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Desirable Features

Federation houses today represent some of the most desirable homes available in urban areas, embodying the light airiness of the Edwardian period, and exhibiting all the desirable aesthetic markers of this period -

Desirable Federation Features
High Ceilings

1. High ceilings

Are ceiling heights important?

Most people would agree that they are very important, for a variety of reasons:

  • Generally, most marketing campaigns for houses (for sale) will highlight tall ceilings and for good reason:
    quite simply, the rooms are more spacious and feel better. Tall ceiling heights are nearly always found in old period or high-quality contemporary homes.[1]

A quick and easy test (for most people of average height) to ascertain ceiling heights when walking through a home is to simply raise your arm straight above you.

If you can (or almost can) touch the ceiling, then the ceiling heights are probably about 2.4 metres.

In living areas and bedrooms, most people will not like this as it is just too low. As a rule, 2.7m is OK and 3m or higher is best.


Left: 29 Grandview Street, Pymble, NSW; Right: 52 Middle Harbour Road Lindfield


Advantages of high ceilings

1. Air





















Above: The Bungalow designed by J. Burcham Clamp and Walter Burley Griffin with high ceilings and exquisite leadlighting

  • Heritage homes needed high ceilings because the height provides a place for hot air to rise, so high ceilings allow more air circulation and make the home easier to cool in warmer weather.

  • Rooms heated by fireplaces in winter were smoky and high ceilings allowed smoke wisps to escape above the inhabitants

"The underlying themes of buildings and interior design of the Edwardian era were for expensive simplicity and sunshine and air

....The desire for cleanliness continues....

As gas and then electric light became more widespread, walls could be lighter as they did not get so dirty and looked better in the brighter light."[2] 


(They needed higher ceilings in the days before electricity because the ceiling lights were gas flames or candles and you didn't want the ceiling catching fire or turning black too fast from the soot.)*

Above Left: Fanlight window at 6 Railway Tce, Cheltenham

Left: Transom windows in Ballarat Home

Transom windows that open near the ceiling and 'fanlight' windows above doorways allow seasonal hot or smoky air to escape;

















Above Left: Edwardian House with transom window over the front door

Above: RIght: Art Nouveau breezeway fretwork 

  • Tall ceilings allowed the installation of breezeway and ceiling ventilation fretwork in Art Nouveau designs

  • Timber arches were popular to compartmentalise interiors while aiding cross-ventilation.

2. Grandeur

Space! A high ceiling within the main living areas provides a sense of grandeur upon entering the home: a high ceiling gives the feeling of elegance and spacious luxury


A grand space with towering ceiling heights allows us to create a focal point with a prominent decorative lighting feature.

  • Ceiling heights should be varied to accommodate the room purpose and room size:
    the larger the room, the higher the ceiling.

  • The ceiling height opens up the living space and creates a welcoming atmosphere;

  • High ceilings create a light and airy space that makes a room look bigger than it really is

3. Light

Although electric wiring was universal by the 1913, incandescent lighting remained weak and inefficient

… Natural light was the most important factor in setting the dimensions of the (room), because sunlight was the principal source of illumination for interiors."[3]

  • Sky-high ceilings can make way for plenty of glass. 

  • High ceilings allow higher windows which let the sun shine in - more opportunities for light via highlight windows.

  • If a home faces North, this can be a wondrous thing: warm in winter, cool in summer – a room like this is the place to be.

white house 5.jpg

Federation Ceilings are White Ceilings

With universal electrification only after 1913, earlier Edwardian and Federation homes used gas light downstairs.

  • With electric lighting, ceilings changed from highly decorated and coloured to white ceilings ornamented with plaster cornices, ceiling roses and panels, many of them moulded by skilled plasterers.

  • White ceilings bring light into the room and create the airy cleanliness possible without burning gas.


The prior use of gas can be inferred from the ventilation panels set above the window, seen below, to prevent the build up of noxious gases in the room, required by council building by-laws.

Ornate Ceiling Decoration

I love ornate ceilings. Look up! Forget flat ceilings. Here the texture creates interest and opens up the room.























Above: Decorative white ceiling at 32 Provincial Road Lindfield NSW

Federation homes had 11ft plus ceilings - high decoratied or ornate ceilings

  • Fittings were still in brass but not as ornate as the Victorian era.

  • Pressed metal ceilings, which were first manufactured in Australia in 1890, became very popular during this period.

  • Decorative plasterwork and ornamental plaster ceiling roses were used - Australiana had influences on the design of ceiling roses and leadlight windows.

Advantages of high ceilings
Federation Ceilings are white ceilings
Ornate Ceiling Decoration

Panelled Ceilings

You can also create a ceiling with character using painted textured panels.
The previous Victorian patterned papers or stencil decorations became panels manufactured from sheet zinc or steel, with impressed decorative patterns stamped into them.

  • This jeopardised the livelihood of the plaster craftsmen who, during the Federation era, grew to produce very fine decorative relief work in their plaster cornices and ceiling roses.

