Many of us have fond memories of our childhood homes — of opening Christmas presents in the living room, baking cakes in the kitchen and sliding precariously down the hallway banister. Alvin Augstein has, however, more than distant memories to remind him of the house where he was born, because he and his wife, Amanda, have meticulously restored the crumbling Georgian shell, right down to the paint colours on the walls and the curtains hanging at the windows.
- Name: Alvin and Amanda Augstein
- Build Cost: £325,000
- Build Time: 3 Years
- Build Route: Self Managed
- Region: Cambridgeshire
“My parents bought the house back in 1957, and three years later I was born there,” Alvin explains. “The building was suffering badly with subsidence and so my father eventually built a replacement house next door and we moved into that instead and continued to farm the surrounding land. Although I only spent my first five years living in The Old Laurels I have extraordinarily vivid memories of that time, which I was able to call upon when we decided to restore the house.”
Years passed and, despite a demolition order being applied, the 1830s property remained standing and was used as a grain store for the family farm. Alvin married Amanda and they built a bungalow for themselves beside his parents’ new home in the farmyard, from where they could still see the original house – which sported broken windows that reminded Alvin of a gaptoothed child. The unstable rear of the Georgian building was of inferior construction on virtually nonexistent foundations, and had been partially demolished back in the 1960s by Alvin’s father, but the imposing front façade remained relatively intact.
“In 1982 the building was listed Grade II and put on English Heritage’s buildings at risk register,” says Amanda. “In other words, the family was legally obliged to rebuild the house. We were all keen to restore the property to its former glory and employed a quantity surveyor in 1993 who estimated the costs even back then to be £225,000 – including at least £50,000 just to correct the subsidence. Property prices were in the doldrums at that time and we didn’t want to spend the rest of our lives paying excessive mortgage costs, so it was put on the back burner for several more years while we worked to raise the money.”
By this time, Alvin and Amanda had four children of their own – Bradley, Chloe, Phoebe and Bernie. The couple gained planning permission for two other dwellings on the three-acre farm site which they built to rent out with the express intention of funding the restoration of The Old Laurels. “Our plan was to rebuild the house back to its original size, in keeping with the traditional Georgian style, and we asked the same architect who had designed the other properties on the farm to work with us on the plans,” says Alvin.
Building work finally began several years later when trial holes were dug, the central wall of the house was underpinned and new foundations formed to the rear of the structure on the site of the old servants’ quarters. At this point it became evident that a well existed in what would previously have been the scullery, and this has been retained as a feature in the new study and capped with glass. “We could have made the house smaller at the back to avoid the well, but in the end we decided to extend this part of the building slightly to accommodate it, which was an added complication,” Amanda explains.
Enough bricks were salvaged from the original walls to reuse for the new rear portion of the building, which is of cavity brick and block construction. Alvin’s father had carefully stripped and stored the old roof slates several years before and these were mixed with other reclaimed Welsh slates for an authentic finish, but this time the rear roof structure has been altered to prevent the recurring problems associated with the former valley construction. “Even as a child I can remember water coming in every time it rained,” says Alvin, “and although I would have loved to recreate it exactly as before it just didn’t work, so we now have a standard pitched roof as opposed to a double-pitch structure.”
To say that rebuilding the house has been a labour of love would be a gross understatement. Not only did the family tackle an enormous amount of the physical work, spending between 80 and 100 hours each week on site, but their research has been painstaking.
“We were constantly torn between meeting current Building Regulations and listed building consent,” says Amanda. “Sometimes they wanted opposite things and we had to try and make the right decisions for the house, but in the end we applied common sense and followed Building Regulations for the new part and listed building requirements for the old. For example, we repaired the original single-glazed sash windows to the front and fitted bespoke double-glazed windows at the rear.”
Flexible plastic plumbing meant that all of the original pitch pine floors could be left untouched in the old part of the house, with reclaimed cast iron radiators installed to heat the rooms. The original doors were sent away to be stripped and then, rather than repaint them, were waxed to match the natural wood skirtings and architraves throughout the house. One of the family’s biggest disappointments was that all of the original fireplaces were stolen from the derelict building just nine months before work was due to start on the restoration, and appropriate replacements needed to be found.
Most of the internal lime plaster had already been lost due to damp and so the whole house was insulated and dry-lined to modern standards, but the couple kept pieces of the old lime plaster to try and match the original paint colours in the rooms. “We tried out different colours on the walls, but they looked awful against the white marble fireplace,” says Alvin. “In the end we chose a very dark green which looks perfect.”
Sadly, Alvin’s father died before he could see The Old Laurels in all its restored glory, but his mother, June, now lives in the old coach house beside the main house. This was rebuilt as an annexe in a traditional style, using reclaimed materials to reflect the house.
“When June first saw our dining room curtains, which we matched from Alvin’s memories, she couldn’t believe just how similar they were to the originals,” says Amanda, who undertook all of the decorating with help from the children. “We could easily have changed certain things but Alvin was adamant that he wanted to restore the house as accurately as possible – right down to the banisters. Obviously rebuilding a listed property does cost far more than building a new house from scratch, but it has been worth the hard work to finally see the house regain its dignity after all these years.”
If Your Home is Listed
Many buildings built between 1700 and 1840 are listed. The most likely grading for a home is Grade II, meaning it is considered ‘nationally important and of special interest’. You can find out whether your property is listed by contacting your local authority. If you wish to alter or extend a listed building in a way that affects its character, you must first apply for listed building consent from your local planning authority. Most like-for-like repairs and maintenance don’t require consent but you should always check with the local authority before starting work. Listed status covers a whole building, inside and out, along with any outbuildings, walls etc. built before 1948 within the property’s curtilage, and each building is different – so there are no set rules for what you can or can’t do without consent. Carrying out unauthorised works to a listed building is a criminal offence. Grants may be available for some listed buildings – again, this varies between local authorities – but there are some VAT incentives for alterations (not repairs) requiring listed building consent.