What do you do when you want to renovate a property, but it has listed building status? Nick Cryer from Berkeley Place explains some of the challenges
Berkeley Place is a traditional English construction and project management company based in Bath and Bristol. During the pandemic, the team has been inundated with work, as everyone escaped the cities and left Nick and his colleagues to get on with restoration of older properties. Of course, restoration of historic buildings, particularly when they are listed, throws up all sort of additional challenges, from how to heat them, to how to install efficient windows without compromising the style of the building.
We asked Nick how Berkeley Place approaches the work. Find out more at https://berkeleyplace.co.uk.
P&H: What do you like to know from a client before beginning a design brief? What is important to you to find out in your first meeting?
NC: We always try to establish how far a client has developed their own thinking in terms of what they feel they would like visually and practically. We listen very hard and take lots of notes, and we challenge and test what a client says just to be sure they mean what they say. We can tell a lot from the language and references they use, it provides clues around how informed they are, and how broad and established their thinking has been to date. It’s good to try and gauge what is ‘fixed’ and where the gaps are in their thinking.
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P&H: What is so compelling to you as a designer about listed properties?
NC: Listed properties ooze character and history and we are always excited to know more about each property’s previous custodians, and how the changing needs of family living over the past 200 years or more, evidenced in the current fabric. Usually, there is a catalogue of features and scars which hint at each property’s ‘story so far’. We love the challenge signs within the historic fabric.
P&H: What are the biggest challenges you face today when designing listed properties and how do you work to overcome them?
NC: Overcoming the challenges is part of the fun. It is illegal to change the character and/or remove historic fabric from a listed building without first securing the appropriate consent. Many of our clients have often been poorly informed about what this means, and the extent to which their intentions might be restricted. We find we can usually help them navigate through the process and get somewhere towards a desired outcome albeit, there is most often some degree of compromise. The earlier clients engage with us the better. Having a pre-existing sound reputation and a track record of dealing with the local conservation officer is essential. You have to choose your battles, and remain realistic but, it is surprising what we have achieved over the years.
P&H How does location affect the design decisions you make?
NC: External scenery plays a big part since this impacts the internal format and layout. External noise levels impact potential sleeping spaces in particular. The sun path around a property is also a key influencing factor, particularly in regard to the optimum position for dining and socialising internally and externally.
P&H: How are you, as a designer, innovating with regards to creating new and engaging spaces?
NC: Most of our work involves restoring and remodelling listed properties, where the biggest challenge involves integrating historical detailing with contemporary fittings. Distribution of mechanical and electrical systems around a listed property is challenging, especially when it comes to forced ventilation and comfort cooling. Old buildings were not designed to accommodate bathrooms and kitchens in the form of spaces we expect them today, so as well as establishing suitable accommodation, owners can often overlook the need to reinforce and upgrade the structural capacity of spaces that were never designed to accommodate the weight of heavy baths and wall to floor tiling, for instance.
“What shall we do with the AGA?” is a regular dilemma for our clients. Berkeley Place clients regularly find one in their period homes. AGA ovens have become an iconic fixture in kitchens around the world since they were invested in 1922. They are extremely versatile and simple to use and they are robust – the oldest working model dates back to 1932. While some say they are expensive to run, take into account that they can eliminate the need for toasters, microwaves and radiators.
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P&H: How have client expectations changed and how does this affect what you do as a designer?
NC: Clients have much more access to design ideas now, through social media channels and images found on the likes of Instagram, Houzz and Pinterest. We find our clients usually arrive armed with a pre-existing palette of ideas in the form of photos, which is very useful – especially if they are taken from our website! Often clients have watched the design and project delivery programmes on TV, so they also have a view on time and cost, and sometimes the issues and events which can arise, although, much of this can be misleading if digested out of context. Seldom are clients complete virgins to property enhancement. Communication channels are plenty so, we can find clients communicating with us via multiple channels, which can be a challenge.
P&H: What does a great interior space look and feel like to you?
NC: We find well designed space captures the purpose of the space. It should create a feeling of wellbeing and visual interest. A space designed to make an occupant feel relaxed should do exactly that whereas, a task-oriented space should facilitate the task. Furniture and fittings should complement this.
P&H: Have you experienced changes in budgets and the way people are spending and how have you responded to this as a designer?
NC: We are fortunate to regularly work with clients who can afford substantial budgets but, that said, every client we work with will have a limit to the sum they wish to invest in an asset so, we always need to exercise robust systems to control expenditure and deliver best value. We find most clients want to see tangible evidence of value being delivered. There is an underline concern at present about inflation, and this is causing some decision inertia.
P&H: Which countries and other designers do you look to for inspiration?
NC: Everywhere we look there are amazing examples of fabulous creativity, and the UK is not short of talent in this area. I have always been a fan of Tara Bernard and Shalini Misra, who have some of the most incredible residential design projects among their global portfolio. Some of the vision we see from China, Japan and South America are also terrific sources of inspiration.
P&H: What do you see as being the biggest design ideas/trends for 2022?
NC: Integrating home working remains a prevalent trend, while the world recovers from the pandemic. Emphasis on organic, natural and sustainable solutions with recycled vintage and retro furniture. Minimal and decluttered spaces with reduced creature comforts. Lots more glass and a lot less plastic. Smart furniture with integrated technology is likely to fast become a common feature.
This feature was first published in the Spring issue of Property & Home With Martin Roberts. Read more here.