Old Colonial Gothic Picturesque homes

This architectural style, most popular in NSW and Victoria, featured elements usually reserved for castles and cathedrals. Renovation works for these kinds of houses must be carefully planned if you want to add value to your home.

A stone parapet house
ARTICLE Persephone Nicholas

Known for their whimsical design and decorative details, the Old Colonial Gothic Picturesque houses of the 18th Century borrowed elements that had previously been reserved for grander buildings, such as castles, cathedrals and abbeys, and used them to adorn the residences of the well to do.
This style of architecture was most popular in NSW and Victoria. Landowners, and their architects and builders, indulged their design fantasies and built houses, often close to the waterfront, with features such as steeply pitched roofs; diamond paned windows; pinnacles, spires and turrets; and parapets and buttresses.
Imagine a wealthy landowner or prosperous merchant looking to build a prestigious, richly ornamented property and you start to get the picture.

Corio Villa, Victoria

Corio Villa, overlooking Geelong’s Eastern Beach, is a fine example of this style of architecture. The house, which is known for its intricate cast iron features, was originally prefabricated in Scotland and was shipped to Australia in 1855. After the house was made, a major factory fire destroyed the moulds. So Corio Villa is probably the only house of its kind and is widely regarded as one of Victoria’s most precious heritage buildings.

The Domain Lodge, NSW

Other significant examples of Gothic Picturesque architecture include the Domain Lodge at St. Mary’s Gates in Sydney. This sandstone cottage is reputed to be the oldest continually used home in this style. It has been extensively renovated and modified, but still has a wealth of period features, particularly on the exterior. These include parapeted gables, decorative bargeboards and stone parapets.
A renovate living room with stone fireplace and wooden background

Beginning a heritage project

Heritage houses like these are now highly sought after and the more period details they retain, the higher the price they command.
If you own or are about to acquire a Gothic Picturesque property, we recommend investing plenty of time in studying examples of this architectural style. Renovation and/or restoration works must be carefully planned if you want to add value to the home.
Your local council is a good place to start. They may be able to provide information about the history of your property and can advise you on how to proceed.
It’s also worth talking to other people in your area who’ve renovated or restored this style of building and who may have useful contacts to share.
Contact your local heritage organisation(s) too. The NSW Government’s Office of Environment & Heritage is an excellent resource and will help you find out if your property is heritage listed. It also has directories of consultants, services and trades specialising in built heritage.
There are equivalent organisations for every state in Australia. You can find the list at: heritage organisations.
Your local heritage body should be able to tell you what may or may not be allowed in terms of restoration/renovation of your property.
For example, the NSW Government’s Office of Environment & Heritage says that the owners of the Domain Lodge will not be allowed to make any roof additions and all the original fabric of the building, including the characteristic sandstone walling and detailing, timber windows and existing slate roof must be retained and conserved. Only surfaces that have already been painted can be repainted and the paint must be of ‘appropriate colours.’
The Lodge has already undergone significant changes on the interior (including fireplaces being closed off, ceilings replastered and internal walls removed), so additional alterations will be allowed, providing they don’t affect the exterior of the building. However, owners will not be allowed to enlarge or fill in window and door openings and ‘repairs should be carried out in a similar or complementary style.’
A renovate kitchen with white cupboards and decorative lights

A love of history

These restrictions may sound onerous, but it’s definitely best to approach any renovation project knowing what is and isn’t likely to be allowed from the outset.  It also means that renovating a heritage property is not about flipping for a quick profit; it’s a project that could be better described as a labour of love.
Ken Fern, Construction Manager with Rachel Whitford’s Refresh Renovations in Brisbane, who has worked on a number of heritage projects, agrees.
‘You’ve got to really love history,’ he says. ‘Bringing old buildings back to life is not about quick fixes. It takes a lot of patience and skill.’

Getting a grant

The good news is that if you decide to take on a restoration project, you may be eligible for a grant towards the works.
Victoria’s Heritage Restoration Fund, for example, provides grants of up to 50% of the cost of eligible projects in Melbourne, Yarra and Ballarat. Applications must be made in advance of work carried out and must be repaid in full if the owner sells the property within six months. Find out more at their website or search online to find out what’s available in your area.

You might be interested in reading about Renovating an Old Colonial Regency style home.

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

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