Country houses for sale

Extending and renovating a listed building

There are two main philosophical approaches one can adopt when extending a listed building: do something completely different or pay tribute to what is already there. Approaches will depend on individual taste, what you want to achieve and what the local planning and conservation authority will allow. Surprisingly, no hard and fast rules apply to extending or renovating listed buildings in the UK and it can come down to the opinion of the local conservation officer.

Interestingly, English Heritage, that most august organisation which protects and promotes England’s spectacular historic environment, often supports a contemporary approach to extending from listed buildings. It rightly argues that a contemporary extension can more clearly maintain the integrity and interpretation of the original building. Unfortunately, a local conservation officer under time pressures and charged with preserving the local historic environment’s status quo may disagree and that can be where the negotiation skills of an experienced architect can help you. To build onto a listed building you will need both planning permission and listed building consent.

You will also need patience, stamina and a good architect. Due to budget constraints, Planning and Conservation teams within local authorities are smaller than they’ve ever been. Involving an architect at an early stage will legitimise your approach and can speed things up – they can’t fob us off as efficiently as they can with a private house owner or prospective purchaser.

So which architect should you choose?  A good start is a visit to the website of the Royal Institute of British Architects (, and click on ‘Find an Architect’. We’re listed on there, along with 3000 other firms across the UK. Recommendation is also important and whilst a local conservation officer cannot personally recommend an architect they can sometimes point in the right direction of a few architects in your area. You can also seek advice from an organisation specialising in maintaining a heritage register of architects, such as Projectbook (, an excellent organisation and growing resource centre for period and listed building projects.

Draw up a shortlist, visit some completed projects and most important of all, make sure that you like the architects you choose. Building onto a house is one of life’s most stressful experiences and takes much longer than you think so you’ll be spending plenty of time with the person who’s designing it.
It’s worth noting here that the word ‘Architect’ is protected by law. Those who trade as ‘architectural technicians’ and ‘architectural designers’ will not have completed the rigorous seven-year training to qualify fully as an architect.

Recommended videos for you

When you’ve decided on an architect, agree a brief cost structure and timetable – so even before the first working drawings are produced, everyone knows their responsibilities.

We do have a standard fee structure but because most listed building projects are unique we tailor them appropriately to the client needs. We quote on the four stages: sketch designs, the submission of a planning application, the production working drawings and on-site management.  Projects can be charged on a percentage of building costs, on a lump sum basis or on a time-charge basis within a fixed budget. Give your architect as clear a brief as possible – visual references always help, as well as what you’ve seen elsewhere that you love and even what you deeply dislike. All this will help the architect to produce the designs you want more efficiently.


Then there is the timetable. Don’t plan to be ‘in by Christmas’ it creates a false deadline and sends shivers down everyone’s spines of impending disappointment. Allow for plenty of consultation time with your architect – the more thought a client gives a project the more detail goes into the plans and the better the outcome. Planning and listed building consent is typically an eight week process but can last longer if there are issues or amendments required.

renovating period property 1

Allow time to commission measured surveys, quantity surveyors, structural engineers and where appropriate other surveys (landscape, historic) and the time to produce working drawings – 6-12 weeks. An architect can help you put together your project team with the right experience and chemistry. When the project has planning permission, you may wish to go out to tender to a number of good building contractors, if you already have a builder in mind then cost negotiations can start. We allow four to six weeks for a builder to price a job and a month for site set-up (depending on size of project). That can mean nine months even before the patter of size-12 feet signals the start of actual building work.

renovating period property

And when the builder is on site, using traditional materials such as lime and stone isn’t a quick process, and you’ll notice a subtle change in your architect’s role. We often act as Contract Administrators on site on behalf of a client, which we liken to being a referee with a home team scarf around his neck as we have to be fair to both sides. We deal directly with the builder and help you by sorting out issues along the way and dealing with any changes you may want.

A listed building will survive us all and buying such a building means accepting responsibility for it. This doesn’t mean that nothing can change; it can, as I’ve shown here, but it does mean that you may have to compromise in some areas. An experienced architect will help you pick your battles with the planning and conservations officers to achieve the best result for you.

Neil Quinn is a Conservation Architect and Partner at Yiangou Architects, which was established in the Cotswolds in 1981.  From its base in the historic town of Cirencester, the practice specialises in high quality residential construction using both traditional and contemporary materials. The practice’s team of seven qualified architects are equally at home working with Grade I Listed or contemporary buildings, supported by a well-qualified and experienced team of technicians and technical co-ordinators.  In recent years the practice has expanded and projects now extend nationwide. The company can also manage new projects from design through to building completion;

ProjectBook has been created to help owners of listed or period properties understand how their buildings work and to help them find appropriate craftsmen, products and specialist information. The online Heritage Register contains over 540 registered businesses, the largest directory of its type in the UK. For more information, visit