The blog

Roger Hunt is an award winning writer and blogger specialising in sustainability, old houses, housebuilding and traditional and modern building materials. He is the co-author of Old House Handbook and the companion volume Old House Eco Handbook.

What is restoration?

What is restoration?

In light of the debate stirred by the BBC’s Restoration Home, this seems a good time to think about some of the vocabulary used to describe what we do to old buildings.

The general approach to their conservation was established in 1877 when William Morris founded The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB). In its manifesto he set out a philosophy of ‘repair’ rather than ‘restoration’ which guides the Society’s work to this day.

To quote from my own Old House Handbook: “Repair is based on the principle of mending buildings with the minimum loss of fabric and, in so doing, keeping their character and authenticity. Contrary to this, ‘restoration’ means work intended to return an old building to a perfect state. In other words, putting things back to how they were, or how we think they were, rather than preserving them as they are now with all their wonderful scars of time and history. Restoration is generally highly destructive and, as Morris states in the manifesto, ‘a feeble and lifeless forgery is the final result of all the wasted labour’.”

Putting the philosophy of repair into practice means, for example, repairing only the decayed bottom rail of an original sash window rather than the whole sash. To understand this better it’s worth thinking about how we treat antique furniture: it’s unlikely that you’d discard a two hundred year old table just because it has a damaged leg.

Taking on a non domestic building and turning it into a home nearly always stretches the philosophy or repair and minimum intervention. There are many practical issues to think about: the proportions and loss of volume within the building’s interior in order to create rooms, providing services, dealing with window and door openings, the treatment of surfaces, access.

This also means that, when changing the use of a building, it’s unlikely to be a restoration as such because it’s necessary to make it different in order to suit its new use. What we’re really talking about is a ‘conversion’. Even with a conversion, conservation principles of repair should be intrinsic to the scheme but, for this to happen, it’s essential that the building is understood and that the conversion is carefully considered.

It doesn’t stop there, within this debate there is a place for thinking about good new design. When creating new work within an old building it’s generally beneficial to embrace the very best of 21st design rather than to create a poor pastiche of the past. But this doesn’t mean disregarding the building’s subtleties, origins or fragile patina of age; it’s about drawing all the strands together and achieving ‘revitalization’ within the historic context. It will be interesting to see where the next episode of Restoration Home takes us in the debate.

Image credit: Nic Bailey – more of his images of Nutbourne pumping station, the subject of episode 2 of BBC2’s Restoration Home, are here.


3 Responses to What is restoration?

  1. I would say the works carried out on the Restoration Home show should actually be classified as refurbishment. A useful definition of which is given below:

    “The extensive repair, renewal and modification of a building to meet economic and/or functional criteria equivalent to those required of a new building for the same purpose. May involve the installation of current standards of building services, access, natural lighting, equipment and finishes, using the historic fabric as the carcass of what is, effectively, a new building.” (College of Estate Management, 2011)

  2. I got angry watching that beautiful and amazing space with so much history and character being transformed into (very sadly) an ‘off the shelf’ standard high ceilings modern house with a few free standing concrete columns. What a shame… It would have been interesting to hear what a value of the house would have been if restored AND refurbished into a modern house in a pumping station. It raised the question: What did they like about the building before they (in my view) trashed it? Where’s the soul of the building…? At the scrap yard unfortunately…

  3. Just reading last comment, how do you live in house that is a restored pumping station? I think they bought the property with a view to turn it into a large living space for their family , and achieved this. What they didn’t show on tv was that their is a working pumping station still attached to the side of the property! Nutbourne studio as it’s now called also has 3 bathrooms 3 bedrooms 2 studies 2 basements 1 of which is the kids playroom, I don’t think the program showed enough of the property or explained exactly what is left of the former pump station – far more than was shown!!! The sweets also made use of the 100m deep 1 metre round bore holes to heat there property , they should have gone into this more – what a great use of disused holes that were down to be filled in!! Out of the whole series it’s the only building that was finished and actually being properly lived in . They could have knocked the place down and put up a modern building but chose to refurb/rebuild or restore how ever you wish to discribe!!

SPAB Working Party

For the last 25 years conservation experts and volunteer heritage enthusiasts have come together to join the annual Working Party run by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB). I went along to join them and created a video about the Working Party at Sullington Manor Farm near Storrington, West Sussex. They were working…

Listed building allure

Listed building allure

Every year, many of the estimated 450,000 listed buildings in the UK change hands on the property market. In England and Wales these properties are designated Grade I, Grade II* or Grade II having being deemed to be of historical, cultural or architectural interest. All buildings built before 1700

Environmental Pocketbook

Environmental Pocketbook

If you’re going to invest in just one book on sustainable, low carbon building I’d strongly suggest that you make it The Environmental Design Pocketbook. Now in its second edition, this useful volume by Sofie Pelsmakers should be essential reading for architects, designers, developers, planners, students, clients and anyone else involved in the construction and operation of buildings….

