What are the dos and don’ts of a period renovation?
Designer Greg Toon on working with a property with heritage restrictions
Do Research, research, research
Once you live in a Conservation Area or own a period property, learn its history. It’s useful information when considering making changes and for justifying them to the conservation officer. It’ll point to which areas are original or rare, and highlight the conservation red lines that the authorities will not cross. It should also reveal which areas have been altered over the years – design cues you can use when planning renovations or extensions that might follow the lines of the original architecture. There are guides to working in Conservation Areas or with Listed Buildings; your local council should have a Conservation Area Appraisal and Supplementary Planning Guidance (SPGS). Public bodies like Historic England, Historic Environment Scotland and other regional equivalents publish technical information on period buildings. Use these to prove you’re adhering to the principles in them and you’ll have a better chance of attaining planning, Listing Building Consent or Conservation Area permissions.
Employ the best
Generally heritage properties or buildings in heritage locations cost more to buy, run and maintain. The same is true for doing works to them – architects will charge more due to the additional complexities, and the specialist craftsmen you’ll need are expensive, too. If you don’t have time to do the research, make sure your architect has a track record with period/listed properties. The authorities that deal with such buildings expect a high quality of application and skimping on the professionals you hire could see you falling at the first hurdle.
Work with what you have
Changes with minimal impact on existing elements but maximum effect are what you’re aiming for. Let the building guide you to the most harmonious design decisions. A new door opening here and there may offer the opportunity to change room uses and revolutionise the house’s flow. It often points to a ‘broken plan’ or semi open-plan layout that is an enduring style rather than a passing fad.
Dont Be unrealistic
Don’t buy a heritage property if you are not prepared to accept the limitations and responsibilities of owning one. Lots of owners end up frustrated by the planning system – which could be avoided if expectations are realistic from the beginning.
Have design preconceptions
All architectural design should be bespoke – each project led by the location, the building, and what the client wants. This is especially true with heritage buildings where the property plays a bigger role in the brief. It might seem odd in the Pinterest age, but don’t fixate on images of dream projects. Some will not be appropriate for your situation and pursuing them could result in disappointment. Start with an open mind and don’t be influenced by trends, let the house guide you.
Be inflexible in your design
Period buildings benefit from an adaptable approach. Sometimes it might be to design in a matching style to blend in. Sometimes a contemporary contrast might better highlight what is original. Internally, often you will be repairing/restoring old features, but sometimes you’ll need to recreate what is missing (like a cornice, for example). Or you may need to cover up a feature in order to protect it. These are valid design approaches and should be considered as part of what’s best for your home and the way you live in it.
is an architectural designer and founder of Potential etc potentialetc.com