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How to design the interior of your listed building

PUBLISHED: 11:24 11 June 2014 | UPDATED: 17:22 21 May 2015


Sam Elliott-Smith, founder of Heritage Property Design Limited, shares her interior design advice with listed building owners.

Listed Planning Application imageListed Planning Application image

The interior, as well as the exterior of a listed building is protected by law. This includes objects and structures fixed to the inside and outside of the building. Seek listed building consent for any alteration, demolition or extension, as it could well affect the special architectural or historic interest of your building. Small repairs using the correct traditional materials and techniques are unlikely to require consent. Where at all possible, always repair rather than replace damaged areas of your building. When you are unsure about repairs and alterations, check with your local conservation officer first who can give you advice.

Heritage Interior Design imageHeritage Interior Design image

When you make a listed planning application, you are required to enclose a list of supporting written and visual documentation. For interior work, a specialist heritage interior designer can do this for you. For major building work, seek a specialist conservation architect.

It is a myth that the listed building system prevents all change. When considering listed planning consent applications, the planning authorities think about the building’s significance but also its condition, function and viability. To ensure that a listed building is sustainable in the long term, there is a desire to be certain that any changes are carefully considered and carried out.

When you call upon professionals and trades, always look for specialists with knowledge and experience of working with listed and historic buildings. They will understand the importance of conservation and preservation. They will choose the correct materials and techniques and they should understand the applicable legal issues surrounding listed buildings.

You are responsible for maintaining your property. So before you redecorate, organise any outstanding repairs and investigate the opportunities that exist for improving the energy efficiency of your home. Remember to talk to your local conservation officer to check if you need consent for any of these works you plan to carry out.

Many older buildings have single-skinned walls. These are often finished in lime-based products to maintain the building’s ‘breathability’. So when you are choosing wall colours, seek out specialist products and specialist trades so that the work is carried out professionally and with the right products. This will avoid water becoming trapped in the walls, leading to damp patches or worse.

If you are granted listed planning consent, expect that it may well have conditions attached. These can require you to use certain products or techniques, meaning that you need to maintain good communication with the relevant authorities. In comparison, it is also the case that new extensions can be required to be built in modern techniques and materials to clearly show the developing story of the property and meet current building regulations.

Before choosing furniture and furnishing items for your design, research your building, its history and its setting. Learning about the building’s design, materials and purpose over the years will give you a starting point for your interior design. Decide on your total budget for all you are going to buy and everyone you are going to hire.

Think about the layout of your building. How do you want to use the rooms? How will you move around the building? What is the impact of human proportions on the design? Make scale drawings of the rooms showing their existing windows, doorways, electrical points, architectural details and so on. Cut out scale images of the furniture you like and move it around the drawings until you are happy with your layout. Think about natural and artificial lighting; where do you need to improve existing lighting? Where will you need new power points?

When you carry out research, investigate designs for the period(s) in which your building was built. This will help you to decide on appropriate finishes for your floors, walls and windows (where you have consent to change them). You may wish to create an authentic period design or a more contemporary look. Either way, the design ought to be fit for purpose and sympathetic to the building. This will add to the building’s sustainability.

Choosing patterns, textures, colours, fabrics and finishes that work well together and with the building is key. A specialist interior designer has the resources, knowledge and experience to carry this out effectively. Use magazines, visits to exhibitions, auctions, galleries and stores to inspire you. Gather together clippings, samples of fabrics and wallpapers, carpets and flooring to help you visualise the final room(s). Sketch out areas of your new design to help you review your ideas.

Ask for quotations and gather a list of costs for items and services you require, making changes until you are happy with your budget. Add a minimum 10% contingency into your figures; there are always unexpected costs, especially with old houses. The materials and techniques you may be required to use in any conditions of listed building consent could well be of a greater cost than more modern ones. Plan the tasks to be done in a logical order and co-ordinate your specialists to complete the work fully before bringing in your purchases.

Listed buildings present interesting challenges and creative opportunities. If you are short of time and would prefer someone to take care of the whole project for you, look for a specialist heritage interior designer who can respond creatively and legally to these challenges and opportunities. They will enhance your quality of life as well as contribute to the long term sustainability and enjoyment of your listed building. Heritage Property Design Limited is the West Country’s only specialist heritage interior designer working solely on listed and historical domestic and commercial properties.

More information about the law surrounding listed buildings is available from English Heritage and your local planning department. For more information on specialist interior design for listed buildings visit:

Written by Sam Elliott-Smith, Associate, British Institute of Interior Design

Heritage Property Design Limited


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