Re­pair­ing an old house may beat a restora­tion

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Front Page -

Re­pair is an un­fa­mil­iar word in our age of con­sumerism, where nearly ev­ery­thing – from bro­ken ket­tles to barely worn clothes – is quickly dis­carded. Not so with old houses, where re­pair is the mantra of con­ser­va­tion­ists and enlightened home­own­ers who un­der­stand that re­tain­ing and re­pair­ing as much as pos­si­ble of a build­ing’s orig­i­nal fab­ric not only pre­serves its char­ac­ter, but can also add value.

Fabian Richter, co-founder of a fi­nan­cial ser­vices start-up com­pany, bought his ter­raced house in south London four years ago. With the help of his builder, Stephen Bull, he is slowly ren­o­vat­ing the Grade II listed Ge­or­gian build­ing. Many of the rooms still have their orig­i­nal lath and plas­ter walls and ceil­ings dat­ing from around 1792 so, where nec­es­sary, the old plas­ter has been care­fully reat­tached to its lath back­ing and re­pairs made with tra­di­tional lime plas­ter.

“The most com­mon ap­proach these days is to rip the old plas­ter out and re­place it with plas­ter­board,” ex­plains Richter. “What’s mag­i­cal with the orig­i­nal is that you can ac­tu­ally see the slight un­du­la­tion and tex­ture of the plas­ter. It’s like a liv­ing or­gan­ism rather than a flat, life­less plas­ter­board.”

Many other el­e­ments have also been nursed back to life. Win­dows have had new tim­ber jointed in to re­place rot­ten sec­tions, and un­even floors have been strength­ened with hid­den steel rods. An orig­i­nal fan­light above the front door has been re­leaded, and 18th-cen­tury pan­elling, dis­cov­ered be­hind an Ikea kitchen, has been lov­ingly brought back to life.

This prin­ci­ple of re­pair­ing build­ings with the min­i­mum loss of fab­ric, and in so do­ing keep­ing their char­ac­ter and au­then­tic­ity, is noth­ing new. It has been em­braced by the So­ci­ety for the Pro­tec­tion of An­cient Build­ings (SPAB), the UK’s old­est build­ing con­ser­va­tion char­ity, since it was founded by Wil­liam Mor­ris in 1877.

The ap­proach is in marked con­trast to “restora­tion”, a word that for many in the old-build­ing world means re­turn­ing a struc­ture to a per­fect state. But putting things back to how they were can eas­ily re­sult in con­jec­ture. Restora­tion is seen by some as be­ing highly de­struc­tive, of­ten lead­ing to the loss of the scars of time and his­tory that give old build­ings their char­ac­ter. Mor­ris was par­tic­u­larly out­spo­ken on the sub­ject, stat­ing that “a fee­ble and life­less forgery is the fi­nal re­sult of all the wasted labour”.

By em­ploy­ing peo­ple who un­der­stand old build­ings, or even by read­ing up and do­ing it your­self, fea­tures rang­ing from cor­nices and fire­places, as well as doors and win­dows, can all be re­paired sym­pa­thet­i­cally. The SPAB runs a va­ri­ety of cour­ses for pro­fes­sion­als

Fabian Richter and builder Stephen Bull, at the south London house Old de­tails in Richter’s house which are be­ing re­paired, rather than re­stored

In­side Richter’s re­stored kitchen, where old pan­elling was found

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