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How to restore a listed building

The success of a restoration project, particularly when it comes to listed buildings, sits squarely on the skills and experience of those employed to work on it. ‘It’s essential that everyone involved has empathy with the potentially fragile structure of an old building,’ says architect Hugh Petter of Adam Architecture.

Who to employ at the concept stage

A good project always starts well before the first trowel is lifted. This initial planning period is critical and will make all the difference between an end result that’s perfect and one that’s merely adequate. This is why you need to assemble a great professional team that will help you get this stage right. At the very least, you’ll need to employ an architect, who will come up with a restoration idea; a structural engineer, who will advise on how best to achieve it; and an historic building consultant, who will ensure that it conforms to the stipulations of planners and listed-building officers.


As well as conceiving a design the architect will take a holistic view of the project, advising on contractors, materials and legal and planning issues, and help you draw up contracts. You’ll need someone with robust experience of working with historic buildings. Word of mouth or the services of an established agency can help you locate the best architects. When making your choice, however, try and inspect previous projects in person whenever possible. A visit to a former client will offer a far greater insight into an architect’s strengths and weaknesses than any website or glossy brochure.

Structural engineer

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It takes years of training and experience to become a structural engineer, for very good reasons-they are the people who, through a variety of seemingly incomprehensible calculations, can work out whether any planned changes will weaken the structure of a building. It’s essential to employ someone who understands the often fragile structure of historic buildings-for example, the fact that a steel beam inserted into a timber-framed building will be significantly less flexible than the surrounding structure. Ask your architect and other listed-building owners for recommendations.

Historic-building Consultant

An historic-building consultant will provide you with surveys and reports on the condition of your property. He will also be able to give you both preliminary advice on and an impact assessment of any alterations you may want to carry out on your property-the latter is often required when submitting an application for listed-building consent. They may also help you discover more about the history and architectural significance of your house. Your architect should be able to point you in the direction of a good, experienced historic-building consultant

Interior designer

As well as advising you on the best way spaces should be used and how they should relate to one another, a qualified, seasoned designer will play an especially important role in helping you integrate contemporary services and facilities into the existing fabric of a period building.

If you intend to employ interior designers, however, it’s vital that they’re on board from the outset. Plus, advises Mr Petter, ‘it’s vital that the respective roles of architect and designer are properly defined to avoid unnecessary arguments and confusion later on’. Architects tend to work from the outside in and interior designers work from the inside out-you should aim to achieve a combination of both these approaches. Even when every effort is made to preserve the integrity of a period building, it’s important to remember that it’s also a home, not an historic monument.

Lighting designer

This may not be the first professional figure that springs to mind when starting to tackle the renovation of a listed building, but a lighting designer has a crucial role to play. Good lighting should lift a period house, but do so unobtrusively. The sooner a scheme is planned -inside and out-the better chance you have of getting it right. Light fittings are an expensive and disruptive afterthought and some types of lighting, such as recessed spotlights are not appropriate inlath-and-plaster buildings.

Plasterer, joiner and specialist craftsmen

Each listed building needs the services of different craftsmen. You will most likely employ a plasterer, but make sure you get the right one-traditional techniques do make a difference in preserving both the look and the integrity of a period house. Specialist areas range from decorative moulding and lime plastering to more unusual treatments such as cob and wattle and daub.

An experienced joiner can help you narrow the gap between doors and windows that are true to period while also meeting the modern demands of thermal efficiency. For the same reason, it’s also worth enlisting the services of specialist glaziers. ‘The more specialised and skilled the plasterer or cabinetmaker, the more faithful the final design will be,’ says Sandy Mitchell of RedBook, an agency that matches property owners with architects and landscape designers.

There are many craftsmen’s registers and agencies you can consult, and your architect can also make recommendations. Although your choice won’t be determined by location alone- particularly for specialist trades -remember that there are benefits to using a local business, not least the fact that they are familiar with the local planners’ preferences.

Building contractors

Builders range from firms that offer a full range of services to small outfits that subcontract work such as electrics. Both have advantages and much will come down to the nature of the job- for example, if a project will involve a number of specialised skills, it might make sense to go with a smaller business, but large companies should be able to complete work more quickly.

Larger building companies may also offer a variety of specialist trades such as plastering and joinery. Always get references and, ideally, get first-hand experience of their work. It’s also sensible to examine the credentials of their craftspeople to ensure that they’re masters of their trades and understand what materials will work with those already used. Getting this wrong will not only damage the integrity of your building, but also cause problems with the listed-building officer.

Useful addresses


The Society for The Protection of Ancient Buildings offers plenty of advice for anyone planning a restoration project (

The Art Workers Guild The Art Workers Guild has its roots in the Arts and Crafts movement and its members-artists, craftsmen and designers-offer a wealth of specialist skills that can be hard to find elsewhere (


This useful website has listings of specialist contractors, suppliers, architects and consultants (

RedBook Agency

Set up by former Country Life Deputy Editor Sandy Mitchell, the RedBook Agency helps property owners find the best architect practices and landscape designers for their renovation project (

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