Gone are the days when period homes were stripped of their original features in favour of a ‘modern’ look. Thankfully, we approach the task today with a greater appreciation for these houses’ unique charm and heritage. But preserving their character doesn’t mean sacrificing style and functionality. By skilfully blending the old with the new, we can create a successful contrast that enhances the overall appeal of these homes. Even in the case of protected structures, where stringent regulations apply, incorporating modern additions can be favourably viewed by the authorities. Here are some key considerations to help you navigate the challenges of renovating, so you can harmoniously blend tradition and contemporary living.
Is your home a Protected Structure?
When planning the restoration and adaptation of a period home, there are several important factors to keep in mind. Firstly, you should determine if the property is a protected structure or if it falls within a conservation area, as this comes with legal obligations to preserve its character.
If your home is a protected structure, planning permission will be necessary for any work that ‘materially affects the character’ of a protected structure. Understanding good conservation principles, such as prioritising repair over replacement and using appropriate materials, is key to maintaining the unique qualities of a period building.
A trained professional such as a conservation architect, can advise you on what changes will require approval from the planning authority. Retrofitting for energy efficiency while preserving the home’s character is possible, with options like insulation in roofs and floors, draught-proofing windows, and ensuring effective moisture management. However, it should be done under the guidance of a conservation specialist.
Reimagine the layout
Period homes often present challenges when optimising space for contemporary living. Merely extending the rear of the property to create an open-plan living area may disrupt the original house’s flow. Instead, rethink the layout and find innovative solutions to maximise the available space. For instance, relocating the kitchen from the lower ground or basement level to the first floor can connect it with the reception rooms, making for a much brighter and more welcoming space. This strategic rearrangement encourages the use of the original rooms and preserves their integrity. Embracing the lower levels as utility areas, laundry rooms, or cosy dens can maximise functionality without compromising the authenticity of the design.
Maximise natural light
The elongated structure of many period homes often leads to darker central areas when the house is extended. Rooflights are the ideal way to bring light back into these spaces. Position the roof light as close to the existing external wall of the house as possible to light into the central or darkest area.
Another solution is to create internal courtyards. Strategically integrating courtyards between old and new living spaces helps to infuse these rooms with a bright, airy ambience while staying true to their original character.
Assess the layout for your lifestyle
When refurbishing and renovating a period home, assessing the existing layout and considering how it aligns with your lifestyle is essential. While extending may seem like the obvious solution, evaluating whether all the rooms and spaces in the original structure are being used to their full potential is essential.
The house may have hidden gems that can be repurposed to better suit your needs. I once visited a stunning period home that had been extended to the rear, creating a large open-plan room. However, the family had unintentionally migrated to the new addition, leaving the original rooms with their beautiful features underutilised and redundant.
By carefully evaluating the layout and optimising the use of existing spaces, you can ensure that every room in your home contributes to your daily life and preserves the unique character of the period property.
Incorporate modern amenities
A successful refurbishment of a period home involves seamlessly integrating modern amenities. Consider the practical needs of your family and how the space can adapt to accommodate them. However, it’s vital to do so in a way that doesn’t compromise the historical charm of the property. Don’t feel that you need to have multiple bedrooms with en-suites. Often in a period home this will have a negative impact on the character of the rooms. It’s far better to sacrifice one small bedroom to be used as an en-suite for the main bedroom and then create a good sized family bathroom with space for a bath and shower.
Grant assistance and incentives
Various grants and incentives are available to support the conservation efforts of protected structures. Local councils operate schemes that provide financial assistance to owners undertaking necessary works to preserve these buildings. The grant amounts typically cover a percentage of the approved cost of works, with maximum limits specified. Sustainable energy grants may also be applicable for measures to enhance thermal performance and reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Check with your local authority and the SEAI to explore the available grants and determine whether you are eligible.
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