Interior Restoration Style Guide for Australian Architectural Eras

Eugene Vargas

Internal renovations and restorations in any home can prove as exciting as they are challenging.  For home owners whose homes are heritage-listed, challenges can often be compounded by the fact that heritage overlay legislation imposes strict guidelines on what changes, if any, home owners can make.  Heritage protection legislation varies by state, and can cover features such as awnings and decorative cornices.   If internal overlays apply to your property, it is of paramount importance that you understand the different Australian residential architectural styles that exist, which your home belongs to, and how to decorate accordingly.  An understanding of the different styles will ensure that not only you comply with the legislation, but that your home has the period look, and feel, that it deserves. 

A style guide for interior decoration (listed by era) can be found below.  Note that although the style guide refers specifically to cornices, it is important to thoroughly research all other internal features before you begin your restoration.  

Old Colonial Era, 1788-1840

Homes built shortly after settlement tended to be very simple, consisting of one or two basic rooms. As these homes were mostly built of timber, very few have survived.  Of those that have survived, most have no marked stylistic internal features and as such, if your home falls within this era you will most likely have full restorative choice over how your decorate. 

Victorian Era, 1840-1890

Inspired by Queen Victoria's reign, homes that were built in the Victorian Era are often have opulent, grand, and detailed interiors. Architects were influenced by many different styles in this era, for example, Italianate, Classical, and Tudor, and as such, many rooms were decorative masterpieces.

The decorative cornices used in the Victorian era were often large with carved painted flowers or other patterns.  If you are doing a full restoration, it is recommended that you are consistent throughout your home with your choice of decorative cornice.  However, in reality most individuals will use a mixture of Italianate, patterned cornices in feature rooms, with more simple Victorian cornices in other rooms. 

Federation Era, 1890-1915

Also called the 'Edwardian' era as King Edward reigned when the Federation of Australia occurred in 1901, the Federation style was characterized by creating an 'Australian' feel to interior decoration.

As a result of Australia's newly minted independent, architects began to use Australian icons, for example gumtree leaves, as motifs for cornices.  As such, if you are restoring your home to fit this era, any 'Australia' themed cornice would suit.   If that isn't to your taste, however, Art-Nouveau inspired cornices were also popular in the period. 

Inter-war Era, 1915-1945

The war period was characterized by, unsurprisingly, less wealth than there had previously been and as such, interior decorations were somewhat pared back in this period.

The inter-war period, did, however, see the birth of Art Deco style around 1925. Therefore, cornices that could be used to represent this period would be characterized by geometric shapes and bold angles.

Post-war Era, 1945 – 1960

After the war, materials to build homes were scarce, and as a result, homes became simpler than ever.  Therefore, interior decorations were often selected on the basis of what was available, as opposed to fitting with a particular style.  Note also that it is rare, although not impossible, that homes built in the post-war period would be heritage listed. 

Cornices, if used, were simple in feature and design. 

Heritage-listed homes are protected for a reason: that they showcase our heritage.  As such, it is important to pay homage to that heritage by selecting the right interior decorations to suit the period in which your home was built.