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Planning a Victorian or Edwardian house renovation? Renovating listed buildings is a fascinating process and highly rewarding – but can also be stressful and complex. In this blog, one of our architectural practice clients, Allister Godfrey from the award-winning Chartered Architects based in Wantage, Oxfordshire shares his expertise and outlines some of the pitfalls to expect and how to ensure your building restoration project is a success.

There are many things to consider when renovating a Listed or historic building – all of which can have a significant impact, and can affect just how succesful your project is.

Tip no. 1 – Ensure you have the right professionals on board

Work with a team of experts who have experience of renovating older houses. You will probably need to invest more time and money getting expert help – such as a heritage consultant – than you think. Start by working with a RIBA Chartered Practice that has extensive experience in renovating listed buildings, and bear in mind the following:

i) Expect special conditions

When dealing with any heritage asset or building a Heritage Impact Assessment will be required to accompany a planning application and/or Listed building consent application. Having a detailed and considered assessment of the existing condition will mean you have a robust starting point for design direction, design decisions and ensuing discussions with the planners. The Historic England ‘Conservation Principles, Policies and Guidance’ is a helpful document to read before undertaking a project.

ii) Be prepared for upfront costs

Setting a realistic budget is important for any project. But when you are taking on a Listed or historic project you will need to budget for experienced professionals to be involved early on in the process. It is best to get a heritage impact assessment done by a Heritage Consultant, but using an experienced architecture practice is also possible.

iii) Have a flexible approach to timings throughout the project

The preparation of a planning application for a historic asset is going to take longer than for a modern property. Post approval, the list of conditions to discharge is likely to be more onerous and time consuming.

Tip no. 2 – Budget thoroughly – and allow for a large contingency

Like setting the budget for your project, the level of contingency you allow is not always an exact science. Renovating listed buildings can be a complicated business – often with a few surprises along the way, so our suggestion would be to allow a contingency of at least 20 to 25% of your final budget in the initial stages.

Preparation is key, and with the right professional team, unforeseen issues can be mitigated throughout the design process and will help bring down the contingency sum as you head towards the construction phase. Our practice has a blog post that provides some things to consider when drawing up your budget. Getting the help of a cost planning expert like CLPM’s Quantity Surveying team to give you a detailed estimate for your designs can also be a wise investment.

Tip no. 3 Take advice and invest time researching your project

It can be challenging restoring or adding a modern extension to a period property. Extending or altering an older house with a modern design can often add an additional layer of complexity to an already lengthened process. Ultimately a lack of time, and poor advice are the biggest hindrances to a successful project outcome, particularly if you are wanting to make modern interventions or extensions.

Tip no. 4 You don’t have to replicate the design

Restoration and replication can go hand in hand. But you don’t always have to seamlessly blend the design of a new extension into the original building. It’s important to prevent your extension detracting from the character of the original. Many experts prefer a more modern approach – as long as the original build’s character is understood and respected. Afterall, good design is a creative process.

One of my all-time favourite historic interventions is the Fondazione Querini Stampalia in Venice.

In 1959, Carlo Scarpa was engaged to work on a library and art collection housed in a 16th century palazzo.

Whilst the use of concrete may not be to everyone’s taste, for me the project exemplifies Scarpa’s almost obsessive attention to detail, particularly where new work abuts historic fabric.

There is a hands-off quality about the spaces he has created and at times can feel like you are floating through the historic palazzo.

Tip no. 5 Research your home’s provenance – but be bold in your design

Of the projects our practice has undertaken, my favourite is Church Street – a project that is currently under construction. Grade 2 Listed Building renovation designPrior to our involvement, the house appeared to be a fairly typical ‘older’ property in a Conservation Area. It had suffered from inappropriate alterations during the late 20th century; replacement uPVC double glazing meant lost timber sash windows and ‘problem’ areas had been covered up.

Our client is fairly hands-on and embarked upon an interior strip-out. What emerged was the original 17th century timber framed dwelling. As far as we can tell the house was repaired in the late 18th century with the frontage gentrified in the late 19th century. During its life, a poulterer ran his business from a building attached to the front of the house. Gabriel Machin, the renowned butchers in Henley-on-Thames, is believed to have had its origins in this building. With the advent of the railway, the gentrification of the house reflected the expansion of a small agricultural village into a bustling town.

Grade 2 Listed Building renovation interior planBoth the house and internal spaces are not only small but also very restricted in height. This is due to their significant age and structure. Working closely with the heritage consultant Nick Worlledge helped us identify the areas of historic significance in the house to inform our design response. Our design solution was a simple cube like structure appearing to float over the semi-basement kitchen space. A pre-application enquiry was made to engage the Council’s Conservation Officer at an early stage. Whilst this and the subsequent application added the project , the time and effort put into the process from the outset paid dividends in gaining approval at the first time of asking.

The build of the project is progressing smoothly with most of the structural stabilisation work to the 17th century frame complete. The ground floor of the property has been replaced with a limecrete slab which will provide breathability to the whole building allowing the frame to be intact for another 300 years.

Get in Touch

Are you planning to renovate or extend a grade 2 listed building? If so we’d love to hear from you. CLPM regularly work on building restoration projects and collaborate with architects like Allister Godfrey Architects to help their clients develop their period properties in a smarter and more sustainable way – and we’d love to help you too.

To find out more call 01923 896550, email or complete a contact form.

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