I Want to Change the Internal Layout

Changing the internal layout or plan of a house can be a major undertaking. As the layout is one of a building’s most important characteristics, think carefully before you begin to make any plans. The layout dictates such things as the size and shape of rooms, the positions of staircases, doors and windows and how rooms connect.

If your house is listed you may need listed building consent to change the internal layout. You should seek advice on this before carrying out any changes.

Layout tells the story of a house

The layout of a historic house is valuable because it tells the history of how the house was used when first built, and how it might have changed over time, because of fashion and as living standards improved. Some types of plan were popular during particular periods in the past, and if they have not been altered, these can be both interesting and important.

Some houses, like those in town terraces, have fairly standardised plans, usually with just two or three main rooms on each floor. Other houses have more individual layouts. You may find that the original plan was quite simple, but has been complicated by later changes, such as partition walls or new passages.

Later extensions may also alter the original plan and could change the character of the house. Sometimes there is a good case for returning to the original layout, although some alterations themselves may be part of why the house is significant.

Your house’s original plan

A good first step is to try to understand what the original plan was like, and how it altered over the years. You could begin by making a rough sketch-plan of the house as it is now and then mark on it which parts seem to be original, which might be later but still old, and which are more recent. You may be able to find an old plan of the house in an archive.

With old houses it’s usually a good idea to work with the historic ‘grain’ of the building when thinking about making internal alterations. This usually means keeping the main rooms and the stairs in their existing positions.

It may be possible to remove internal walls to make larger rooms or to divide a large room to make smaller spaces. But this will very much depend on the importance of the wall or room. In most cases – and usually in listed buildings – you will be expected to keep old walls, or at least enough to show where they were.

Knock-on effects of layout changes

Some internal walls are structural, which means that they help to hold the house up and cannot be removed unless an alternative means of support is provided, like a steel beam. If you alter the internal layout you will need to think about how this will affect the decorations and fittings of the rooms – features such as plaster cornices and door frames. Adjoining rooms may have different characters, which are worth respecting.

An alteration to one part of your house may have knock-on effects. For anything other than the simplest alteration you should contact an architect or surveyor who has experience of adapting older buildings. If there are structural alterations you may also need the services of a structural engineer to submit calculations for building regulations approval.

If you plan to convert an existing cellar or basement into a habitable room you will also need professional advice. Often these spaces were designed just for storage and when below ground are often relatively damp. To counteract the damp, plenty of ventilation was usually provided so that these rooms remained partially dry. If the ventilation is restricted, which would be the case with conversion, the damp needs to be controlled by other means.

For listed buildings, choose a professional who is used to the challenge of fitting modern life into old house layouts.

For help with researching your house, see Your Home's History.