Do you know your renovation and restoration from your preservation and conservation?

We are experts in renovation, restoration, preservation and conservation. But are all these elements one and the same? Here Shaun Soanes explains the differences. 

In the world of architecture, terms like renovation, restoration, preservation and conservation are commonplace. But they all mean different things and the differences can have a profound effect on how we improve on a property and how we protect and preserve our heritage.


Renovation is the process of improving a broken, damaged, or outdated structure. It refers to making something look like new, or bringing something back to life.

If you’re a budding developer, renovation might mean buying a property at a low price, doing it up and then selling it for a profit. This could include modernising, refurbishment, repairing or simply redecorating.

Nicholas Jacob Architects often work on renovations, which can include extensions, alternations and structural improvements. But we also assist with the interior design of a build. This can consist of kitchen design, bathrooms, bespoke furniture and more. Providing this service allows us to deliver a one-stop shop for your architecture and interior design needs.

An example of this is our work at Rookery Farm, a late 16th Century traditional Suffolk long house with an internal exposed timber frame.  We were instrumental in realising the significant changes to the way the house was modelled, adding a contemporary extension. But the kitchen, unfixed furniture and fabrics were also designed by NJ Architects to respond to renovations, which brought the building into the 21st century. Following the completion of the kitchen the client extended the interior design to the rest of the house, to provide a comfortable and coherent feeling throughout.


Building restoration focuses on the retention of materials from the most significant time in a property’s history, while permitting the removal of materials from other periods.

A number of criteria are set out which normally make restoration acceptable.

These include:

  • Weighing up the effect of change restoration work would bring to the heritage values of the building
  • Compelling evidence for the restoration work
  • The form of the building as it currently exists is not the result of a historically significant event
  • The proposed work respects previous forms of the place
  • The maintenance implications of the proposed restoration are considered to be sustainable

The distinction between restoration and repair can sometimes become blurred. But restoration may provide conservation benefits that cannot be achieved through repair alone. For example, restoring the roof on a roofless building may be the most cost-effective way of conserving valuable internal fabric, such as wall paintings or plasterwork. It may also help to make the building physically and economically sustainable in the long term.

One of our most interesting restoration projects involved a Grade II* listed Country House.

We were commended by the Georgian Group, a charity for the protection and appreciation of British architecture of the period, for this project as well as the 2013 Award for Building Conservation at the Coastal District Council’s Quality of Place Awards and an SJCC Outstanding Craftsmanship Award in 2014.

The house had suffered many years of neglect and some unauthorised alterations had been carried out resulting in nine enforcement notices by the local authority. Restoration took two and a half years and involved unpicking modern intrusive repairs and modifying some of the more incongruous alterations.


Preservation involves keeping an object or building feature from destruction and seeing to it that the object is not irredeemably altered or changed.

While restoration and renovation consider final appearance, in preservation, the final appearance is not the prime factor. Instead, it is chiefly concerned with retaining the maximum amount of building fabric.  To do this, repairs must be done with minimal or no changes to the original building fabric in like materials and – if possible – using the same methods as first created.

Nicholas Jacob Architects has carried out a lot of work on churches where preservation is key. St Lawrence Church in Ipswich is a good example of this. Not only does it boast a fine 15th century tower and original flint work, its five bells were cast in the 1440s and are the oldest circle of five bells that are still rung in the world.

St Lawrence is owned by Ipswich Historic Churches Trust, a charitable organisation set up in 1979 to protect five redundant churches in the town centre of Ipswich. The trust ensures their preservation and maintenance, working with experts to ensure elements of special architectural and historic interest are protected.

Our work included essential repairs and renewals to brickwork, stonework and buttresses, while preserving flint work and stone mullions and restoring missing decorative stone quatrefoils band and knapped flintwork panels.

NJ Architects were highly commended for work on St Lawrence Church at the SJCC awards.


Heritage conservation doesn’t mean freezing a building in time. But it does seek to maintain and thereby increase the value of buildings by keeping their original built form and architectural elements. That is why, in conservation, the absolute maximum amount of the original material, in as unaltered a condition as possible, is preserved.

Any repairs or additions must not remove or alter any original material. In addition, all repairs or additions must be reversible and removable without affecting the condition of the original material now, and in the future.

We have recently worked on a plan for conservation for The Victoria and Albert Museum, which occupies a significant site in South Kensington and has done so since 1856.

The buildings are listed Grade I with the exception of the Henry Cole Wing which is listed Grade II*.

We carried out a survey to provide a more coherent study of the condition and status of the building and its structure, with particular attention being given to any retained historic fabric within the North Court (build date 1861-62) and the South Courts (build date 1861-62 and extension 1869-77).

Nicholas Jacob Architects were commissioned to undertake the studies to protect the conservation of this building for future generations.

In a nutshell

Renovation: making improvements and/or repairs to a building, externally and/or internally.

Example: addition of an extension to a property, replastering and redecorating.

Restoration: making repairs to a building while retaining materials from the most significant time in a property’s history.

Example: unpicking a building and removing elements which detract from its original character.

Preservation: keeping a building feature from destruction.

Example: retaining the maximum amount of building fabric with minimal repairs or changes to the original building fabric.

Conservation: seeking to maintain and increase the value of buildings by keeping their original built form and architectural elements.

Example: Ensuring the absolute maximum amount of the original material, in as unaltered a condition as possible, is preserved.

How we can help?

If you have a project that requires renovation, restoration, preservation or conservation, please get in touch with us today.

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