Challenges of Heritage Refurbishments

We are nearing the end of our major refurbishment project at 9 New Square in Holborn, London. We have transformed this beautiful heritage building into a modern and functional office space for our client. Although working with buildings such as this, with their varied history and construction experiences can be exciting, it does come with it challenges.

When you start work on older buildings, you know all too well what you can uncover. In this instance, we were lucky in that we knew of some of its history – as the building suffered a direct hit from a World War One German bomb which caused structural issues to the roof. However, despite this, we could find unknown additional structural issues deeper within its walls, as well as modern issues such as asbestos.

It is important to remember that when working with a listed, or particularly old building, the main difficulty is in ensuring that it can be transformed into a viable, working office and incorporate everything that a modern work environment requires – data and electrical requirements, staff welfare facilities, as well as meeting modern stringent building and fire codes. Despite this, it’s also crucial to find a harmonious balance of respect between the old and the new. This is where design plays a crucial importance. There is no room to manoeuvre when it comes to safety and building control standards – that is a ‘must’ which can sometimes forgo the desired finish. However, with carefully integrated design features, you can ‘tip a nod’ to the past and create a beautifully balanced workspace.


Some of the design issues you’ll definitely encounter in a heritage style building includes floor levels – they’re not always even and if your client wants to have glass panelling anywhere, it takes time, effort and a skilled operative to ensure that this can be achieved. Light and open plan environments can also be tricky – historical buildings are still standing because they were built to stand for many, many years. Some traditional methods of construction mean that not all walls can be removed for that open environment – however, with some careful furniture layouts, and clever use of lighting and colour combinations, it’s possible to give a sense of space. One major issue is whether there is an element in the building that is protected by law, it’s very common in buildings of historical significance, and perhaps this element isn’t something your client is excited about having to keep. However, in instances such as this, it’s better to embrace that head on, and fully integrate it as feature in the overall design. Make it centre stage. Make it a talking point of significance.

Although challenging, buildings that have stood for hundreds of years can come with amazing benefits that are totally unique. While working on the project at 9 New Square we have uncovered paperwork from the 1800s, original intricate windows from the turn of the century, and an old post box integrated into the wall. These fascinating finds are a blessing when it comes to interior design, they can be cleaned up and showcased, turned into artwork to create a curiosity for our client’s and their guests that it something truly one of a kind.

Sorrel has years of experiences of working in such buildings, and although the idea of refurbishment may sound daunting, with our breadth of knowledge and contacts, we’ll make the process as simple as possible. If you’re thinking of a future project, please contact us.