Extending a Listed Building – problem or opportunity? Part One

Many people who live in or who acquire Listed buildings and buildings in Conservation areas are enthralled by the character of their buildings, and genuinely seek to live in and maintain them in a sympathetic manner. This can mean in some extreme cases compressing their lives and all their possessions into what were often quite small and awkwardly planned buildings. The desired home layout of today’s family is, to put it mildly, not one that the builder of their Listed home would have recognised 300 years ago! ‘Media’ rooms, computer study, ensuites, utility rooms and kitchen/dining areas open to the garden – are all seemingly essential ‘today’ items of accommodation that the 17th century builder would just scratch his head at.

Open planning itself is seen as most desirable also today, yet much historic property is stoically cellular in construction. With so many potential problems in getting what we want out of a building built at a time when things were, shall we say, ‘simpler’. So the option of extending is frequently dismissed out of hand, as Listed building owners have all heard rumours from neighbors and friends of Planning refusals, nitpicking, and extended delays. Whether or not the rumours are accurate there is a strong disincentive to try extending Historic – particularly Listed property.

My experience in extending Listed property as an architect has often brought me into contact with this supposed difficulty, but the evidence of my experience is the opposite. Extending Listed buildings and buildings in Conservation areas is really not so difficult, though there is a knack to it. Two relatively recent extensions carried out by my practice are examples of what can be achieved in the context of historic buildings of strong character.

This article will explain about the first property. The second extension will be discussed in ‘Extending a Listed Building – problem or opportunity Part 2.

Property one is a detached is a detached stone-built Cotswold cottage.

It is well detached from its neighbours so Planning concerns about proximity and overlooking were not obstacles. The South extension, containing a kitchen and family dining area, is a version of one of the main approaches to extending a historic property – ‘playing the game’. This approach involves using similar materials and details to the existing property, but trying to achieve something distinctive and new with it – not just copying the existing. ‘Playing the game’ extensions can easily fall into the trap of being unimaginative, even ingratiating. So it is important to have something up one’s sleeve to make it distinctive.

Here we pulled the first floor away from the gable of the extension (that is called ‘gallerying’ the floor) allowing us to put up a one-and-a-half storey high bay window there. We then attached a small pool to the bay, the purpose being to reflect the dappled patterns of light reflecting off the pool onto the walls and ceiling of the extension rather like those you see on the underside of a bridge. The galleried floor contains a study from which one can see the constantly changing patterns of water below, and the casements of the bay window all open leaving the gable end nearly completely open to the elements when desired. I was very careful to use materials exactly to match the existing cottage – stone and joint work exactly to match, timber windows, cast iron rainwater goods, a leaded roof over the dormer, and Conservation Rooflights. The difference is in what we did with those materials.

A point worth noting is that the Planning Conservation Officer supported this extension – we encountered no Planning difficulties at any point. No nitpicking. No delays. This extension won a RIBA regional award after it was completed.

If you have a Listed building or a building in a Conservation Area don’t be afraid of extending it. A sensitively designed and built extension will prolong the useful life of a historic building and can actually add to and reinforce its character, and these are two very good things for the historic building.

Peter King RIAS ARB Architect

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