1930s property renovations in the UK

With its streamlined, boxy shape, the classic 1930s semi detached house is a hidden gem found all over British suburbs. While it's not always glamorous in today's view, a few easy modifications can help you turn it into a classy abode full of light and space.

Houses in the UK with plain bay window
ARTICLE Stephanie Matheson

The BBC estimates that more than 4 million homes were built between 1919 and 1939, in what is generally referred to as the 1930s period style. Homes tended to be influenced greatly by the modernism movement with little colour or ornamentation, showcasing simple shapes and sometimes curved windows or plain bay windows.


Though there are many different looks for buildings of this era, the exterior of many houses is starting to look rather dated and tired. Lower cost materials were often used (reflecting tougher economic times), and pebbledash or roughcast, which are a type of plaster surface made up of lime, cement, sand and small pebbles, was used to cover the outside walls, often to hide poor quality brick work. Pebbledash is widely considered unpopular these days, and can even have a negative impact on the resale value of your home. Recladding your 1930s house can make a world of difference and is therefore often a great way of creating a more contemporary look and adding to the value of your house.


Love it or hate it, the 30s certainly had a distinct style that paved the way for modernist homebuilders. Inspired by Art Deco design principles, many original interiors feature colour schemes typical of the era, such as pale pastel greens, blues or pinks, or a striking combination of red, black and silver. Windows and doors often had classic sunburst or galleon ship glass or stained glass panels at the top, which could be retained or reinstated.
A luxury living room with vinyl floor and fireplace


For flooring, lino was and remains a good, hard wearing option and today’s advances in technology means there are a great many choices available on the marketplace, including luxury vinyl that comes in many different styles. Parquet flooring is a sought after classic of the 1930s and modern versions could include chevron or herringbone patterns to keep up the look and feel of the era.
Wooden wall panelling was used frequently and while it provides a stately feel to the house, it also tends to render the interior quite dark. An easy way to update this feature is by painting it a modern colour. Patterned wallpaper for a whole room or a feature wall also echoes the interior design style of the times. Fireplaces were tiled and often had a stepped profile, and they are easily updated with modern materials and surrounds.


When you decide to renovate, your house is your oyster and you could easily strip the house completely to create a clean slate to work from. More often than not, 1930s houses have relatively large gardens, a garage and good-sized rooms with plenty of windows. It’s a good place to start from. Common alterations include same-level extensions, opening up rooms to create a large kitchen diner, and creating better indoor-outdoor flow by installing modern sliding or stacking doors. Often houses were plain on the garden side, so adding an extension here would still allow you to keep the character of the street-facing façade.


Should you decide to keep some of the 1930s period style features in your house, your options are manifold – from restoring the original materials through to updating the house and simply including a few decorative items that hint at the heritage of the house. Furniture and light fittings with a nod to the 30s are having a come back and can add a glamorous touch, while not being too overpowering. Frosted and opaque glass fixtures, as well as chrome fittings and details, were popular in the 1930s – another trend that can be updated and incorporated with a modern twist.
An outdoor space with chair and table
As a ‘child of the era’, and hugely popular today, the Scandinavian style works extremely well in a 1930s home, and in combination with some of the original period features. The style emerged in the 30s itself and has at its core the ideas of functionality, simplicity and clean lines that are also found in 1930s homes. Even simple interior accessories such as tables, mirrors and cushions are a great way to inject a flavour of this style (or any other interior design style for that matter), but you can take it a step further and experiment with Scandinavian colour schemes and materials. 
White walls with blue and grey textiles are popular and provide a neutral enough contemporary backdrop for natural hues or a splash of bright colour. In terms of materials, think lots of light wood and eco-friendly building components.
After all, the 1930s with the modernist movement were all about looking ahead and experimenting with new materials – so don’t be afraid to be bold and reinvent the style of your house.

You might be interested in reading: 7 expert design rules to get your renovation style right.

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*All information is believed to be true at time of publishing and is subject to change.

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