Conversions of traditional buildings


In the case of an extension or conversion to a historic farmstead, non-designated building in a conservation area, or listed building, the applicant must demonstrate that the proposal respects the character and appearance of the building and does not harm its significance or setting. Impact on surrounding heritage assets will also need to be considered (see ‘Heritage Assets’).

In cases where the structural condition of a building is in question, a full structural survey by a qualified architect or structural engineer will be required prior to application.

The original function of farm, industrial and other traditional buildings must be legible when converted.

When converting a traditional building, the fundamental plan and massing must be maintained, and insertion of new openings, or blocking of existing features, must be kept to a minimum. Where changes are proposed, these must be accompanied by a clear statement of need and assessment of impact on significance.

Back to top

Checklist for conversions of agricultural, industrial and other traditional buildings for residential use:

  • Is the building structurally sound?
  • Is it a designated heritage asset?
  • Is it a non-designated heritage asset?
  • Is there a clear understanding of significance and setting?
  • How can the internal space be configured with minimal impact on external appearance?
  • Has the plan and massing of the building remained substantially unaltered?
  • Have existing openings been retained? If not, what is the justification for change?
  • Has the roof pitch and configuration remained the same? If not, what is the justification for the change?
  • Does the proposal use local building materials?
  • Do the proposed changes to the interior and exterior preserve the historic character and significance of the building?
  • Has the layout and groupings of buildings on the overall site remained fundamentally unaltered?
  • Could there be any impact on below ground archaeology (insertion of services etc.)?

Back to top

Click to zoom in

Local Character


The applicant must demonstrate and clearly articulate how the proposed development respects or enhances local character and distinctiveness. This must be informed by an understanding of the site context, including any historic character assessment required to support the application.

On a local level, understanding the physical, cultural and spiritual factors that shape place identity is a critical first step in the design of conversions that preserve and enhance local character and make a positive contribution to placemaking.

Back to top

  • If left to weather, the local stone beneath the render becomes exposed.

  • Local stone was often traditionally covered with layers of limewash, as this decaying historic example shows.

  • Limewash was often brightly or strongly coloured as in this recently restored example.

Design of Buildings

Building type, form and detailing


The type, form and composition of conversions must be rooted in local character. The design of conversions must reflect the local vernacular architecture and traditions. Vernacular design is architecture based on local materials and traditions (where buildings were designed to meet functional needs). Vernacular architecture varies across the Lake District in response to changes in the underlying geology, that influences not only the choice of local building material, but also built forms and methods of construction.

Information on common vernacular forms, and their distribution across the Lake District, can be found in the Supporting Information. Each settlement has a distinct architectural tradition depending on several factors, but common characteristics are:

  • Buildings sit low in the landscape. Generally, they are one or two storeys high in a rural setting, extending to three storeys in towns.
  • Constructed of local building material, which means that buildings harmonise with the surrounding landscape.
  • Slatestone is dominant across much of the Lake District and is associated with the characteristic ‘drystone’ appearance of many local buildings.
  • Slatestone is frequently left exposed.
  • Rough-cast render (often painted white or cream) is also common, especially in areas of Carboniferous limestone.
  • Traditional slate roofs are ubiquitous across the Lake District and are a significant part of the character of the region. These tend to be low pitched with either equal or asymmetric eaves. The latter is often associated with a cat-slide roof over an ‘outshut’ (or lean-to). Traditionally, the slates become smaller closer to the ridge, laid in diminishing courses.
  • Window locations are dictated by internal layout and not necessarily symmetrical. Windows are generally small with deep reveals and stone mullions. Sash windows are common in properties from the late-18th century onwards and these are well-recessed into the walls.
  • The nature of the local walling stone means openings in walls are well-spaced and kept to a necessary minimum. As a result, building elevations are dominated by the stone rather than glazing or large openings, except where the building function required large openings, such as farm buildings or boathouses.
  • Dormers are rare, except in towns.
  • Chimneys are a prominent feature. Gable end-stacks are characteristic of early buildings.
  • Water-tabling – a line of projecting slates to deflect water – is a typical Lake District feature.
  • Door designs vary considerably but generally feature a prominent lintel and stone jambs. Porches or a door canopy are common, intended to offer protection to visitors from the elements.
  • Buildings are orientated to reflect the constraints of the landscape and direction of prevailing weather patterns. This varies considerably from valley to valley.

Although these features are common there are many variations according to location and designs need to respond appropriately to the specific traditions of the area. This is not intended to stifle contemporary design or encourage pastiche, but simply show how a design has been inspired by local character.

Distribution of traditional building types across the Lake District

Click to zoom in.

  • Another lime-based material, roughcast render, was used to cover stone and give a neater looking elevation.

  • It is called ‘roughcast’ because pebbles are mixed in with the lime to give a larger surface area for water to evaporate from in wet conditions.

