Historic buildings have much to recommend them but delving deep into their history can help you understand their value.
There are many reasons why people choose to make historic buildings their homes. Steeped in history and aesthetically pleasing, they hold the charm and interest that is so difficult to create within a new building.
While some owners and potential buyers rush to purchase a Grade I, II* or II Listed building or a house within a Conservation Area, these attributions are sometimes seen as a hindrance because of the restrictions placed on altering, extending or developing a historic property.
But this does not have to be the case. With the appropriate research, understanding and professional advice, it is not only possible to create a more liveable home, but also to reveal and enhance heritage features within these properties.
Understanding Your Home
The first stage in the process of change is understanding – abiding by the well-known adage of “knowledge is power”. Having a clear understanding of the history and development of a heritage site not only meets the requirements set out by national legislation, statutory bodies such as English Heritage and Local Planning Authorities (LPAs), but can also serve another, more exciting purpose.
Most historic houses have undergone some form of alteration over the years reflecting the changing styles, changes of use and repair work, and for many old buildings and their sites, there is often a hidden history waiting to be uncovered.
Conservation architects and heritage consultants are well placed to carry out archival research and on-site investigations that could uncover historic links to local or even wider contexts. It might be that a home was once the stop-over for royalty, built on the foundations of a medieval farmstead or contains the core of a Georgian structure beneath a Victorian façade – all elements that increase the character and interest of a place.
With a deeper understanding of your home, an assessment of significance – also known as heritage value – can be carried out. This identifies the levels of importance of both physical and intangible elements of a place. For instance, design work by a well-known architect is given ‘high’ historic significance, whereas inappropriate 20th century extensions might be labelled as ‘low’ or even ‘intrusive’.
This exercise instantly reveals areas of a house which are suitable or even recommended for alteration (these are typically of low significance). It also outlines the elements which should be retained and enhanced where possible, for example, uncovering bricked-up windows or reinstating an original fireplace.
This baseline information can then be used to inform sensitive development. Appropriate areas for extension or alteration can be recommended and change can even be proposed in spaces of higher significance through the use of careful design. This intelligence will also assist the next steps of the planning process, providing the architects or developers with a strong foundation to open discussions with heritage bodies and local authorities.
A Suffolk Farmhouse Example
A recent example shows how this process resulted in successful proposals for change to a Grade II* medieval farmhouse.
After careful archival research and built fabric assessment, it was found that the building had been subject to several major alterations throughout its history, revealing interesting links to wealthy local families and the building’s use as a school in the 19th century.
Additionally, an understanding of these changes allowed for an educated analysis of what parts of the building were most important and which were more viable for alteration and change – resulting in proposals to replace an inappropriate conservatory, insert an en-suite and re-arrange elements of the circulation which were not viable to continuous use of the building.
Plan showing historic architecture
Plan illustrating heritage value of built fabric
Proposals for alterations that retain and enhance its heritage value
Most historic houses have undergone some form of change over the years. By investigating their age-old secrets and uncovering their historic significance, in the event of further change, their heritage value can be protected.
Heather Jermy is an Associate and Heritage Consultancy Manager for Purcell – an award-winning architectural practice with studios throughout the UK. We create unique and inspiring homes that are designed to meet your individual aspirations, no matter how challenging or sensitive the historic building or site.
Taking an informed approach we assess the condition, historical significance and context of a property or site to help unlock your asset value. Our start to finish service includes site masterplanning, planning and listed building consents, heritage consultancy, building surveying, conservation, interior design and contemporary architecture. Working with you at every stage, we will ensure that our high quality design solutions are tailored to your personal tastes to bring your vision to life. Visit www.purcelluk.com or call 0207 397 7171 for more information.
This is an article from ProjectBook which provides a wide range of information for the conservation, restoration, care and repair of period and listed buildings.
Established in 2008, Projectbook provides recognition and support for the Uk’s leading conservation and heritage professionals as well as putting property owners in touch with the right people and information.
Purcell are members of the Heritage Register which contains over 500 conservation approved craftsmen, contractors and consultants from all over the UK. Updated daily with new content, the website features the Heritage Register, a products directory, informative articles, current news, events around the UK and more. For more information, visit www.projectbook.co.uk and follow us on twitter @Projectbook
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