Changes to Mansion Flat Layouts over time
Flat layouts are constantly changing and will doubtless continue to do so as lifestyles change. Historically open plan medieval halls were replaced by a more numerous array of Victorian rooms and corridors, which are now being adapted as open plan contemporary layouts.
People often ask us which features they should look for when buying a flat; this is difficult to answer as it is a matter of personal preference, and within reason layouts can be changed to suit fashions and lifestyle demands. As is so often the case there is no substitution for size. You will be severely restricted in achieving any alterations if you don’t have the basic square footage the alterations require. If we are to take anything from this it is to embrace flexibility for the future.
The Victorian lifestyles demanded not only more rooms, but social separation between the family and their staff.
In addition, the building was equipped with service lifts which led directly from the courtyards to the kitchens.
As had become standard, a small servant’s corridor was separated off within each flat and a separate servant’s lavatory (but no bathroom) was provided. Except at the ends of the building where it would have been considered too public and unseemly, the servant’s lavatory was outside accessed from the balcony beside the kitchen door.
No separate scullery was provided and the original plans show the kitchen sink in the same room as the range and always in front of a window. At the time this was unconventional and was later termed American style.
Although electricity appears to have been laid into flats from the earliest stages, it was not extended into a number of mansion flats until after the First World War.
Lighting was by gas, utilizing the new incandescent mantles which concealed the naked flames and produced a softer, pleasanter light.
Cooking was by solid fuel, using the rather square rather than wide kitchen ranges.
The coal bin for each flat was provided in a cupboard outside the kitchen door in the Servant’s corridor.
Flats were praised for their simplicity and modesty compared with houses, as they did not require the same level of staff for their upkeep. The middle classes but they still required staff which had to be housed either inside or near to the flats.
1 bedroom flats are fewer in number than family flats and in many ways the exception that proved the rule about flats needing to provide accommodate staff. These were aimed at independent men and women who probably ate out rather than catered for themselves. They were very spacious compared to modern flats and combined the kitchen with dining facilities.
Today they are probably 2 bedroom flats with the kitchen now built into the reception room.
2 bedroom flats were aimed at couples with staff or small families whose staff lived elsewhere, possibly within a staff flat in the same building. They were very spacious, and today they are probably 3 bedroom flats and have the reception and dining rooms combined with the kitchen at the front and have an additional bedroom where the kitchen was.
3 bedroom flats were aimed at families whose staff may have lived in or who lived elsewhere, possibly within a staff flat in the same building. Again they were very spacious, and today they are probably 3 bedroom flats with en-suite facilities and have the reception and dining rooms combined at the front and possibly also have an additional bedroom where the kitchen was.
4 bedroom flats were aimed at families whose staff lived in (bedroom 4) so they could attend to the kitchen yet be separated from the family sleeping accommodation. They were very spacious, and today they are probably 3 bedroom flats with en-suite facilities and have the reception, dining rooms and kitchen combined at the front and are without one of the bedrooms which is now a bathroom.
Maisonettes were able to provide an upstairs – downstairs household in a flat rather than a house. The ceiling heights on the upper floor were higher so this suited the reception rooms and accordingly the flat entrance would be on the upper floor allowing visitors to be shown directly into the reception rooms.
Maisonettes such as those in Albert Court, are especially spacious and include accommodation for staff. Today they probably have similar layouts except that the reception rooms at the front have been combined.
Original flat layouts differed from contemporary layouts due to the need to accommodate staff; either those who lived in the flat or those working there and living elsewhere.
In general the original floor plans of flats were designed with living and dining rooms looking out at the front of the building over some form of green expanse or other attraction, with the bedrooms are at the back, although sometimes the kitchen maids bedroom at the back. The staff were required to be on hand so they needed facilities within the flat which preferably were away from the family rooms.
Each room was presented differently since it had its own purpose and function, as follows:
Hall – previously an impressive central room in mediaeval and Tudor houses it became a simple passage in the 18th century terraces. In the terrace it became long and thin with an arch at the end supporting the main dividing wall above and the stairs beyond this.
Parlour – The layout of the house since the days of the medieval Open Plan Hall has evolved into a number of principal rooms together with flexible furniture that could be pulled out and pushed back against the wall. During the 18th century is a gradual move away from this flexibility and rooms became more numerous and more specific with permanent furniture and fixings.
