Victoriana Still Reigns; Smart Moves: England's Distinctive 19th-Century Architecture Lives on, Says David Spittles

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVID SPITTLES

IT IS the centenary of Queen Victoria's death this year. It may be a distant era but her architectural legacy refuses to go away. Developers still cling to traditional house styles and the Victorian model seems to have the biggest pull of them all.

Even those housebuilders that are trying to push design boundaries and come up with contemporary architecture sometimes slavishly follow the period look.

Thirlstone is a good example. It has carved a reputation in south-west London for sleek modern design (using glass, steel and timber) but still cannot resist the temptation to ape the past.

Admittedly, conservative planners often insist on "compatible" housing in areas where the existing stock is old. But new Victorian-style houses rarely match the quality of the original.

Developers insist that such homes are popular with buyers. Demand is particularly strong in leafy boroughs such as Wandsworth where the reputation of schools and the open spaces attract big-money purchasers.

There is also a liking for "olde" on the outside and modern (well, at least mod cons) on the inside.

Laing discovered this with a small scheme of four semis in Dent's Road, Wandsworth.

Rather than chintzy interiors, Laing went for homes with large open-plan areas and built-in, information-age technology. They were priced between [pound]825,000 and [pound]1.05 million and were snapped up by affluent young executives.

In Clapham, which also lacks distinctive contemporary housing, Thirlstone claims to be bringing the same fusion to a development called Altenburg Gardens. The four three-storey houses, each 2,200 sq ft, have an "authentically styled Victorian exterior" - namely, a redbrick fa?ade with period detailing and a front garden enclosed by a dwarf wall with steel railings. …