Few cities in the world, and certainly no city in the UK, have histories and styles as rich and diverse as London. Founded by the Romans, the city has served as a major settlement for two thousand years – but not always as we know it.
City walls, governments, kings, queens, fires and wars have come and gone, but one thing remains the same – people have always lived in London, and the need for places to live has remained one of its biggest challenges. As the city has grown, weathering hundreds of years of change, different housing styles have developed – mixing together to create the urban sprawl that is modern day London.
The city is lucky that subsequent generations have maintained and cared for its past – today, London features beautiful examples of housing that span centuries of history. Follow our guided tour through the houses of London, compiled thanks to the knowledge of our London estate agents, as well as expert comment from interior designers who specialise in styling period homes.
London as we know it today truly began to take shape at the end of the fifteenth century, under Henry VII. The Tudor period was an economically healthy time for England, and London housing was elaborate to match.
Steeply-pitched roofs and masonry chimneys, embellished doorways, and big window groupings were the defining features of Tudor housing, with the iconic black and white timber style creating a striking visual element that endures as a popular style through to today.
Although a great deal of original Tudor-style housing was destroyed in the Great Fire of London, it has been a common style in revivals over the years since, and examples can be found around the city.
"It's a real balancing act when you’re decorating a period home," says Paula Taylor, colour and trend specialist at Graham & Brown. You want to enhance its traditional charm, but ensure it doesn’t look dated.
"There are plenty of ways you can add a touch of modern glamour to bring it into the now, whilst still preserving its vintage wonder. I'd suggest focusing on classic motifs, such as a striking Damask. There’s something so regal about large-scale patterns that works really well with period homes."
Georgian architects were the city's first great modernisers – as London continued to expand, houses that could home a growing population were needed. Bath is typically seen as the capital of Georgian architecture, but the famous style was common in London too – just applied somewhat more functionally.
Narrow terraced houses with pale brickwork, tall sash windows, and iron railings were built across the city, and can be found nestled among other styles in NW1. However, Georgian terraces can be found most readily just south of the river, in Kennington, Stockwell and Brixton.
Interior designer Joanna Wood has the following advice for how to bring Georgian homes to life on the inside, to match the stunning external facades:
"When styling a period home, particularly a Georgian property, I would always install lovely wooden floors if they are not there already. I also like to use strong colours to maximise light, as well as chandeliers and wall brackets which complement the style of the house.
"Personally, I feel contemporary artworks can look fantastic in a period style setting, and that combining contemporary and antique pieces works particularly well in a Georgian interior."
The Victorian period saw Britain become a world power more than ever before, with London serving as capital of the world thanks to the continuing effects of the industrial revolution. The city's architecture once again changed to match.
A grander take on earlier styles was the dominant feel of the period, with ornamental stonework, pitched roofs, and much more colour appearing in London's streets. Today, you can see Victorian architecture across the city, including the big terraced houses in Battersea – particularly Northcote Road. Chiswick, Greenwich and the NW1 area also have a wide range of examples of the Victorian era's eclectic mix.
"For a Victorian style home I would always use plain fabrics and more neutral tones," says Joanna Wood. "Because Victorian homes often come with intricate architectural features, I often recommend decorating with texture rather than colour and pattern to allow the splendour of the property to speak for itself."
Edwardian styles were a breath of fresh air after the heavy Victorian era. Although a short period of British history – barely over a decade – it was an optimistic time before the First World War, and houses once again matched the time with welcoming, down-to-earth styles.
Large bay windows, rustic brickwork, pastel colours, columns for decoration, and ornate wooden entrance porches were the fashion of the day, and Edwardian houses are very much in demand today as a result. Common in and around Clapham South, as well as scattered around the Bedford Park and Chiswick Mall areas, they are particularly popular with local buyers looking for a little more space.
For those looking to make a spacious Edwardian house a home, Paula Taylor has the following advice:
"If you feel that your high ceilings make communal areas feel cold, try hanging striped wallpaper horizontally. Stripes that stretch across the wall create an illusion that brings the ceilings down, offering a much cosier setting. This pattern is a timeless design that suits all homes."
Art Nouveau Housing
As the 20th century began, the French influence of Art Nouveau emerged to modernise London housing in a way that managed to provide a strong link to the city's ornate past. Charles Rennie Mackintosh was at the forefront of the style and, while he never designed houses in London, there are plenty in the style to be found.
Exaggerated, flowing lines, rich ornamentation, and a focus on glass and ironwork were common design features, with decorative motifs around striking and uniquely-shaped windows and doorways made these houses stand out. Inside, organic-inspired design features and exotic woods were everywhere.
The distinctive style is most famously seen in the Criterion in Piccadilly, with similarly-styled houses often found nearby.
Art Deco Housing
London's strides towards modernisation continued with Art Deco, which took Art Nouveau's style and combined it with the rapidly-developing 20th century technology, which was becoming increasingly prevalent by the 1920s. Art Deco could be said to be the first truly modern style.
White brickwork and geometric window designs set the tone, while angular corners and sweeping exterior curves were everywhere. Bold designs with striking patterns and splashes of colour were popular, embracing the look and feel of technological developments of the time. Polished wood was regularly mixed with metals, satin and furs for true luxury. Plenty of these 1920s houses can be found in the Grove Park area.
For those looking to recapture the Art Deco interior style, Paula Taylor has the following advice:
"Don’t forget that a little metallic highlight goes a long way. Choose copper, gold or silver as an accent colour that runs through your wallpaper and soft furnishings. A little hint of sparkle creates a really contemporary look."
The aftermath of World War Two saw large areas of London totally rebuilt, often with small, open-plan homes. Function often trumped form, and it was a generally transitional period, linking London's heritage to its future.
Basic brickwork, flat roofs and large picture windows did away with style concerns on the outside, while American influence was everywhere inside, using new materials like formica and fibreglass, while splashing animal prints on walls and floors. These prefab houses are most famously found on the Excalibur Estate in Catford, which earned a Grade II listing in 2009.
Today, London is overflowing with stunning homes that can truly be considered as works of art in their own right. Much like in the Victorian era, there is a focus on diversity, but taken even further – now, you can find areas of the city with contemporary where no two buildings look the same.
Striking, rectangular cubist designs are popular, as is a focus on simple minimalism taken even further than in Art Deco architecture. Old-fashioned ornamentation is replaced with abstract motifs and bold uses of colour, and large, simple windows bring these open-plan spaces to life, flooding them with natural light.
Contemporary housing is available across the city, but Greenwich Peninsula is a popular place to find modern apartments, as well as in the London Riverside area.
London is one of the most diverse cities in the world. It's always changing, and its architecture is no different. What will the London homes of the future look like? Underwater living in the Thames? Bio domes in Kensington? Apartments in the London Eye? A retro-futuristic merging of Tudor Modernism? Victorian Nouveau? Only time will tell. But that unpredictability, the willingness to change, is part of the reason that we love London – the city and its style are as much a living thing as the millions of people that call it home.