  • The fine relief plaster was common in homes for the elite (as in the past) and also become more common in the average country cottage.

  • A patriotic feeling that swept the Federation era inspired many designs of flannel flowers, gum blossoms and waratahs.



















Above: The Wunderlich factory 1895 - making pressed metal ceilings

Panelled Ceilings

Bay Windows for even more light


Bay windows became a hugely popular feature of residential Federation and Victorian architecture from about the 1870s and hold a continuous appeal up to this day. 

  • Bay windows are used to increase the flow of natural light into a building, thereby also making a room appear larger, and

  • bay windows provide views of the outside which would be unavailable with an ordinary flat window.

  • Based on British models, their use spread to other English speaking countries like the USA, Canada and Australia.

  • Bay windows were identified as a defining characteristic of San Francisco architecture in a 2012 study that had a machine learning algorithm examine a random sample of 25,000 photos of cities from Google Street View.[4]

  • Read more at Federation bay windows

Bay Windows
upvc bay inside.jpg
Artarmon Door 14H.jpg
Art Nouv Header.jpg

Leadlight Doors in Art Nouveau Style 

Federation homes (c.1900-1915) and early Californian Bungalows (c.1916-1925) typically had high-waisted, three panel doors with leadlights.

Leadlight Windows

"Prior to World War I, in domestic architecture, the front entrance remained the focus for decorative leadlighting. Leadlight was also commonly used for stair-well windows.

  • In domestic architecture, after World War I, the focus on the decoration of the front door became less common, and the front windows became the location of leadlighting.

  • Unlike stained glass windows which are traditionally pictorial or of elaborate design, traditional leadlight windows are generally non-pictorial, containing geometric designs and formalised plant motifs.

  • Leadlight windows almost always employ the use of quarries, pieces of glass cut into regular geometric shapes, sometimes square, rectangular or circular but most frequently diamond shaped, creating a "diamond" pattern.

  • A further difference between traditional stained glass and leadlight is that the former almost always has painted pictorial details over much of the glass, requiring separate firing after painting by the artist.

  • Read more at Federation Bay WIndows

Features of an Art Nouveau style leadlight:


  • Long, flowing curved lines

  • Plant motifs – flowers, leaves, stems

  • Large proportion is coloured glass

  • Australian flora and fauna

Left: Artarmon Art Nouveau style leadlight from Artarmon Leadlight website

Gallery of Leadlight in Federation Houses

Leadlight Doors
Leadlight WIndows
Gallery of Leadlight

Picture rails

Below: Victorian wall showing, from the bottom, dado, dado rail, wallpaper, picture rail and at the top, a frieze.





















In many nineteenth century and Federation houses there were usually one or two wooden rails.

  • The upper rail was used either to hang framed pictures from or to place picture frames within a space made between the ceiling and the dado, rather like a small exhibition space along the top of a room.

  • The picture rail would be situated level with the top of the door frame.

  • Originating in the 15th century, picture rails peaked in popularity in the late 19th century, when it was fashionable to have rooms full of hanging pictures and knick-knacks.

  • Often during this period, the picture rail would be nearly invisible, buried beneath a solid line of portraits and paintings lining the walls.

  • The rail provides a way to hang pictures instantly, without putting holes in the walls.

  • The hanging itself it accomplished by an accessory called a “picture rail hook,” usually made of metal, which has an arm that hangs over the top of the rail. A second arm extends down in front of the rail to provide a hook to hang the picture.

  • Victorian and so Federation picture rails were functional, and accordingly, stuck out further from the wall to allow ample room for hooks.[5]

Picture Rails

Decorative Fireplaces

A Federation fireplace comes from an interesting period of history, when industrialization and craftsmanship merged for a moment and created affordable yet well-made pieces for the home.

Before electric heating, fireplaces would be placed in each room: in the kitchen, bedroom, living room and other rooms in the house requiring heat.

  • Over time, fireplaces became the focal point of rooms, acting as gathering places for family and visitors.

  • As such, fireplaces took on an increasingly decorative character, peaking in the Edwardian era.

  • The largest Edwardian fireplace mantels could extend across the wall of a room, showcasing the ornate carvings and figures put into the facade of the fireplace.






















Above and Left: Edwardian Fireplaces with Art Nouveau timber surrounds at 6 Railway Tce, Cheltenham SA

  • A Federation fireplace now usually serves as an element to enhance the grandeur of an interior space rather than as a heat source, but can be enhanced with a modern heating insert.

The Edwardian era embraced lighter patterns, brighter colours and simpler designs.

  • ​The period also embraced the Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Arts and Crafts styles.

  • All of these decorative styles can be found in antique Federation fireplaces.


Since this was one of the last periods of hand-made, skilled craftsmanship before industrialisation became widespread, fireplaces made in Federation times hold an interesting place in the history of fireplaces.

  • A Federation fireplace is a great combination of style and function.

