Period project: tips for renovating an older property

A terrace of period homes on a crescent in the UK

A terrace of period homes on a crescent in the UK - Credit: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos

Renovating a period property can seem like a daunting task, here’s five tips to bear in mind when combining old and new.

Period homes often present their own foibles and difficulties

Period homes often present their own foibles and difficulties - Credit: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos

1. Local councils sometimes remove (or partially remove) permitted development rights from houses (flats and maisonettes don’t have permitted development rights anyway), which can mean you need planning permission for most changes to the exterior. This often happens in conservation areas - the council will be keen to preserve the historic look of the conservation area - but it does make renovating a property more complicated and time-consuming, as it usually takes eight weeks to get a decision from the council.

2. Getting planning permission can be tricky - you may think it’s safe to ask for a like-for-like replacement, but that’s not always the case. I recently applied for planning permission to redo a roof in a conservation area and wanted to replace the leaking plastic guttering with new plastic guttering. However, the council said that any replacement guttering would have to be cast iron (as it was an opportunity to improve the appearance of the conservation area), which would have greatly increased the cost and probably have been too heavy for the existing roof structure. We also had rotten sash windows and while double glazing was allowed, the council had rules about how many millimetres were allowed between the panes of glass, not something we had even considered, or something most people would notice.

3. Alterations to a listed building can be even more complicated and will usually require listed building consent from the local council, which is a similar process to applying for planning permission (you may need planning permission too). The council’s conservation officers may insist you use traditional building materials and techniques (even in places that can’t be seen, such as under floors). These are usually more expensive and specialised than standard ones - traditional lime plaster instead of conventional modern plaster, for example - and replacements will often have to be on a like-for-like basis.

4. This can have a knock-on effect when you come to decorate. Specialist paints, such as distemper, that allow the walls to breathe, should be used on lime plaster, but distemper isn’t a paint most of us have experience of choosing or using. Although you can get it from Farrow & Ball. “Distemper is one of our four specialist finishes,” says Charlotte Cosby, head of creative at Farrow & Ball. “Our Casein Distemper is best used for interior plaster walls and ceilings due to its added casein, allowing walls to breathe. Our Soft Distemper is best for enhancing detailing in period properties - its powdery finish means it’s easily wipeable, allowing details and cornicing to be decorated over and over without losing the original decorative form.”

Purbeck Stone Estate Eggshell paint, available from

Purbeck Stone Estate Eggshell paint, available from - Credit: PA Photo/Handout

5. Period properties often contain hidden (and visible) nasties, such as damp, rotten wood, and cracks, especially if the walls and ceilings are lath and plaster, which is prone to cracking. These problems can be expensive and time-consuming to rectify. “It’s good to consider a property’s heritage and style before decorating and is essential to check the structure and condition of the walls, checking for areas of damp and cracking first,” says Cosby. “It’s also best to choose a colour scheme sympathetic to the era of the property, and accentuate any features that the property may have.”