How to work with historic and listed buildings

Listed Buildings are those that are considered to have special architectural and historic interest. They are afforded a higher level of protection and scrutiny in law and by the planning system to protect them for future generations. How to work with historic and listed buildings can therefore present more of a challenge, but can also prove to incredibly rewarding.

As a ‘rule of thumb’, all buildings built pre-1700 (in good original condition) and the majority of buildings constructed between 1700 and 1850 are likely to be listed.

There are three levels of listing, defined by Historic England as follows:

  • Grade I buildings are of exceptional interest (2.5% of listed buildings)
  • Grade II* buildings are particularly important buildings of more than special interest; (5.8% of listed buildings)
  • Grade II buildings are of special interest (91.7% of all listed buildings)


Historic buildings are a non-renewable resource, and living in one can be a great source of pride and enjoyment. For their owners, however, the desire to change, adapt and extend can be no different to any other property. The good news is that a listed status does not prevent change.

An application for listed building consent will be required to ensure that any works proposed are approved by the relevant local authority. Whether you are aiming to create additional living space, improve or maintain the existing fabric or enhance your home’s appearance, it is essential that the change is justified and the consequences evaluated. The local authority will make decisions that balance the historic significance of the property against other issues, such as function, condition or viability.

The process of discovering why your property is significant will help you and your architect to evaluate any changes. Understanding the building through its development, materials, construction methods, finishes, setting and connections to historical events or characters can make for fascinating research that will help inform what works are possible.

An architect with experience of listed buildings can help you to understand and negotiate the sometimes convoluted process of obtaining consent. Compared to a ‘standard’ planning application, the listed building process and requirement for supplementary information often means that a higher fee, and additional consultants/specialists are required.

Preliminary discussion with your local authority via a pre-application submission is advised and allows a Conservation Officer to respond to your proposals, comment on the likely success of any application and offer guidance on any necessary adjustments. Early engagement with the relevant officer also helps to build a good relationship – which can be a significant advantage over the course of a project. 

The use of traditional building materials and methods when dealing with historic properties is recommended. Modern building techniques and materials can often be resisted by Conservation Officers and may even result in the long-term deterioration of the existing building. Expert guidance is advised to ensure compatibility and best practice. Inevitably, this approach can sometimes be a little more expensive, but will ultimately help protect the character of your home.

Increasingly architects are asked to consider measures to improve the energy efficiency of historic properties. While the Building Regulations offer listed buildings exemption from some requirements to meet current standards, there is an acceptance that the performance of our existing building stock should be addressed. As with any changes to historic buildings, the need to understand not only the impact of any proposals on the character of the property but how the fabric may be affected is essential.

Tonic Architecture is a RIBA registered firm with extensive knowledge of how to work with historic and listed buildings of all grades. Choosing an accredited RIBA Chartered Practice will give you peace of mind. They comply with strict criteria covering insurance, health and safety, and quality management systems.

Contact Tonic today to discuss your ideas and plans.

Icomb Place

The Team

Joe Young


Jess Baker

Architectural Assistant

Daniel O’Brien

Architectural Assistant


Some of what we do


With you step by step

Step 1

The Chat

No commitments, no cost, just a simple conversation to better understand your thoughts.
Step 2

Your Needs

Capturing your requirements, helping establish potential costs and the top level structure.
Step 3

The Brief

Turning your requirements into a working brief that allows us to explore key details and techniques.
Step 4


Using the agreed brief to explore ideas and approaches in the form of conceptual designs and sketches.
Step 5


Taking the concepts further to look at how space is being used, focusing on how people interact.
Step 6


The next level of design, adding the critical details that inform the planning process and the project process.
Step 7


We work with the construction team to manage the approach to the project, from briefing and beyond.
Step 8


Reviewing all aspects of the delivery, checking compliance with the plans and giving you full confidence.
Step 9

In Use

We review with you post completion how the project has gone and how it is working out in use.

Views from Clients and Contractors

Having discussed the project with a number of other architects it was refreshing to find a contemporary but sensitive approach to the refurbishment of a historic building. Their attention to detail throughout the design, planning process and build was excellent.

B Arron

They have overcome many challenging planning issues and technical building problems, navigating the project team through historical building projects while keeping a keen eye on the clients’ wishes for design. It is a pleasure to work with them.

Tom Carter. Director, Stonewood Builders Ltd.