One of our latest projects is renovating a beautiful old North Norfolk barn into a new home. One of the challenges with this project was how to join two smaller barns together. In this instance, our client wanted a fairly traditional approach: a simple glazed corridor with tiled roof and supporting posts. But it’s a good example of the type of project where there is plenty of scope to blend old with new.

With the renovation of any old building, there are plenty of decisions to be made around how closely the new parts of the building should emulate the traditional style. Should you try to make it blend in? Or should you find a way to make the new parts of the build really stand out as modern and different?

Choosing the latter option can result in some truly stunning designs. But the key is making sure the two styles complement each other to create a beautiful, cohesive structure, not one that’s fighting with itself.

Here are some of our top tips for success when combining old with new:

Work with a good architect

A large part of the skill in combining old and new will depend on the skill and competence of your architect. It also depends on good communication. Between you, you need to have a very clear idea about what you want as the result.

Understand any restrictions

Make sure your plans meet any local authority requirements. If your building is in a conservation area getting permission for a design that includes modern features may require some compromise. If the building is listed, you’ll need listed building consent from the local council. The council’s conservation officers may insist you use traditional building materials and techniques (even in places that can’t be seen, such as under floors). This may limit your options.

Select your materials carefully

Different materials can be used to create a modern interpretation of an original building. One way to do that is to change texture and surface finishes e.g. smooth to rough.

When working within the old structure, it can be a good idea to try and use reclaimed materials such as bricks and beams where possible. However, where old meets new, or old meets your outside space, there can be scope to take advantage of more modern materials. Glass is a fantastic example.

Consider the connection

The point where old meets new, if the renovation includes a new extension, is important. It often gives a great opportunity to create something really special. Make a visual distinction between the old and new through material selection, colour, finish, scale and clever detailing.

Think about the details

Attention to detail can be key to the success of blending old and new. Take flooring, for example. When selecting flooring for a modern extension on a historical structure, consider how the new surface will suit any surviving older flooring. Should you try and find salvaged materials for the new flooring so the transition is seamless? Or work the other way, and resurface the old flooring to match the new? Or is there a detail of the old flooring that you could echo in the new flooring – a border, or colour of wood?

The question to keep coming back to is “will the new suit the old?”.

Be inspired!

There are plenty of examples of renovation projects that have done a fantastic job of teaming old with new. Search online for some inspiration (we love this article on Houzz). When you see it done well, it’s easy to see how contemporary additions can reinvigorate aging structures while complementing them.