Renovating listed houses can be daunting, time consuming and costly. Yet at the same time they are such rewarding houses to live in, with their abundance of wonderful character and unique features.
Renovating a listed building does not always need to be stressful, so don’t be daunted as there is lots of specialist advice available. I’ve provided a high level summary of some pointers to consider when embarking on a renovation project. I have restored a period house myself, so know all about the potential pitfalls to avoid from my own experience!
CONSIDER YOUR VISION FOR YOUR HOME
There are two approaches to consider when extending your listed home. One option is to do something completely different whilst their other is to pay tribute to the existing building. There are no fast rules and every local planning and conservation authority will have different approaches. It often comes down to the opinion of the local conservation officer.
Interestingly, English Heritage often supports a contemporary approach to extending listed buildings. The view is that a contemporary extension allows a clearer interpretation of what is the original building versus the new building. However, a local conservation officer may disagree, and that can be where the negotiation skills of an experienced planning officer can help you. This is a point I will come on to later.
I love this example by Nash Baker architects, which combines sensitive conservation with contemporary design. A wonderful 17th Century Jacobean house, it had been extended in Victorian times and at various times in the 20th Century.
A decision was taken to add a new single storey kitchen extension at the rear of the building to sit between the Victorian scullery and a 1930s wing. Not dissimilar from a traditional orangery, it weaves together the historic and the contemporary into a stunning piece of architecture. Visit www.nashbaker.co.uk for more inspiring images of this project. Photos by Nick Guttridge.
MAKE SURE YOU GET THE APPROPRIATE PERMISSION
To build onto a listed building, you will need both planning permission and listed building consent.
Planning permission is required for all homes (whether old or new) and ensures that any proposed development is in line with national and local planning policies.
Listed building consent is required for all works which affect listed buildings. It focuses on the effect any works might have on the historic interest of a building. Work that usually requires consent includes replacing windows and doors, removing internal walls and changing fireplaces.
Your local authority’s conservation officer can advise in detail on what will require consent on your property.
There are no set rules, with each building being judged individually. Unauthorised work is a criminal offence! Keep all permissions and plans after work is completed, you will need these if you sell your home in the future.
APPOINT AN ARCHITECT WITH HISTORIC BUILDING EXPERIENCE
The success of a project is totally reliant on the skills and experience of those employed to work on it. The right architect is integral to this team. So, how do you go about choosing one? You’ll need someone with robust experience of working with historic buildings.
A recommendation would always be the first route, but if you are new to an area that might not be an option. The local conservation officer can point you in the right direction of a few architects in your area (although they cannot actually personally recommend). The other good place to start is the website of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) – just click on ‘Find an Architect’.
It sounds like a really basic point but make sure you really like them and feel you can feed back in an open way. Building onto your house can be stressful and takes time, so you’ll be spending lots of time with the person who is designing it and managing the process.
Give them as clear a brief as possible – including images of what you’ve seen elsewhere that you love. Also let them know what you really don’t like! Most importantly provide them with a brief on how you want to use the space so they can consider the practical elements, not just the visual side of this.
ASSEMBLE A GREAT TEAM FROM THE BEGINNING
The early planning stage is critical and will make all the difference between an end result that’s perfect and one that’s merely OK. This is why you need to assemble a professional team to get this stage right.
Appoint a planning consultant and heritage consultant (sometimes called a historic building consultant) to work alongside your architect. The planning consultant will view your application through a planning lens, whilst a heritage consultant will provide invaluable advice on how to ensure your plans work with the heritage of the house.
The planning consultant can engage with the local conservation officer at the pre-application stage, ensuring the plans you then submit are in line with their advice.
For a larger project, consider hiring a quantity surveyor who can estimate the cost of building work, obtain tenders, and deal with the financial control of building work and contractual issues. Project managers are often appointed on large projects to co-ordinate a team of professionals. With wide experience, they can help you avoid costly mistakes and actually save you money.
Finally, appoint an interior designer early on. They can play an important role in considering practical layouts and planning the space effectively. Interior designers plan from the inside out whilst architects tend to work from the outside in. It’s important to combine both perspectives. Also consider a lighting designer early on as the lighting decisions can have a major effect on the success of a project. Consider your lighting plan at the same time as your room layouts – it’s so important to plan them at the same time.
ALLOW PLENTY OF TIME
You will be surprised by how many surveys are required, for the planning process and then for the production of detailed construction drawings. This includes commissioning measured surveys (of the existing house), quantity surveyors, structural engineers and historic reports. On my own house we had to have a bat survey for instance, which took a surprising amount of time!
Your architect should help you put together this team. When the project has been granted permission, you may wish to go out to tender to a number of good building contractors. It can take up to six weeks for a builder to accurately price up a job (and more time to negotiate fees). Don’t rush them on this and ensure as many of the provisional costs as possible are turned into fixed costs! How you go about this tender process and managing your builders is a much more detailed discussion which is covered in this article on managing your builders here.
Below are a few websites I have found very helpful.
Historic England have some great advice on their website, including useful short articles for homeowners.
RIBA have a useful searchable database of architects as well as guidelines on how to work effectively with an architect.
A members club dedicated to helping and advising listed buildings owners, it is a great source of specialist suppliers for listed builders as well as advice.
I hope you’ve found this article useful interesting. Do contact me if you would like advice on restoring your country home. I look forward to speaking soon!