  • Roughcast render is found across the Lake District. Image: Burlington Slate Ltd.

  • The combination of roughcast render, local slate and local stone boundary walls gives buildings a distinctly local character. Image: Burlington Slate Ltd.

  • Roughcast render is usually covered by a number of coats of limewash. Here is its bare appearance.

  • A slightly different limestone with red and purple colouration is found along the north-eastern fringe of the Lake District.

The type, form and composition of new buildings must be rooted in local character. Where development sits within the historic core of a settlement, design must reflect the local vernacular tradition (where buildings were designed to meet functional needs). This varies across the National Park in response to changes in the underlying geology, that influences not only the choice of local building material, but built forms and methods of construction.

Information on common vernacular forms, and their distribution across the National Park, can be found in the Supporting Information. This is not intended to stifle contemporary design or encourage pastiche, but simply show how a design has been inspired by local character.

In areas where there is a wider variety of architectural styles, particularly those areas of 19th and early 20th century expansion around the edges of towns, design cues should still be taken from the prevailing architectural forms of the area, although there is potentially far more flexibility in design. However, detailing should be consistent with architectural style, and mixing features within a building should be avoided. In all cases, design must be informed by analysis of context and local character.

  • An example of a farm where the farmhouse is limewashed whereas the farm buildings are left as bare stone

  • The classic hierarchy of materials: a limewashed and render farmhouse, a bare stone barn and the hardest to course stones used for the boundary wall.

Windows and Doors

Windows and doors often make the most difference to the finished appearance of conversion and are manufactured in a range of materials. The most common are wood, uPVC and powder coated aluminum.

Wooden window frames and doors will normally represent the most appropriate and sustainable option. They can be designed in ways to respect the character of any building and can be painted and repainted in any colour without replacement. If looked after and properly maintained, they will last for many years. They can be constructed to be as secure and weather-proof as uPVC windows.

UPVC and composite windows and doors come in a limited range of colours and designs. Storm casement uPVC windows (where the opening pane overlaps the frame) are the cheapest and most common window frame in use but they result in the least satisfactory appearance on houses in the Lake District. Because they are not symmetrical, they cannot replicate the appearance of a traditional casement window or a later sliding sash window which are normally symmetrical in appearance. Combined with their thick frames they are rarely an appropriate choice for a building of traditional character or one which contributes to the wider character of the area.

The use of standard uPVC storm casement windows is only likely to be acceptable in a limited range of circumstances where their use has no overall impact on the character of the building or the wider area.

Significant advancements have been made in UPVC windows. Both convincing high quality sliding sash windows and flush fitting casement uPVC windows (where the opening part of the window sits flush within the frame) which replicate traditional window types are now available. These will be considered on a case-by-case basis but will nearly always represent a more appropriate option than a uPVC storm casement window.

Powder coated aluminium frames come in a large range of colours. They are also thinner than uPVC windows so have a wider range of uses. They are often used successfully on contemporary buildings.

In some conversions, factory finished Accoya windows will not be appropriate.

The colour of windows and doors is an important part of the appearance of a building.

Darker colours are more appropriate for barn conversions rather than hew housing schemes because it is often necessary to reduce the impact of new windows and doors as far as possible, to avoid compromising the agricultural character of the building.

Anthracite Grey (dark grey) is currently a very popular choice. This colour tends to work well on contemporary rendered buildings, providing a contrasting colour with lighter rendered walls. However, it provides no contrast with buildings which have darker walls or stone walls.

Whites and off-whites which provide a strong contrast with local stone walls are normally the most appropriate choice but a range of colours including light greys, greens and blues will complement the subtle colours found in local slate and stone.

Where planning permission is not required for the replacement of windows and doors, we strongly advise that existing traditional or original windows are retained and refurbished where possible but that any replacement considers the appropriateness of the design, materials and colour to the character of the building and the area and also takes into account longevity, value for money and carbon footprint.

Back to top

  • Window 1

    Windows are often referred to as “the eyes” of a building because they make such an impact on its character and appearance.

  • window 2

    Good quality timber can provide both long-lasting frames and delicate details like these thin glazing bars.

  • window 3

    Internal shutters were the traditional means of controlling heat levels and providing security

  • window 4

    Modern style ‘tilt and turn’ casements and anthracite grey finish give an anonymous, even commercial character to window openings.

Windows and Glazing: Light Spill and Glare

The distribution, size and design of window openings, glazed doorways or other glazed apertures in conversions must:

  • Avoid light spill into the night skies. This is intrusive to both the landscape and the dark skies.
  • Prevent any large areas of glazing from being highly reflective and glint and glare in low-level sunlight. This can be particularly visually intrusive on settlement edges and on buildings in open rural contexts that can be seen over longer distances.

