Formerly four small workers’ cottages, the homeowners took the decision to remove render added by previous occupants, exposing the original blue Lias limestone beneath. A porch has been built to match the stonework (but with a thatch roof to suggest that its a later addition) which visually unites the four homes together as one

Study Buildings in the Vernacular

Since the 1950s we have been living in an age of comparative prosperity. By and large people have had money for restoration, so vernacular houses have been going through a good phase, with much good repair and renovation work done. It should be possible to meet and talk to others who have undertaken similar restorations and to learn from their successes and failures.

If your work is to fit in with the vernacular it is important to study the older houses in the locality — the materials, the textures and any features that might appear to be unique to the area. Also read and study; there is plenty of material about nowadays. Don’t start work until you are thoroughly mindful of the local style.

Don’t Throw Money at a Project

SPAB (Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings) has a well-known phrase — ‘Poverty Protects’. This simple piece of advice means that you should ponder and consider before spending large amounts of money on repairing and restoring a vernacular building.

It may be that major work, involving much replacement of materials, is not needed. Sensitive repair may be all that is necessary. Often renovators with comparatively low budgets achieve better results than those with a lot of money and a penchant for unnecessary demolition.

Don’t Rush into Major Work

Live with the house for 12 months before making big decisions. You will be amazed how many times you change your mind as you learn to live with the house during different seasons. With an attractive vernacular property you should bear in mind that the planners will always regard what is there already as far more important than what you are proposing to add.

Don’t Tackle the Whole House at Once

Renovating one small area at a time makes the whole project more manageable, and means you learn skills as you go along. It may take three carpenters or blacksmiths before you find the one that works for your project. Employing tradespeople on smaller projects gives you a chance to try them out before you are committed to a large outlay.

The Complete Guide to Renovating a House provides a clear step-by-step of the renovation process

Don’t Extend by More Than 25%

If you really need that much more space then consider moving home. A cottage with a huge conservatory and granny annexe is no longer a cottage!

Adapt Your Lifestyle to Suit

Don’t expect every room to be constantly warm and dry. Cottage life was a hard life. With old cottages too many owners try to make the building fit their needs rather than adapting their lifestyle to suit the building. This means that you will have to make sacrifices.

A little damp – providing it’s not likely to cause serious damage to the building or harm to your health – will do nobody any harm. It has probably been there for generations and the rush to eliminate it may well do more harm than good. Don’t seal up rooms too tightly. Old properties with porous ‘breathing’ walls need to breathe from the inside as well as the exterior.

(MORE: Expert Q&A – Do both sides of a stone wall need to be breathable?)

Hold on to Later Additions

Don’t feel that you have to strip every room back to expose original details. Consider keeping later additions if they add to the history of the room. A 1920s fireplace retained in what was originally a Victorian chimney breast is a lot more ‘honest’ than a reproduction Victorian grate. Cottages evolved over time and we should recognise this.

Pay Great Attention to the Windows

Windows are key to the external appearance of vernacular buildings. All too often modern windows that do not match are fitted to cottages during restoration work. If you have attractive old timber windows it may be possible to undertake sensitive repairs rather than wholesale replacement.

(MORE: Traditonal Windows – Buyer’s Gallery)

You’re the Home’s Guardian

It may be legally yours, but if you are a conscientious owner, and especially if your house is listed, you have a responsibility to ensure that it remains in good condition for the use and enjoyment of future generations. It was William Morris, the founder of SPAB, who first pointed out that owners of old houses with fabric that is virtually irreplaceable are only really their guardians.

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