Terrace House Interiors, Rooms and Floorplan

I often get asked about the floorplan and interior or Australian terrace houses. While they can differ greatly depending on the period of the home, there are some commonalities that can be described.

Very few terrace interiors remain in their original unmodified condition, although some interiors retain period features. There few exceptions, although some notable terraces have been maintained in near original condition. One of the best examples is an early working class terrace Susannah Place, Sydney (built in 1844) which operates as a museum kept by the Historic Houses Trust. Tasma Terrace in Melbourne (built in 1878), an example of an early “boom style” terrace preserved by the National Trust (Victoria), has been restored and many of the main rooms have been furnished in the period, although most of the rooms are maintained as offices. Apart from these rare living museums, the rest of our knowledge comes from photographs and floorplans from the periods.

The main differences between the periods are largely superficial. Apart from differences in size, stylistically the main differences were in interior decoration, wall and ceiling decoration, (such as use of wallpaper and stencil art in the 1870s and 1880s), painting and furnishing. However the fundamental interior layout arrangements remained mainly unchanged for decades.

Entrance
The entrance of a Victorian terrace (apart from the iron lacework) typically has the most focus of the front facade.
In order to allow natural light into the hallway, the door is typically surrounded by windows to the side (called sidelights) and above (called a transom or fanlight). In high Victorian and Edwardian terraces, these windows were often panels of etched or coloured stained glass creating a visual impression from inside.

Hallway

Wall and ceiling detail (including hall arch and corbels, cornice, ceiling rose and architraves) in the first storey stair hall of a double storey 1870s terrace.

Almost all terraces feature a central hallway and this typically ran almost the whole length of the house. The hallway was often both narrow and tall in height, sometimes reaching as high as 3 or 4 metres. The width of the hallway typically corresponded to the size of the terrace and the class that it was built for. Working class terraces often had hallways as narrow as the front door, while the hallways of the middle and upper class terraces could be as wide as rooms. In single fronted terraces, the hallway ran alongside the party wall with rooms to one side. In double fronted terraces, the hallway ran down the centre with rooms off to either side.

A very common feature of the hallway is the hallway arch which was the visual focus of the hallway and as such would be just above line of sight. Although rarely structural, they were all the same, a prominent expression of the form of the floorplan. In single storey terraces, the arch would be located at about the midpoint of the hallway along the line of the walls that separate the rooms. In double storey terraces, it may be located closer to the stairway. In wider hallways, the arch would often be narrower than the rest of the hall. In wider more elaborate halls, the arch was often decorated with plaster corbels and decoration sometimes continued to the floor with columns or pilasters.

The floor of hallways in terrace houses were typically wooden, most commonly pine (baltic pine) or sometimes oak with the boards running in the same direction as the hall. These were sometimes furnished with a hallway runner, a long narrow decorated rug. Skirting boards were often high to prevent scuffing of the walls.

The hallway would typically have one or more pendant lights or in some cases chandeliers for lighting. It was often furnished with framed paintings and a narrow side table.

Front Rooms
The first door or room encountered was typically known as the “parlour” and this is where visitors were greeted and entertained. It was the (equivalent to the “living room”). This room would feature at minimum a sitting table, lounge and fireplace.

In single storey terraces, the next (or other) front or ground floor room was often the main bedroom (equivalent to the master bedroom). This room was sometimes located at the front of the upper storey in terraces with two or more storeys.

Kitchen
The kitchen was often located away from the main living quarters and was often modest. In smaller terraces, it was typically located in outbuildings, attached via a leanto or detached from the rest of the house. In larger terraces, it was sometimes located in a basement below ground level or in a detached building along with servants quarters. The kitchen often featured an open fireplace, benches, built in pantry cupboards sink and stove.

Bathroom, powder and hat rooms
Terraces often had specific rooms for personal grooming. Bathrooms were often located to the rear of the terrace and in larger terraces, a dedicated powder room allowed for dressing up while a hat room allowed a transition between outside and inside dress.

Outhouses
Some functions were best kept out of sight and out of mind in exterior buildings. These building or called outhouses were often either semi detached or preferrably detached and were very functional and basic in style.

Toilet
Due to sanitary reasons, the toilet of terrace houses was almost always located in an exterior building close to a rear lane for night soil collection.

Laundry
A laundry was typically located to the rear adjacent the house and had basins for handwashing of garments.

Recent Discussion
  • Lesley Poker: Built in 1874. Originally built by a John Watson ( very wealthy) who built the one next door for his...
  • Anne: Thanks for your comment. We own one of these terraces and would be interested in any info you have.
  • Kate Van Dyck: Love this photo. One off my GG Grandfather’s lived in No 21 and died at that address. So...
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