Fire in old buildings

Fire in old buildings

The devastating fire at the Grade I listed, 18th century National Trust mansion at Clandon Park, Surrey, once again highlights the need to do everything we can to protect old buildings. Whatever the size of the building, there are simple measures that can be taken to reduce the risk of fire, ensure early warning of a…

Adapting old buildings

Adapting old buildings

The need for fresh air and light in buildings is something I’m often talking and writing about because it’s central to creating a good home, but the theme is nothing new. I was reminded of this when I recently visited the King Edward VII Estate, near Midhurst, West Sussex. Here, the former sanatorium is being…

Building lime knowledge

Building lime knowledge

Lime, in the form of mortars, renders, plasters and paints, is a key component of old buildings and essential to their repair – or at least it should be. Today lime-based materials are also emerging into the mainstream and being used within low carbon construction systems, employed in everything from homes to superstores. All this…

Drain problems

Drain problems

A blocked drain is not a pleasant thing to wake up to. What’s worse is the realisation that it’s something that can generally be avoided by doing what I’m always talking about: maintenance. The drainage system is easily forgotten because much of it is hidden away underground but, as with any element of a building, it…

Building remembrance

Building remembrance

Visiting Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, the poppy installation at the Tower of London, reminded me that the built environment frequently plays an important part in both remembrance and memory. Each of the 888,246 ceramic poppies that flood the moat of the Tower depicts a death in the British forces in the First…

Materials testing

Materials testing

New techniques and materials aimed at producing low carbon solutions mean this is an exciting time to be involved with new build and retrofit. There are dangers though, in the rush to innovate there may be failures along the way so it’s vital that there’s scrupulously testing and monitoring at all stages. This is why…

Hidden London

Hidden London

Impending development often means there is a chance to step back in time because archaeological investigation may be undertaken as part of the work. This is especially true in London where layers of history have been laid down by successive generations as the city has evolved. Visiting Barratt London’s Landmark Place site close to the…

SPAB Working Party

For the last 25 years conservation experts and volunteer heritage enthusiasts have come together to join the annual Working Party run by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB). I went along to join them and created a video about the Working Party at Sullington Manor Farm near Storrington, West Sussex. They were working…

Listed building allure

Listed building allure

Every year, many of the estimated 450,000 listed buildings in the UK change hands on the property market. In England and Wales these properties are designated Grade I, Grade II* or Grade II having being deemed to be of historical, cultural or architectural interest. All buildings built before 1700 Tweet

Environmental Pocketbook

Environmental Pocketbook

If you’re going to invest in just one book on sustainable, low carbon building I’d strongly suggest that you make it The Environmental Design Pocketbook. Now in its second edition, this useful volume by Sofie Pelsmakers should be essential reading for architects, designers, developers, planners, students, clients and anyone else involved in the construction and operation of buildings….

Fire in old buildings

Fire in old buildings

The devastating fire at the Grade I listed, 18th century National Trust mansion at Clandon Park, Surrey, once again highlights the need to do everything we can to protect old buildings. Whatever the size of the building, there are simple measures that can be taken to reduce the risk of fire, ensure early warning of a…

Adapting old buildings

Adapting old buildings

The need for fresh air and light in buildings is something I’m often talking and writing about because it’s central to creating a good home, but the theme is nothing new. I was reminded of this when I recently visited the King Edward VII Estate, near Midhurst, West Sussex. Here, the former sanatorium is being…

Building lime knowledge

Building lime knowledge

Lime, in the form of mortars, renders, plasters and paints, is a key component of old buildings and essential to their repair – or at least it should be. Today lime-based materials are also emerging into the mainstream and being used within low carbon construction systems, employed in everything from homes to superstores. All this…

Drain problems

Drain problems

A blocked drain is not a pleasant thing to wake up to. What’s worse is the realisation that it’s something that can generally be avoided by doing what I’m always talking about: maintenance. The drainage system is easily forgotten because much of it is hidden away underground but, as with any element of a building, it…

Building remembrance

Building remembrance

Visiting Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, the poppy installation at the Tower of London, reminded me that the built environment frequently plays an important part in both remembrance and memory. Each of the 888,246 ceramic poppies that flood the moat of the Tower depicts a death in the British forces in the First…

Renovation tale – Part 1

Renovation tale – Part 1

This is the tale of my first major renovation project some years ago… On the table is the surveyor’s report; yellow Post-it notes stick from its pages in such profusion that they no longer have any relevance. Phrases like “needs attention”, “must be thoroughly overhauled” and “a fair amount of dampness” are highlighted by marker… Continue Reading