How to Approach Decorating a Listed Building

Do you live in a heritage building and would like to redecorate? Redecorating an older property not only improves the appearance but can also increase the longevity of the original features.

Before we begin, it is important to remember that if your home is listed or in a conservation area, you are advised to seek advice before making any changes, as consent may be required.

External decoration can protect your building

Regular redecoration of the external part of the property is important for listed buildings as it can help prevent decay. This is especially true for external woodwork. Windows and doors need regular painting to protect the wood from the weather. The only exception is old hardwood such as oak, as this can be left unpainted and may benefit from being oiled or using other traditional treatments.

External coatings – For example, lime render and stucco – may need special ‘breathable’ paint such as limewash that can protect the material but will not trap moisture in the wall. In old properties, it is important to let moisture in the walls evaporate so that it does not cause damp.

Painting brick, stone or concrete walls can create damp problems and modern paint can be almost impossible to remove without causing some form of damage. If your walls are already painted, you should still seek advice.

Your favourite colour

In most cases, the choice of colours for the outside of your property is up to you, although for old buildings you will usually get the most pleasing results by keeping to the traditional colours. For example, joinery older houses were often painted a dark brown rather than white. It is also important to note that modern white paints are much brighter and colder than the historic whites.

If your property is listed, you may need to get permission for external decoration if this would change the character of the building. For example, painting the outside walls if they have never been painted before, or using a bright red! In some conservation areas there may even be special controls on the colours you can use, so make sure that you check this with your local authority first.

If your property is terraced, there may be a tradition of using different bright colours, or for all houses to match; it is a good idea to consider local approaches.

The historic interior of your property

Interior decoration is very much a matter of personal taste, but there are some things that you must remember. If you live in an older property, they may be traces of interesting earlier decoration.

If your property is an important historic building, take extra care with redecoration as there may be layers of old paint that tell the story of the house. There could be unusual wall paintings hidden under later plaster, paint, or wallpaper, which need to be kept and may be worth restoring.

If you suspect that your property has early wall decoration, you may need specialist advice and conservation, rather than just redecoration. Stripping paint or lime plaster can take away layers of history that cannot be replaced. Painted or stained, rather than bare, woodwork is the norm in most historic properties and in some cases, were an important design feature. In such cases, stripping these finishes would be damaging.

Try to work with the character of your property, finding out how it would have looked, and making the most of any original decorative features. Original features such as wall-panelling, plaster cornices, picture rails and timber mouldings around doors and windows are valuable and you would need consent to take them out. Some – for example, ornamental plaster ceilings or hardwood panelling may need special treatment, so look for firms who specialise in restoring or repairing historic interiors.

Lead paint

If your house is Grade I or Grade II* listed, it may be appropriate to use traditional paints with white lead pigment or high solvent content. However, their toxicity means that they are restricted by environmental legislation and their use is permitted only under license. We hope you found these tips useful – if you require any more information, visit Historic England to find out more.

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