Old Barnstaple House Blog 5: Choosing professionals

Build It expert Alan Tierney explains how he selected the consultants and architects for his period renovation
by Alan Tierney
27th October 2019

Having settled on the general outline of what we want to achieve from our refurbishment project, it was time to put together the team that would be able to deliver it.

I’m in the unusual position of being able to cover a lot of requirements myself, both in hands-on work and providing the detailed knowledge and understanding of old buildings that’s essential for this kind of project.

Old Barnstaple House Blog 4: Initial Planning

For most people finding a good historic building consultant to assess the building, develop and guide a well-considered approach, specify materials and techniques and more would be essential as a key component of the team.

Period ceiling beams

This aspect is often covered by appointing an accredited conservation architect but I’ve always thought that the roles are different and the best results come from collaboration between professional advisors with strong conservation backgrounds but potentially  different perspectives.

Learn more: The Value of Hiring Consultants for your Building Project

For this reason I needed to appoint a first class conservation architect to work with me on the overall approach as well as detailed design work for the new-build elements, windows, doors etc.

Appointing an architect is tricky–it has the potential to make or break your project but there are several factors to take into account.

Technical competence is obviously a pre-requisite and that includes proper conservation credentials. Some practices advertise themselves as conservation architects on the basis of quite limited knowledge and experience. Check out their previous work and interrogate their commitment to conservation.

Period fireplace

After that are more intangible, but no less important considerations:do they share your vision for what you want to achieve and will you have a good working relationship with them. Don’t underestimate the importance of personal chemistry!

I looked at a number of well-regarded conservation practices before I met Jo Hibbert of Levitate, on strong recommendation, at a SPAB conference. Jo has a very solid conservation background with many years’ experience; I was very impressed by her past work.

We met up for an extensive site visit, going over the whole house in considerable detail, discussing my objectives and philosophy. Jo bought into that approach wholeheartedly and had many very positive suggestions for both refurbishment and new-build elements.

Importantly we also got on very well – I’m confident we have just the architect we need.

Floorboard view

I will be using an independent building inspector rather than Local Authority Building Control to ensure we satisfy building regs. A trail of recommendations has led to an inspector who understands the needs of old buildings and how to apply the regulations sympathetically.

I’m fortunate that Mike Wye Associates, a past Build It Award winner, are local and I already know them well. They will supply many of my materials, do some contract work and provide a useful sounding board for ideas and local contacts.

Cellar of old house

Site carpenter, plumber and electrician have come from a network of recommendations. They all have some key factors in common with experience working on old buildings and good reputations for high levels of skill and reliability.

Most importantly they see the complications of working around an old building with difficult quirks and the need to come up with imaginative solutions as an enjoyable challenge rather than a chore.

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