  • Tiled panels were popular in this period and add an exciting splash of colour to a Federation fireplace.[6]

  • Read more at Federation Fireplaces


Typical Features of a Federation Fireplace

  1. Cast iron insert or combination fireplace

    Like most antique fireplaces, the Federation fireplace usually has a cast iron insert or is a completely cast iron combination fireplace. Cast iron is poured into a mould to create the desired shape, and is very durable.

  2. Decorative elements

    An Edwardian fireplace will usually have some decorative elements on the surround, mantel or on the fireplace insert.

  3. Tiles

    Tiled panels or sets of tiles were a common feature in Edwardian fireplaces. They can add a customizable colour and style to a fireplace and are often highly coveted by collectors.


Fretwork Arches


Styles of Arches

Timber arches were traditionally used to

  • provide visual accents to long passages,

  • divide larger rooms or

  • define the family areas from the rooms used by visitors.

Many old houses were built with decorative screens or arches in entrance halls and other rooms, which have often been removed or altered over the years. Their restoration will help to revive the character of the interior of a house.

Left: Grand foliage pedestal arch frames an Alisterbrae bay window

Arches are generally in one of three styles:

1. Georgian

Georgian archways generally pre-date the turn of the 20th Century and were simple timber reconstructions of classical masonry arches.

2. Federation/Bungalow

Federation style archways are typically vertical timber slats within a curved frame, progressively becoming simpler, straighter and more angular as the Californian Bungalow influence was felt.

3. Art Nouveau.

Art Nouveau arches were popular in the Edwardian period and typically involved elaborate curvilinear fretworks and asymmetrical designs.

Below: Art Nouveau fretwork arch in 44 Arthur Street RANDWICK NSW

Decorative Fireplaces
Desirable Exterior Features
Fretwork Arches
Styles of Arches

Timber Floorboards

Much like a piece of antique furniture, once wooden floors reach a certain age they all have an inherent beauty and value that merits investing the time and effort it takes to revive them.

  • A floor that has passed the age of 100 years is certainly worth saving, whatever the wood.

  • Indeed, the pine used throughout the 19th century was from first-growth forests, and has a quality that it is now very difficult to match.

Timber Floorboards
20 Ramsay Street Haberfield Spring 078-M

Desirable Exterior Features

  • Decorative timber, tiling and metalwork help define the style of a Federation home and add character.

  • A lovingly maintained Federation home will always continue to increase in value.

1. Tall chimneys

Obviously, taller is better because a taller chimney provides a greater accumulated pressure differential due to the taller column of warm air inside the flue:

  • each cubic foot of hot air in the chimney is lighter than a cubic foot of cooler ambient air. Add them up: 

  • a 20 foot tall chimney draws twice as well as a ten foot tall chimney.

2. Tiled Roofs

  • A Federation house can be easily identified by the shape of the roof, a key feature of Federation houses,

  • Federation houses usually have complex roof forms and asymmetrical floor plans,

  • The roof form usually reveals the location of each room in the house

  • Early Federation style used slate tiles, but with red-brick construction the 1888 residence of Alexander McCracken: 'Woodlands‘ (North Park Mansion) was the first to combine brick, stone, timber, slates and terra cotta tiles in a powerful ensemble.

  • At the time 'Woodlands' was built it was claimed to be the first building to make extensive use of terracotta tiles imported from Marseilles.

  • The tiles were from the firm of Guichard CarvinCie, St Andre, Marseilles, and have a bee stamped on their nose and back.

  • After 1885 Wunderlich Bros started to introduce terracotta roof tiles from France and continued until 1914.

  • Red tiled roofs came to be quintessentially a Federation feature.

3. Tiled verandahs 

  • Distinguished as the all-important first impression of a home, it's no surprise that  tessellated tiles were chosen historically as the hallmark feature of an Australian entrance.

  • Generously wide tiled verandahs are a feature of federation homes that add cool rest, walking and decorative interest.

4. Tiled front paths

With their extraordinary geometric intricacy and harmonious medley of colours, tessellated tiles are the most historically respectful and visually expressive choice for the entrance to your home.

Tall chimneys
Tiled verandahs
Tiled front paths

Keep Reading:

Edwardian architecture in Australia - Domain 

Apr 21, 2015 - Edwardian architecture in Australia. This popular architectural period is also known as 'Federation', as it coincides with the Federation of the Australian states and territories into the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901.

Web results

Edwardian House - What House Is That? - Culture Victoria

Edwardian 1901 WW1 This period is also known as Federation. ... building decoration and increasingly,architects attempted to design for the Australian climate.

Australian residential architectural styles - Wikipedia

The Victorian style in Australia can be divided into 3 periods: Early, Mid and Late. ... Towards the end of the Victorian era, timber fretwork was being used more and more, which led into theEdwardian/Federation Styles. From the 1840s, a specific style of building emerged in Queensland.

‎Victorian Period c. 1840 ... · ‎Federation period c. 1890 ... · ‎Inter-War Period c. 1915 ...

Understanding Architecture Today - What Style of Home Do You Have ...


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