There are currently over 300,000 listed buildings in England alone, comprising castles and churches, commercial buildings, country homes and smaller private residences.
Living in a listed building means you get to enjoy its special character, but it also puts the onus on you, as the custodian of part of our national heritage, to look after it.
That said, many new owners of listed buildings are unclear of what the listing process actually entails, and how it will affect them as householders.
When it comes to home improvements and alterations that affect the character or appearance of the building, there are restrictions to the type of works that can be carried out. Listed Building Consent will have to be obtained before any building work can start – and this may well affect your plans for a new kitchen.
The National Heritage List for England (NHLE) has three types of listing to protect historic buildings and sites in England.
Grade I Listed Buildings
Grade I Listed Buildings are deemed to be of exceptional architectural or historic interest including those of international importance. Only a small proportion (approx. 2.5%) of listed building acquire Grade I listed status. They include Buckingham Palace and 10 Downing Street, but very few Grade I listed buildings are actual homes.
For these types of buildings, Historic England will be keen for existing exterior and interior details to remain unaltered, and this will include any architectural joinery, plaster work and original light switches.
Designing bespoke kitchens for Grade I listed homes can be fraught with difficulty; there can be issues with extraction routes, while existing joinery may well be sacrosanct. Permissible solutions will also need to be found for fixing into the existing building substance, which may consist of soft lime mortar and rubble walls.
Grade II* Listed Buildings
Grade II* Listed Buildings are considered to be particularly important buildings that are more than ‘of special interest’ (Grade II). Only around 5.5% of listed buildings are in this category.
Often, it is the case that while the house as a whole may merit Grade II listing (see below), there are certain features that are considered of particular significance. These may be treated by Historic England in the same ways as Grade I listed buildings, with no real possibility for alterations.
Designing kitchens and furniture for these properties may or may not be a problem, depending on what and where these special features are. There may be some leeway given if, say, the roof structure is protected via a Grade II listing and you’re considering a kitchen extension to the house.
Grade II Listed Buildings
92% of all listed buildings fall into this category of Grade II. These properties are deemed to be of national importance and of special interest, either architecturally or historically or both. This is the most likely grade a homeowner will encounter.
Listed Building Consent for alterations is largely given according to the discretion of the individual listed planning officer who may attach greater importance to the exterior of the building. That’s not to say that you do as you please inside your kitchen – you still need to check whether consent is required.
Your bespoke kitchen project
It’s worth pointing out that, regardless of the category, listing a property is not the same as a preservation order. Listing is not meant to freeze a building in time – there’s always a good reason why the property is deemed to be of special interest.
When replacing an existing kitchen, Listed Building Consent isn’t always needed unless you are planning to make structural changes that affect the historic character of your house. Timber beams and plaster ceilings should be kept intact when fitting new pipework or ducting for extractor fans, while new services should be easily reachable and reversible if necessary.
Do establish beforehand if your kitchen has any important historic features, particularly if you are planning to remove them, eg original bread ovens, fireplaces, fitted dressers, plaster cornices, old floor tiles or stone flags etc, will likely need consent. If you are in any doubt, check with your local planning authority before starting any work.
Converting two rooms to form one large kitchen diner, or creating a kitchen in a room not previously used as a kitchen will be much less straightforward. It cannot be stressed enough how important it is to have a clear understanding of the history of your house including its internal layout and decoration in the various rooms. Finding out exactly which features are of special interest in your listed home is a good starting point and will help you decide whether your kitchen project is feasible.
Reception rooms often have original features that must be retained, which makes it difficult to install a new bespoke kitchen into a formal room without causing unacceptable alterations to the room’s character.
Removing adjoining walls will change the historic layout of the property and could cause damage to its character. Walls that include chimney breasts or doorways, for example, or ornate plaster work and panelling, will most certainly be subject to consent, which may not be granted.
Installing a new kitchen in your listed home is not for the faint hearted, but with the expert assistance of a competent kitchen design company with experience in historic buildings, it can be done.
Looking after a listed building simply means that you must apply for Listed Building Consent in order to make any changes that might affect the special interest. If you stay within government planning guidelines and work in close cooperation with the listed planning officer, a listed building can be altered.
Autor: Mike James, with information from Artichoke Bespoke Kitchens
DISCLAIMER: This article should not be regarded as constituting legal advice in relation to particular circumstances. This article is merely a general comment on the relevant topic.