Character Building: The Importance of Retaining Architectural Features

By Oliver Burns

< Back to ob world

October 14, 2013|

  • A

  • s designers and developers, we give great consideration to the architectural style and features within a building when we approach it for development. The period details alongside the building and structure dictate the style of the property and this can have many advantages when it comes to bringing a development to market. I believe that respecting and protecting original architectural features is not only the responsibility of developers and architects, given that our activities impact the way London and our countryside will look in the future, but are also a way to give property a point of difference, ultimately helping deliver that extra value, especially in a static market.
Image via Oliver Burns


There has been a substantial growth of interest in period architecture since the 1970s as more people recognise the decorative and financial impact on their homes. We don’t build Georgian townhouses and 19th Century stucco mansions anymore, so we have a duty to help preserve historically and architecturally important buildings that help define our landscape.

Although many architecturally significant buildings are listed as having special historic interest, or are in designated conservation areas, preserving architecture should go beyond doing what’s required for listed building consent. Architectural features – from exterior doors and fanlights to cornicing, windows, staircases and paneling – form the basic components of each historical style so should be considered when creating a new development.


Images via Oliver Burns

Walpole was historically important in Mayfair and St James’s being home to Britain’s first and longest serving Prime Minister, Robert Walpole. Combining two adjoining 18th century houses was not a straightforward development project and not one many wanted to take on at the time, but by marrying sympathetic restoration with the contemporary comforts and touches that discerning clients expects, we preserved its beauty whilst also breathing new life into the building. By respecting the original structure and integrity of the building, preserving the remaining architectural features such as cornices and porticos, fireplaces and windows, we have protected what Britain’s great architects created in the early 18th century.

When we bought Dalton House in Hertfordshire, it was a historically important building in St Albans but had been left to go to ruin. Many features had deteriorated so badly, we had to start again and bring in conservation specialists. Restored back to its former glory a couple of years later, it continues to stand out as a significant architectural building in St Albans today and we ended up winning a civic award for the sensitive restoration of a Georgian landmark.


Although sustainability is normally associated with well-insulated new-builds, I believe another sustainable way to do development is to preserve what’s already there and use existing resources where possible. By restoring original floors and windows, using reclaimed materials or reinstating original features, we are also supporting artisans and local craftsmanship. At Walpole Mayfair, we renovated the existing sash windows but also improved the thermal performance by adding in secondary glazing, sympathetic to the building, thereby using less materials and helping to conserve energy.

Image via Oliver Burns


In considering how we can extract the maximum value from a development, the interior as well as exterior architecture plays a significant role in this. Architectural and period features not only define the style of the building but also give it a uniqueness that is so often demanded at the top end of the market and that makes a property worth paying more for. The style of the building can also influence the design as it did for Walpole with its varying elements of traditional Georgian styling, which also went some way to helping deliver record prices per square foot.

This is reinforced by a piece of research done earlier this year by residential investment advisors, Huntley Hooper. They looked at returns from new-build and period properties over five years to the end of last year in prime central London and found older homes produced four times the return of new ones. Given that our future volume growth will come from new-build developments, it’s logical that the two will perform differently in the market as period property holds the minority stake.

Image via Oliver Burns


Aside from adding value through its appearance, historical buildings with period features also bring a point of difference to talk about to potential buyers and investors. Period features not only enhance the property but also bring a timeless appeal that is hard to emulate. These features together with purchasing a slice of British history have a certain attraction to British and International buyers alike.

Whilst having a great location and amenities are ultimately a prerequisite for prime and super-prime investors these days, it’s the level of detailing which makes a property special and takes it beyond the ordinary. We believe that architectural details are an inherent part of the design process and as important as the materials and finishes we use. Although property development is principally about economic gain, if we can realise a value through preserving some of Britain’s architecture and working sustainably at the same time, it will eventually deliver a special property worthy of a higher price.

Written by JB


Be the first to hear about our super-prime projects.