How to gain space in a period home

How to extend and improve an older house without sacrificing its character

By Sophie Vening | 30 April 2022

Original features are what attract many to buy a period house. But the layout of older properties rarely satisfies the desire for multifunctional living spaces. Plus, the cost of buying a new home often makes extending better value than selling up and moving somewhere more spacious. So the challenge is to find a way to carry out a period home extension that’s in harmony with the charm of the place.

Is PDR possible?

Permitted development rights (PDR) allow a house to be extended without the need to apply for planning permission, if specific limitations and conditions are met. Under PDR you can build a single-storey addition extending up to 4m from the rear wall of a detached house, or 3m from a semi-detached or a terraced home. To qualify, projects must use materials that create an exterior that looks similar to the house, limiting the option to make a distinction between old and new.

Local authorities vary in their definition of permitted development, so get in touch with the planning department before starting work. It’s worth seeking pre-planning advice or hiring an architect who has worked with your local council’s policies on similar projects.

Period duplex apartment in Bath with glass bifold doors opening to courtyard garden

Designscape Architects combined traditional stone and zinc when extending this Grade I listed Georgian property in Bath

When to seek permission

Planning permission will be required for any project that does not qualify under PDR. ‘If your home has an Article 4 directive, is listed, or in a designated conservation area, you will need to apply for planning permission,’ says Craig Rosenblatt of Roar Architects.

An Article 4 directive is made by the local planning authority. It restricts the scope of PDR either in relation to a particular area or site, or a type of development anywhere in the authority’s remit. It’s used to control works that could threaten the character of an area.

Check with the local planning authority if you are not sure whether your home is affected. ‘Extending a listed home will also require listed building consent, as any new addition will affect the house’s historical significance,’ Craig adds.

Don’t be deterred if you must apply for planning or listed building consent. Many heritage specialists in planning departments are in favour of well-executed extensions that don’t attempt to mimic the original building, as well as designs that are more traditional. Plus, a contemporary design doesn’t necessarily have to be bold, it’s possible to create something that’s both modern and unassuming.

period home extension on single storey Victorian schoolhouse external view

Charlie Luxton Design‘s extension to a Victorian schoolhouse in the Cotswolds uses timber cladding to differentiate it from stone of the original building

Get the right help

Hiring an architect who knows the local authority’s planning criteria and has experience working with older houses will smooth a path through planning issues, as well as the design-and-build process.

‘Research the projects your prospective architect or conservation architect has completed in the past, to ensure they work with the heritage of the building rather than against it,’ says architect Chris RomerLee of Studio Octopi.

An established architect with a proven track record of working on period homes will also be able to recommend experienced and reliable contractors, which is really important, not least because constructing an extension is subject to Building Regulations. ‘Several aspects of the project will be covered by the regulations, including the structure, fire, protection from falling and ventilation,’ says Craig.

Period home extension on a Victorian terraced house

Amos Goldreich Architecture designed a pair of intersecting boxes to sit alongside an earlier extension for this Victorian terraced in north London

Original features are what attract many to buy a period house. But the layout of older properties rarely satisfies the desire for multifunctional living spaces. Plus, the cost of buying a new home often makes extending better value than selling up and moving somewhere more spacious. So the challenge is to find a way to carry out a period home extension that’s in harmony with the charm of the place.

Is PDR possible?

Permitted development rights (PDR) allow a house to be extended without the need to apply for planning permission, if specific limitations and conditions are met. Under PDR you can build a single-storey addition extending up to 4m from the rear wall of a detached house, or 3m from a semi-detached or a terraced home. To qualify, projects must use materials that create an exterior that looks similar to the house, limiting the option to make a distinction between old and new.

Local authorities vary in their definition of permitted development, so get in touch with the planning department before starting work. It’s worth seeking pre-planning advice or hiring an architect who has worked with your local council’s policies on similar projects.

Period duplex apartment in Bath with glass bifold doors opening to courtyard garden

Designscape Architects combined traditional stone and zinc when extending this Grade I listed Georgian property in Bath

When to seek permission

Planning permission will be required for any project that does not qualify under PDR. ‘If your home has an Article 4 directive, is listed, or in a designated conservation area, you will need to apply for planning permission,’ says Craig Rosenblatt of Roar Architects.

An Article 4 directive is made by the local planning authority. It restricts the scope of PDR either in relation to a particular area or site, or a type of development anywhere in the authority’s remit. It’s used to control works that could threaten the character of an area.

