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What are the Key Considerations When Renovating a Listed Building?


a row of gabelled cottages in cotswold stone
Cotswold Stone Buildings

Welcome to my blog – I hope you will find it useful as well as interesting. I aim to be helpful and give an insight into interiors, the history of interior design as well as tips and inspiration.


a collection of images depicting old house charm, fireplaces, books, dark colours
Old House Charm

My love of historical buildings, stately homes and period properties has been a constant in my life. I absolutely love wandering around an old home imagining all the sights it must’ve witnessed throughout its time. I love ‘reading’ old buildings to piece together their history and further understand how they have got to where they are today. Having grown up in an old house which had been added to and extended many times over its 300+ years lifetime I know they can be difficult and unpredictable. However, the joy they can bring is also unparalleled to anything you would feel in a modern home – I believe.

 

AI image of a dining room design
Dining Room Design

Back in 1947 Historic England decided we needed to protect our historical buildings and created a ‘List’ of buildings of age which had significant historical interest.

In basic terms, the older something is the more likely it is to be listed as fewer examples will survive.

There are 3 grades of listed buildings – Grade II, the most common listing, Grade II*, slightly more unique and important buildings and finally Grade I which is reserved for exceptionally special and significant buildings. There are fewer than 2.5% of listings are Grade I.

 

Listing a building does not mean it has to be frozen in time and forever stay the same, as a preservation order might. Listing the building does mean you will have extra checks and regulations to follow in order for the building to maintain its historical interest. If a building is listed that listing covers everything within the boundary of the property. This includes the walls, exterior and interior, windows, doors, and outbuildings right up to the garden gate!

 

When working on your listed home you may need to apply for planning permission in order to alter the house in some way – the same as any homeowner might – but you may also have to apply for Listed Building Consent. This is where you contact your local council and conservation officer to make them aware of the changes or renovations you are planning to make, fill in your Listed building consent and provide the evidence required.

 


A pair of stone cottages with porches and pink roses climbing up the front
Country Cottages

At the beginning of your renovation project, you should spend time researching your home, its listing, the history of the building and anything else you can find out about the social history surrounding it at the time It was built up to modern day. This is a really interesting part of the renovation as it can really make you feel differently about your home, the reason certain things are how they are and make you aware of any features that you hadn’t felt were significant.

 

Once you know the period your home was built in you will be able to gauge some of the building processes that were used and the likely construction of your home – if you didn’t know this already. There may be several different additions to your home which are all constructed in slightly different ways and will each need different treatment during the renovation. Any knowledge you can gain on these aspects before the renovation begins will help to reduce the number of surprises during the alterations.




 

Once you know the changes you would like to make and have the relevant documents drawn up you are then able to apply for planning permission if required as well as Listed Building Consent (LBC) with your local council.

 

General rules you will be told to follow are that you should replace like with like and repair rather than replace. However, this is a general viewpoint and cannot be used in every situation. Listed buildings are all so unique that consents are treated on a case-by-case basis with site visits and research done into vernacular processes etc that it’s hard to give blanket summaries.

 

Before you begin any renovations and even before you decide if you are definitely going ahead, it is worth getting professionals in to access the building and its current condition. Presumably you will have had a building survey completed when you purchased the building but that may have been may years ago and its worth getting an up-to-date survey taken so you know the current situation and can realistically deal with any issues. Using professionals that are accustomed to working with historical buildings is vital as the building processes used historically are very different to modern-day standards. Also resolving various problems is also done very differently and should not necessarily be treated with a modern solution.

 

Documenting your renovation journey from the very start through photographs, drawings, site surveys etc is a great idea as it can not only provide an interesting journal of the project, but it can also help with future work on the house. Ideally a copy of the documents should stay with the house for future generations. During any renovation work taking photographs the whole way along can be really helpful. Knowing without a doubt that electrical cables run in a specific place on the wall or where the plumbing runs under the floor can be so useful later and can save you time and money guessing!

 

Egg and dart moulding being replaced below ornate cornicing
Conservation, repair and replace

Living in a beautiful historical home whilst being warm and comfortable inside with all the modern touches is the dream of so many! Often old homes can be draughty, dark and damp. Assuming you are renovating to create a more modern interior which suits your lifestyle and better suits your needs then you are going to have to create a plan which has everything you require whilst respecting the building and its historical integrity.

Working around the original features is not always enough to create a unique home, you must embrace and enhance them with your plans. It is usually expensive and time consuming to make a room look exactly the same whilst lots of work goes on in the background to make the space feel warmer and lighter. Lots of this work goes on unnoticed visually.

 

As part of the renovation project, you will meet lots of professionals who will each bring their own expertise. Likely people who will make up your team will be Architects, conservation office, structural engineers, Interior Designers, Contractors, specialist contractors such as master carpenters, stonemasons, conservators as well as plumbers, electricians and landscapers. Ensuring that your entire team understand the building and its listing is imperative.

 

Employing the skills and experience of your specialist team will help to make your project a success. Having a clear plan and arming yourself with as much knowledge of your particular house as possible will enable you to navigate your project successfully.

Depending on the scale of your project you may want to employ a project manager who will be able to carefully oversee the day-to-day progress on site.

 

Challenges that you may face during a listed building renovation is that things may not be as they seem. As with any house, but more so in a historical home, the plaster on the walls might reveal surprises when removed. This is part of the beauty of owning a period property and part of the challenges that you will potentially face. You may uncover a beautiful hidden fireplace, or you might uncover woodworm or dry rot. If you are braced to deal with whatever challenges, come your way then you will find much more enjoyment in your project.

 

a large spiral staircase with window niches along it
Spiral staircase

As at the completion of any renovation work or home improvement project we all feel a bit raw. Like life has been dragged out of us and we need a few quiet weekends to recover. The same goes for historical homes except that you will have the most beautiful and unique finish. Often it is even better than predicted and having been through the process you feel closer to your home than you ever did.

 

Working on a historical home is really special – even more so if it's listed. You will forever be part of that home's long history; having put time and energy (and a lot of money!!) into it you have helped to preserve it for future generations.



an elegant bathroom with a freestanding bath in front of the window through an archway
A Grand bathroom

 

If you have a listed home let me know if you have found this blog post interesting and helpful. Have you renovated a listed building and wish you had done something differently? Tell us your renovation stories!

 

If you are about to start your renovation project and would like help with the process, please get in touch – I would love to help.

 

 

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