Whilst the drawing room was reserved for guests and family leisure pursuits a general parlour – derived from the French verb ‘parler’ or ‘parloir’ meaning to speak – was used for everyday meals and conversation. It was not generally seen by guests and the decor was less elaborate than in the reception rooms. A parlour was for everyday use was called the morning room or parlour from the French verb pile air meaning to speak. Frequently used for ladies who liked sewing and embroidery.
Dining room – was used for entertaining guests and on special occasions. Early dining rooms retained flexibility with the main table removable along with chairs to the side of the room and a meal was complete. However in the later 18th century is fashionable for a large table to be positioned permanently in the centre. Dark or bold colours were used on the walls to offset the gilt frames with for example sea green and crimson red being popular.
Drawing room – an abbreviation of withdrawing room, here the ladies retired to a peaceful feminine room where they were served tea whilst the men became steadily inebriated. Drawing rooms are flexible spaces where guests were entertained by the family or played cards indulged in artwork or conversation.
Library – used to store books and manuscripts but also for the study or as a morning room for gentlemen and hence a more masculine nature was reflected in rich colours or panelling. Furniture often included a desk or table and possibly an easel near the window.
Smoking and billiards rooms – decoration was bowled with panelled walls and decorated intimate stone or leather, elaborate cornices or freezes, dark coloured curtains and chairs in velvet or leather with marble fireplace been popular.
Bedrooms – their size and status reflected the status of the occupant from the owner to the servants.
Georgian and Regency bedrooms were not only for sleeping and dressing but also for washing as bathrooms were non-existent early on and rare even at the turn of the 19th century. Pipe to water where laid on, was of to low pressure to reach up to the upper floors many upper classes would do without a bathroom as they had servants to wash them.
Dressing room, boudoir and closet – dressing rooms were for both men and women and would contain facilities for washing and shaving as well as the chamber pot.
Boudoirs came from the French word ‘Bouder’ meaning to ‘sulk’ – is a relaxing space where women could sew and read next to the bedroom.
Kitchen – the principal service room where cooking took place although washing and preparing of ingredients, was usually done somewhere else in the flat.
Scullery or back kitchen – scullery is derived from the French word for dish which in turn comes from the Latin word ‘scutella’ meaning it was where plates and dishes were washed up and this was therefore next to the main kitchen and became a flexible space for messy tasks like preparing meat gutting fish and undertaken washing up on laundry. The floor would be flagged tiled or brick usually with a slope or central drain.
Cellar and larder – storing of food was a problem before refrigerators and modern methods of preservation. Cellars, larders and pantries had to be cool as possible to maximise shelf life. Larders from the Latin ‘Lardon’ meaning bacon – traditionally where meat and bread was stored
Bathrooms – the equivalent to a modern bathroom is non-existent in early Victorian homes with most washing been performed in the bedroom or in rear living room was scullery in smaller houses.
It was not until improvements in the water supply and drainage in the 1860s with the use of cast iron rather than lead pipes that the first small bathrooms began to be built into new houses they did not become a standard feature until the 1880s. Bathrooms were embraced by the middle-class but not the aristocracy who used to the attention of servants.
Indoor toilets – previously a chamber pot under the bed or in a nearby cupboard was the main way of relieving oneself inside the house with the fortunate few having a close stall chamber pot with a lid or a commode. The slops were then emptied into open sewers in the street with a cesspit under the house or a rubbish pit – ‘midden’ – at the rear where mixed with ashes the contents could be collected by the Knights oilman who sold the one as fertiliser. In some areas, earth closets with soil beneath – was still popular up to the Second World War. The expanding urban sewage system in the 1870s permitted the wider introduction of water closets.
The future for Mansion flats
As our living habits, desires and building regulations continue to evolve; it is tempting to overcome challenging issues with outdated buildings stock simply by demolishing such structures.
But with growing respect for our built heritage and increasing awareness of adaptive reuse for large structures. Mansion flats are prime examples of how history can be retained and brought forward into a new age. As there is cyclical aspect to construction generally, who is to say the multiple rooms of the past will not be revisited in some form in the future.