In with the new

Advice from experienced chartered surveyor Robert Hamilton on which options are open to you when extending a period property

"I am hoping to extend my period house, which is roughly 250 years old, with some more recent (circa 100 year old) additions. However, I am a little disappointed in that the plans drawn up so far have been really just imitating the old structure, when I was hoping for something more exciting!"

One of the charms of older houses is that they have grown and developed architecturally as they age. For example, a traditional cottage would have had an outside privy and no bathroom or plumbing, maybe a standpipe if you were lucky! And everyone in the family sleeping in one loft upstairs. So things have definitely moved on…

I can understand the architect aiming for something safe and likely to be easily approved, but like you I am not in favour of faux ‘period’ features when nowadays there are so many exciting new materials and innovative methods available for use. And fortunately, even with Listed buildings or in the Conservation Area, the Heritage and Planning Officers are becoming more receptive to adventurous ideas.

To take one example, one method of extending I often find myself recommending is to incorporate that stone-built outhouse so many Cotswold houses and cottages have. These were often laundries or, as mentioned before, privies. I recently surveyed a cottage with a truly grand three-seater privy in the back garden! Such stone buildings can be linked by a glass room and one wonderful construction I saw was to use glass to create the rooms inside the outhouse so that the original beams, stone walls etc were visible but not actually used for load-bearing construction - rather than destroyed to replace with an imitation period effect.

Even a modern garage can be used like this. Very few garages seem to contain cars nowadays, most are used as storage/utility/dumping rooms so to link this single storey to the main house can often be a solution. It is relatively easy and inexpensive to improve the roofs and insulation, stone or timber clad the external walls to improve the appearance, and create another valuable internal area. A caveat here is that whilst retaining a single storey is fairly easy, if you wish to build on top of this type of building, it may require more thought and engineering input.

Another method of construction which is actually a revival of a traditional style is the use of oak frames to create the new space. These derive from the medieval ‘cruck beam’ type of construction, but with modern methods of shaping and some discretely used steel. The oak beams become a feature of the final décor as they are kept evident and as they age become wonderfully split and cracked (known as ‘shakes’). This is only superficial and does not diminish their capability, instead it adds to the character. They are also best left untreated to develop a honey-coloured internal patina and silvery to the external timbers. Oak is nowadays is sourced from sustainable plantations and so is an ecologically friendly product, too.

I am also very much in love with the recent trend of using agricultural buildings as residential. I am not referring to the stone barn conversions which abound here in the Cotswolds, but the Dutch barn designs, water towers etc. There are some truly stunning houses created in what would otherwise be redundant and unsightly collapsing corrugated iron.

As with all design projects, you will need to bear your budget in mind, but I am sure your architect will be thrilled if you discuss the prospect of a more individual style of building. Conservation does not mean preservation in aspic but the continued use of these properties as family homes and so innovation should be encouraged. I would like to think that in another 250 years some future Cotswold resident will look admiringly at your new construction and say, ‘Wow! Didn’t they build some amazing stuff in the 21st Century?’

Central Surveying has offices in the Cotswolds and Knightsbridge, specialising in independent professional surveying and property consultancy services for commercial and residential clients in the Cotswolds, South West and London. Robert Hamilton works from Naunton in the heart of the North Cotswolds. To contact Robert, telephone 01285 640 840 or visit