English Ori­gins

Victorian Homes - - Contents - By Kristin Dowd­ing

Ex­plore these English homes that date back to the early Vic­to­rian era.

The Vic­to­rian home, known for its his­toric and Time­less beauty, can be em­u­lated in new builds made To look old. but where do The ideas come from? In Robert O’byrne’s book Ro­man­tic English Homes, he ex­plores the rich his­tory of orig­i­nal English homes that pro­vide dé­cor and ren­o­va­tion in­spi­ra­tion for your dream Vic­to­rian.

Though dif­fer­ent in color scheme and building ma­te­ri­als, these homes have plenty in com­mon. “It is a fea­ture of the English char­ac­ter to de­tect ev­ery avail­able sur­face and then cover it with a va­ri­ety of ob­jects,” writes O’byrne. This di­verse and abun­dant style is the key to cre­at­ing a successful Vic­to­rian space, as each piece de­notes a dif­fer­ent his­tory and sug­gests it has been in place for cen­turies. Other things these houses have in com­mon are their nat­u­ral el­e­ments, his­toric fea­tures and the need for renovations. Fol­low these three houses to de­ter­mine the el­e­ments new own­ers kept or changed from their ex­ist­ing struc­tures.



Greyhounds, in Ox­ford­shire, Eng­land, un­der­went many uses af­ter its inception in the late 15th cen­tury, in­clud­ing a wool mer­chant’s house, coach­ing inn, ho­tel, pri­vately-owned home and a pub­lish­ing house. It was fi­nally bought by Michael Tauben­heim and his part­ner, Christopher Moore. De­spite their love of the prop­erty, they had some fea­tures they wanted to up­date. “With 27 rooms, the house al­ways ram­bled but of­ten not in a man­ner that was prac­ti­ca­ble or even co­her­ent,” writes O’byrne. They de­cided on a “con­tented fu­sion of English and Ir­ish taste” to make the look more log­i­cal.

One of the fea­tures in the ex­ist­ing home is its mul­lioned pane win­dows. These were per­fect for their plans for the house, as “the aim has been to fill the house with as much light as pos­si­ble, re­sult­ing in scrubbed wood­work, lined sur­faces, painted floors, pale walls and sea­grass,’” says Moore.

“Con­trary to ap­pear­ances, the col­lec­tions of Greyhounds are re­cent, the re­sult of dili­gent at­ten­dance at auc­tion house and an­tique fair,” writes O’byrne. You don’t need to live in a house for years to give off an ap­pear­ance of time. You can achieve the look even if you don’t have an­tique hand-me-downs from your great grand­mother. Sim­ply shop for an­tiques at fairs and auc­tion houses to find pieces you love. Some­times, you can find ma­te­ri­als for your home for free if you keep an eye open. “The beams in the kitchen came from a de­mol­ished Ox­ford pub, while the sit­ting room chim­ney­p­iece was res­cued from a field in Ire­land,” writes O’byrne. You don’t al­ways have to spend money to get what you want or need.

The house con­tains nat­u­ral ma­te­ri­als as well, from the struc­ture all the way down to its stair­case. “In keep­ing with the early twen­ti­eth-cen­tury Arts and Crafts Move­ment’s phi­los­o­phy, the house’s prin­ci­pal stair­case was made from re­cy­cled older tim­bers,” writes O’byrne. It is a tim­ber and stone-front house, which lends to its nat­u­ral, aged beauty.


Known for its lav­ish and nat­u­ral­ist gar­dens, The Temple of Diana, set in Stafford­shire, Eng­land, is a won­der­ful ex­am­ple of the im­por­tance of gar­dens.

“The key fea­ture of the eigh­teenth-cen­tury English gar­den was that un­like those cre­ated ear­lier it ap­peared to be en­tirely nat­u­ral de­spite be­ing a work of ar­ti­fice,” writes O’byrne. The idea was to limit the el­e­ments to grass, trees and wa­ter to keep it look­ing nat­u­ral. “The only overt ev­i­dence of man’s in­ter­ven­tion would be the sit­ing of a temple or mon­u­ment to close a vista,” O’byrne writes. Thus, The Temple of Diana was born in 1768. James Paine, the ar­chi­tect, made sure to place large win­dows in al­most ev­ery room of the Temple to al­low the land­scape view to be a prom­i­nent fea­ture in the rooms.

Due to the era’s in­ter­est in clas­si­cal mythol­ogy, the Temple got its name from the work of Gio­vanni Bat­tista In­no­cenzo Colombo, who painted, “scenes de­pict­ing ex­ploits of the an­cient Ro­man god­dess, Diana,” writes O’byrne. These large paint­ings add to the clas­si­cal feel of the space and give it a his­tor­i­cal el­e­ment.

The rooms in this Temple were all meant to serve multiple pur­poses, in­clud­ing the orangery. Con­verted into a tea space, this room holds del­i­cate plants dur­ing cold sea­sons to pre­vent them from dy­ing. Dur­ing warm sea­sons, the win­dows open up to make an airy pav­il­ion, and when paired with the elab­o­rate neo-clas­si­cal stucco work on the ceil­ing, it be­comes a place per­fect for any need.

“The less the pieces match one an­other, the more successful the re­sult­ing en­sem­ble.”


Set in Suf­folk, Eng­land, Bram­field Folly is a manor house that dates back to the early 19th cen­tury. For all its beauty and his­tory, this manor house was in des­per­ate need of a ren­o­va­tion.

“Semi-derelict, at some ear­lier point it had been con­verted from a sin­gle res­i­dence into ac­com­mo­da­tion for three fam­i­lies, one in the base­ment and two on the ground and up­per floors,” O’byrne writes. When Charles Moss and John Steven­son ac­quired this struc­ture, their first goal was to con­vert it back to a sin­gle liv­ing space.

To go along with their con­ver­sion ren­o­va­tion, Moss and Steven­son had to make de­ci­sions about the pond, plumb­ing and the land it­self. “In­side there were only cold wa­ter taps and out­side all the wood­land had been felled for tim­ber dur­ing the Sec­ond World War,” O’byrne writes. The land was “lit­tered with aban­doned ma­chin­ery and the rest of the grounds were given over to pigs and geese,” he writes. “‘But it had land,’” says Moss.

De­spite its ne­glected state, they de­cided to pur­chase it and make some changes to bring it up to liv­ing stan­dards. They re­built the gar­den wall and knocked seven stair­cases down to one to cre­ate a more con­trolled flow to the manor. “The halfglazed front door was like­wise cre­ated to­gether with a flight of eight stone steps to the new en­trance, sur­rounded on three sides by gravel ter­races,” writes O’byrne.

The struc­ture it­self is made of re­cy­cled flint, rub­ble and red brick—a sturdy struc­ture that stood the test of time. Dur­ing this time, how­ever, some of the red brick arches were filled in with flint, but still held small case­ments; so they in­stalled new win­dows to com­plete the look of the front of the house. Don’t be afraid to make changes to your home, es­pe­cially if it’s an orig­i­nal Vic­to­rian. Some­times, those changes are nec­es­sary in the fu­ture in or­der to en­joy the past.

This di­verse and abun­dant style is ac­tu­ally the key to cre­at­ing a successful Vic­to­rian space, as each piece de­notes a dif­fer­ent his­tory and sug­gests it has been in place for cen­turies.

Ro­man­tic English Homes by Robert O’byrne with Si­mon Brown, pub­lished by CICO Books, © 2011; ci­co­books.com.

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