Check with the local planning authority if you are not sure whether your home is affected. ‘Extending a listed home will also require listed building consent, as any new addition will affect the house’s historical significance,’ Craig adds.

Don’t be deterred if you must apply for planning or listed building consent. Many heritage specialists in planning departments are in favour of well-executed extensions that don’t attempt to mimic the original building, as well as designs that are more traditional. Plus, a contemporary design doesn’t necessarily have to be bold, it’s possible to create something that’s both modern and unassuming.

period home extension on single storey Victorian schoolhouse external view

Charlie Luxton Design‘s extension to a Victorian schoolhouse in the Cotswolds uses timber cladding to differentiate it from stone of the original building

Get the right help

Hiring an architect who knows the local authority’s planning criteria and has experience working with older houses will smooth a path through planning issues, as well as the design-and-build process.

‘Research the projects your prospective architect or conservation architect has completed in the past, to ensure they work with the heritage of the building rather than against it,’ says architect Chris RomerLee of Studio Octopi.

An established architect with a proven track record of working on period homes will also be able to recommend experienced and reliable contractors, which is really important, not least because constructing an extension is subject to Building Regulations. ‘Several aspects of the project will be covered by the regulations, including the structure, fire, protection from falling and ventilation,’ says Craig.

Period home extension on a Victorian terraced house

Amos Goldreich Architecture designed a pair of intersecting boxes to sit alongside an earlier extension for this Victorian terraced in north London

Image: Set in an AONB in Wiltshire, this project by Barbara Weiss Architects connects two Edwardian cottages with an L-shaped extension

Sticking to the rules

There are two ways to make an application to Building Control: full plans or a building notice application. With a building notice, it is possible to carry out the work without prior approval – you promise in advance that you’ll comply with the Building Regulations. A full plans application is where you submit plans and documents to be approved. The advantage of taking this approach is the reassurance of knowing that the working drawings have been checked and approved by the inspector and that the plans comply. Plus, any issues regarding non-compliance can be worked out before the build starts. Your architect can submit a full plans application on your behalf.

‘Take Building Regulations into account early in the design as there may be constraints posed by your home, which will vary from project to project,’ says Craig. ‘Do this in good time and make sure your builder is aware they are responsible for arranging inspections during the works and sign-off upon completion.’

Period home extension of kitchen, living room and dining room

This project by Barbara Weiss Architects provides a new kitchen-living-dining room on the ground floor and a new bedroom above

Take a closer look

Ahead of a design being drawn up or beginning any building work, it’s advisable to commission surveys of the house by a professional registered with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. ‘I recommend including structural, damp, roof, window and drainage surveys,’ says Craig. ‘They will give you and your architect a much better understanding of how your home was built and inform the construction method for the extension and any renovation work,’ he says.

‘A survey costs from around £290 to £1,390, depending on your home’s location, the type of survey, as well as the value and size of the house,’ says Dave Sayce, founder and director at Compare My Move.

Altering the structural integrity of a building must be handled with care, especially if you’re making changes to load paths, roof pitches and moisture control. The period home extension will need to be self-supporting and not apply extra load onto the house. Build method options include lightweight timber frame, which can be clad to either contrast or blend with the house. With masonry, you could opt for handmade bricks or natural stone bedded in lime mortar for a heritage effect.

Period home extension of kitchen with bifold doors and marble worktop

Yellow Cloud Studio renovated and extended the lower ground floor of a Victorian terraced house in east London to create a bright kitchen and dining space

Factors to consider with a period home extension

These practical factors can influence a final design, says architect Amos Goldreich of Amos Goldreich Architecture:

  • Communicate your design ideas, preferences and requirements to your architect, who will work collaboratively with you to come up with something that fits your needs and gains consent from the planners.
  • Arrange a pre-planning meeting with the local planning department so you can gauge what will and won’t gain permission. If your home is in a conservation area there might be restrictions on the extension’s shape and the materials that can be used. There will be more limitations if it is listed. Even at a later stage of the build the planning department might still ask for the extension to blend more with the house and its setting.
  • If the budget is tight you may need to opt for cost-effective building materials and avoid extensive, and often expensive, structural engineering. This will limit you to a simple solution.
  • Another thing to consider early on is the integration of a sedum roof and other sustainable features, as these often have certain structural requirements.
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