Modernising a Georgian building is not for the faint-hearted, but the joys, the adventure and the sense of achievement following such a project certainly outweigh any challenges faced along the way.
Iconic Georgian buildings such as 15 Marlborough Buildings in Bath, the property I recently renovated into three separate maisonettes, required vision and nerve not least due to the laws in place for listed buildings. We faced obstacles from various stakeholders and as a result I had to employ the skills of a diplomat as well as a designer.
The original pennant stone floor and Victorian range of the carefully preserved grand kitchen contrast with the contemporary fittings and white AGA
But the delights of modernising a Georgian building are undeniable. Discovering original features, such as the butler’s safe, the vast original kitchen and the wine cellar, incorporating them into the scheme and making them relevant were particular highlights of this project.
Clearly, the more useable space there is, the more value one can create. In Georgian buildings there’s the wonderful light that emanates through the enormous sash windows, the proportion of the rooms and the 15ft ceilings spanning the width of the building. And then there’s the beautiful sustainable materials used in its original construction – no plastic, MDF or synthetic materials.
First-floor master bedroom with marble fireplace and original features
Incorporating my contemporary designs into a classic Georgian structure, opening up the fireplaces, watching the paint drying on the walls and listening to music coming out of the new AV system for the first time gave me such a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction. Working on a project such as this one cannot help but be touched by a sense of history and the determination to do justice to the past.
Here are my tips for taking on a Georgian modernisation, without jeopardising its integrity or mimicking the past:
1. 15 Marlborough Buildings took more than two years to complete, from buying it to selling it. Don’t underestimate how long it will take and therefore the level of the commitment required and the length of time finance will be required for.
2. Be prepared to rethink designs when things don’t go to plan or problems are revealed once building starts. Never forget that what's on paper may not work in reality.
3. If possible work with tradesmen you know and trust and who have worked with listed buildings before and know what is required.
4. Be on site as much as possible to check what is being done and ensure a standard is maintained.
5. Get a good architect who can think around problems and is good at communicating with the planners.
6. Complete the design and renovation as if it's going to be your own home. You have to care about the detail and integrity of the final finish.
7. Stick to your budget and time line – it's not easy but it's essential.
8. Think about who might buy the property and the likely price point before starting the project – work backwards from the potential sale.