The ability to repair what is broken or damaged seems to be much undervalued in modern society. If you talk to anyone who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, repairing was part of everyday life thanks to the culture of ‘make do and mend’ — socks were darned and clothing was passed down.

With buildings, post-war austerity meant building materials were scarce and the concept of building from scratch and using new materials was rare. Instead, materials were reused and buildings were repaired or modified to suit new changes in taste and lifestyle. Of course, this was true prior to the 1950s too, and old buildings often feature re-used materials and features from other buildings or structures; oak from ships was often incorporated in buildings, for example.

We advocate the use of the repair philosophy and encourage this approach wherever possible — it’s much better to maintain the original fabric and materials in an old building than replace them with analogues.

This goes for any old building as the original features are what give the building its character and quite often it is not possible to substitute a modern equivalent of the same quality.

It would be nigh-on impossible to replace the original elm floorboards

For example, the elm floorboards in Mabel’s range from 8” to 16” wide and are from locally grown elm trees. Over the course of their lifetime they have become worn and irregular. For many, this would be cause to replace them.

However, due to the Dutch Elm Disease epidemic, it would not be possible to replace these boards with modern elm of such quality and to the same dimensions. But why would you want to? The patina and age associated with the floorboards contributes to the authentic character and history of the building and more than compensates for any unevenness under foot.

This philosophy holds true for all old buildings, listed or otherwise, and so it is best to consider repair first and foremost before removing original material and not to be seduced by modern replicas when the original is in perfectly serviceable order.

Of course, finding the craftsperson to repair buildings is getting more challenging as old trades have died out, but there are good sources online. Organisations such as the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings can often put you in touch with the right specialist craftsperson. 

Mabel's original window shutters

The original shutters were repaired and rehung

With regards to listed buildings, you are allowed to make ‘like-for-like’ repairs without applying for consent. Of course, there is some ambiguity about what could be interpreted as ‘like-for-like’, and it’s always best to take professional advice if you are not sure.

As winter draws in, our first repair project was to refurbish our original circa-18th century shutters in the kitchen. We found the missing middle panel of the shutters in the attic, and, with the help of our joiner Alan, we have been able to repair and rehang the shutters and restore them to their original glory.

We are thrilled that as the dark nights close in we can now hunker down in Mabel’s and keep warm!

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