As someone who has not yet reached the first slippery rung of the property ladder, I spend a lot of time thinking about what kind of home I would like. The ideal for me has always been a Georgian farm or townhouse with high ceilings, sash windows and a huge kitchen.
Then I started thinking about it a little bit more and realised that from the point of view of national heritage, taking on a historic property is actually a pretty big responsibility. By choosing an old building as your home, and preserving its existence, you are allocating yourself the role of its guardian for the time being.
It may sound like I’m over egging it, but the decisions you make regarding its decoration, and repair could affect its conservation (and local history) in the years to come. One of the biggest of these decisions is whether to restore it to its former glory, or renovate it and make it like new.
If you restore a building, you do what you can to repair original features, replicate old furnishings and imitate the décor from its past. Renovating may include elements of this, but on the whole, renovators feel less of an obligation to stick to period design, and the appearance may be more contemporary.
The big draw of restoring is the idea that you will conserve the essence of the home and return it to its former glory. If you want visitors to feel as though they have stepped back in time, this is definitely the route to take.
However, this can be incredibly hard work — not to mention, expensive. If it is going to be done, it should really be done properly which means sourcing archetypal fittings.
Moreover, our lives are incredibly different to our predecessors meaning our room requirements are very different. For example, the advent of the indoor bathroom means that houses built before were not built with this in mind and an existing room may have been converted to accommodate one on a make-do basis.
This is where renovation has the upper hand. Sad as it may be to rip out original fixtures, a home should fit the needs of the family who live in it today, not the owners from two centuries ago. It also needs to be flexible so that future owners can see it serving their needs too. If not, unless listed, it could end up being demolished and replaced.
A renovation needn’t be totally reckless in its treatment of period features. It is easy to blend the old and new to create a stylish and functional space and most renovation projects will at least maintain the traditional exterior. The juxtaposition between sleek modern pieces and well-loved antiques is a staple in contemporary interior design.
But it all comes down to personal preference. Painstakingly restoring a house is vastly rewarding and you don’t have to deny yourself mod-cons for the sake of historical correctness. And renovating a property does not mean erasing the past. If buildings are going to stand the test of time, their owners need to remember what we have learnt from evolution — adaptation is the key to survival.
So, (if and) when I get my hands on that Georgian farm/townhouse I will compromise. Period fires, tiles, ballustrades and the like are welcome to stay (if in a usable state of course), but if I need to remodel the layout to make room for a kitchen-diner, being a conservationist is not going to stand in my way.