over the surfaces with a cloth. Ensure that the vacuum has a suitable filter fitted. 

Pro tip: Frequently change the cloths and water to reduce re-contamination

Painting decorative mouldings

While decorative mouldings such as ceiling roses and wall panels are an elegant touch in period properties, they need to be treated with care when you restore, paint and hang them. 

The plaster that the moulds are made of is very delicate, so if you’re attempting to strip off old paint, make sure that you take your time and use an appropriate method.

Pro tip: Where possible be sure to test areas first to check the compatibility of the paint remover / stripper you have chosen.

Loosen the first few layers of paint by lightly rubbing the moulding with a dry cloth and tapping gently with a rounded object – so as not to break the plaster. To remove more stubborn paint layers, use a paint removal product and make sure that the product is suitable for older lead based paints that you may find in period properties. Once most of the paint has been removed, carefully remove the remains using a small implement that will limit any damage to the plaster.

Once the existing paint has been removed, you will need to apply a water-based primer (depending upon the substrate you could use solvent-based if preferred) followed by your choice of top coat. If you have a paint sprayer, this is the time to use it. Using a paint spray gun is much quicker and more effective than using a paint brush, as the spray can get into hard to reach crevices and gives an overall smoother finish without disguising any of the finer details.

If you’re hanging a new ceiling moulding, bear in mind that plaster versions can be very heavy, so you will need more than one pair of hands to attach them. Depending on the requirements of your client, you can buy lightweight resin versions that are much easier to install and paint.

Painting with damp problems

The older a property is, the more susceptible it is to damp and mould, so you will need to consider this before you start decorating. Usually damp problems will be visible to the eye before you start a job, but sometimes they can be lurking beneath wallpaper or behind furniture.

Where walls feel cold or damp, or if there is visible mould or staining, make sure that the cause of the problem is identified and fixed before you tackle the decorating – don’t just remove old wallpaper and rehang new paper in the hope that it will go unnoticed.

Once the problems have been rectified appropriately, choosing the correct decorative finish can reduce similar problems in the future.

Painting on plaster rather than papering is advisable in period properties that have damp problems, as paper can peel easily due to the effects of damp and paintwork is easier to clean if mould reappears. Use a specialist anti-mould paint to reduce the reappearance of mould, especially in bathrooms and kitchens where there will be high levels of steam.

If there is a chance that the walls will need to be cleaned in the future, make sure that you use a paint that is easy to wipe, such as a satin finish.

Dark colours keep with Victorian tradition

Foxtons' style tip:

White and grey are the colours of choice in period properties at the moment. But over the last two years there has been a revival of traditional Victorian colours, such as deep blues and maroons.

As well as being more in keeping with the original style of the property, dark colours can be more practical as they are easier to keep clean and require less repainting over the years – if there are no sticky-fingered children around.

These dark colours can be overbearing, so the colour scheme will need to be balanced with lighter shades on woodwork and ceilings. But you can have fun creating a more dramatic decorative look.