How to make your daily walk more interesting

Living Well | Blanche Clark | Images: Lisa Luscombe | Posted on 22 September 2020

Make your daily walk more interesting by getting to know the local housing styles.

If you’re feeling bored walking around the same old streets within your 5km-from-home zone, one way to make things more interesting is to take a closer look at the houses you pass.

Conservation architect Samantha Westbrooke, who works for the National Trust of Australia (Victoria), says you can learn a lot about your neighbourhood just by noticing architectural details on houses you might pass by every day.

“You can read a history of a suburb by its buildings,” she says. “A leading architect will design a house and someone else will go, ‘That’s a great idea’, and then it becomes a fashion characteristic of a certain era.” 

A mix of Victorian-era housing styles on a leafy Melbourne street, Spanish Mission villa, post-war, row of Victorian terraces, Edwardian, Spanish Mission villa, inter-war.

The Heritage Council of Victoria’s publication What house is that? identifies nine different housing styles and their significant architectural features.

Victorian houses, for example, are prevalent in inner-city suburbs such as Collingwood and St Kilda, but even these range from simple two-roomed cottages built in the 1850s to grander, more ornate buildings that followed the late-1800s gold-rush boom. 

“You can see the Asian influences on our Victorian buildings in the verandas and lace work, which came with people from the British colonies,” Samantha says.

If you pass Victorian houses on your daily walk, consider the difference between Mid Victorian (1860-1875) and Late Victorian (1875-1901) styles. 

Multi-coloured brickwork or incised weatherboards simulating blocks of stonework were prevalent during these periods, but Late Victorian houses were grander, with Italianate elements such as rendered walls, tall parapets, arches and moulded ornaments. 

To the untrained eye, it can be tricky to discern the difference between a Victorian and Edwardian (1901-1915) house, but for the latter look out for verandas that feature timber fretwork rather than cast-iron lacework.

One of the most prevalent housing styles in Melbourne’s middle suburbs is the Californian Bungalow (1910-1930), a reflection of the greater exposure to American and film-industry influences in the early decades of the 20th century.  

Often distinguished by low-pitched roofs and heavily built veranda posts, Californian Bungalows also take on different exterior guises such as Spanish Mission style featuring rendered arches, or English Tudor style with steep-pitched gable roofs.

After World War II, Australian architects were greatly influenced by American trends, says Samantha. 

“The Age Small Homes Service, initially run by Robin Boyd, offered affordable architecturally designed housing and these are scattered around the middle suburbs such as Mitcham and Vermont,” she says.

If you’re walking in these areas, look out for cream-brick houses with shallow-pitched roofs and large windows oriented towards the north.

What house is that? focuses on housing styles prior to the 1970s, but distinguishing architectural features are not only the preserve of the historic inner suburbs.

Melton resident John Bentley’s daily walks take him past spacious housing with garden settings from the ’60s and ’70s and new housing estates with two or three-storey houses, to one-hectare lifestyle lots and mansions on five or six hectares. 

“The Darlingsford Estate, which was built in the ’80s, is interesting because every house had to be individually designed and look different from the other one,” John says.

As president of the Friends of the Melton Botanic Garden, he most enjoys walking around the Botanic Trail, but he’s also interested in signs that homes are becoming more energy efficient.

“What we do notice is that people are updating their houses, adding solar panels or doing renovations, which is changing the styles of the houses,” John says. 

Another way to make your walk more interesting is to wander past any notable historical buildings in your area. You can find them by searching the Victorian Heritage database, your local government website or by contacting your local historical society.

Edwardian house in Melbourne
Double-fronted Victorian cottage in Melbourne

Federation-era house (left) and a double-fronted mid-Victorian cottage.

What’s that house?

Early Victorian (1840-1860)

Characterised by rendered or limewashed brickwork with minimal ornamentation.

Mid Victorian (1860-1875)

Look out for verandas with cast-iron lacework and patterned tile floors.

Late Victoria (1875-1901)

Grander and more ornate than previous periods, the freestanding houses usually have one projecting room, while terraces become taller. 

Edwardian (aka Federation, 1901-WWI)

Some Mid-Victorian ornaments remain but houses from this era are less ostentatious. Verandas often feature timber fretwork and there may be a sunshade with timber brackets over the front window.

Bungalow (1910-1930)

Originally single-storey, these houses commonly have small and squarish windows, and patterned or stained glass is common. 

Inter-war (1918-1939)

Porches replace verandas and buildings are fairly austere. Decorative styles such as Spanish Mission, Georgian Revival and Art Deco are prominent.

Post-war (1945-1965)

Houses become bigger, not just for the wealthy, and a garage or carport is incorporated. Brick veneer replaces double brick.  

Modern (1945-1970)

Bold geometric shapes replace ornamentation, with large floor-to-ceiling windows. New materials, such as concrete and steel window frames, often feature.

Find out more about the homes in your neighbourhood from the Victorian Heritage Database and What house is that?

Source: Heritage Council of Victoria’s What house is that?