Back to top

The darkness of the night skies is a key characteristic of the Lake District that reflects its rural character. The skies achieving complete darkness is also of ecological importance. The unwanted impacts of light spill and highly reflective glazing can be avoided via the following measures:

  • Recessing glazing within the wall as far as is practical.
  • Using features of the building, if present, like projecting eaves or hoods directly over windows to cast additional shadow onto the glazing.
  • Using anti-reflective glazing. This is particularly effective where the aim is to make large areas of glass frameless, minimal or ‘invisible’.
  • Using the thinner varieties of double or triple glazing that have narrower air gaps between the inner and outer panes. Standard double glazing with a 24mm air gap has a noticeably stronger reflectivity than glazing with a 12mm air gap. The thinnest glazing units use an argon-filled or vacuum-sealed gap, which conduct less heat than air and so are narrower than air-filled glazing units.
  • On larger openings, using chunky and strongly projecting frames that break up the plane of glass and provide shadow.
  • Where they form a coherent part of the overall building design, external shutters are a form of heat control that also assists with light spill and glare. On winter nights they keep heat and light inside when closed, but on hot and sunny days they keep intense sunlight and heat from reaching the glass when closed.
  • Back to top

Building Materials

The colour and textures of materials in conversions must harmonise with local character and landscape, although this does not prevent the use of both to add focus and interest to the streetscape where justified.

Stone used for the walls of buildings must match the type, appearance and method of laying that is most prevalent in the area.

Only where it is not possible to obtain stone which is typical of the area will alternatives be considered.

Roofing materials must be Westmorland green slate or blue grey slate laid in a traditional pattern of diminishing courses (where larger slates at the eaves gradually recede to the smallest slates at the ridge) and random widths.

Alternative roof coverings to local slate will only be considered in the following circumstances:

  • Where a roof is not open to public views and the building has limited landscape, historical and architectural significance.
  • Where the alternative roof covering is used sparingly as part of a cohesive design.
  • Where the context of the site and landscape character means that its use would not compromise sense of place.
  • In parts of Keswick where there is historical precedent for the use of Welsh slate and where its use would reinforce the importance of local character and sense of place.

Back to top

  • Local blue grey slate is traditionally laid in courses that increase in size towards the eaves. Image: Burlington Slate Ltd.

  • Blue grey slate is one of the local naturally occurring building materials of the Lake District. Ravenglass. Image: Burlington Slate Ltd.

  • The difference between local blue grey slate (left) and imported Spanish (right) slate is visible. Image: Burlington Slate Ltd.

  • Hawkshead has a highly harmonious appearance due to the consistent use of local blue grey slate roofing. Image: Burlington Slate Ltd.

National policy and the Local Plan support development that reinforces local distinctiveness, character and sense of place.

One of the most important ways of establishing a sense of place in the built environment is through the use of materials, most importantly through roof and wall materials. These should be complimented with an approach to windows, doors, landscaping and boundaries which reflect the quality of the landscape and the importance of the built environment.

Unlike other areas of the country where building materials are often imported or manufactured, the appearance of buildings in the Lake District is a direct product of the geology beneath them.

Whether it’s distinctively pink Eskdale granite or it’s the greens and greys of Honister stone in the centre of Keswick, when planning a design for a conversion in the Lake District, looking at the roofs and walls of your neighbours is often all that is necessary to help inform what the most appropriate approach should be.

Back to top

  • In the 18th century, polite architecture without render covering the stone would have been unthinkable. Hawkshead.

  • An uncommon example of a converted barn with limewash over the stonework. The shapes of the different materials can still be seen through the coating.

Roofing Materials

Most locally distinctive of all are the local slate roofs of the Lake District that can be seen covering the majority of buildings in the area and which make a significant contribution to sense of place, particularly when seen from above. Local slate has a thick gauge, rough hewn surface and distinctive pattern which all contribute to an appearance that is as locally distinctive when first laid as it is decades later.

The use of Westmorland green slate or blue grey slate will be informed by the immediate context of the site. Often, either option will be acceptable.

Imported slate is not an acceptable alternative to local slate. This is because it is likely to retain a smooth and uniform colour and texture which means it does not weather in the same way as local slates. As they are normally made to standard sizes and to a thinner gauge, they cannot replicate the variety found in a local slate roof and cannot replicate its appearance.

Where planning permission is not required for replacement or repair of an existing roof, we strongly discourage the use of imported slate because the incremental effect of changes which do not require planning permission is the erosion of local distinctiveness, character and sense of place.

If there are valid reasons to consider roof coverings other than local slate, alternative locally produced roofing materials are likely to be more appropriate than imported slate, when considered in terms of its appearance, longevity, value for money and carbon footprint.

Back to top

  • Local to the Lake District, this green-grey slate has a distinctive colour, and is laid in diminishing courses. Image: Burlington Slate Ltd.

  • Slate in Askham

    The local green slate is traditionally laid in diminishing courses. In this example the ridge tiles are stone

  • Slate in Askham

    Green slate continues to be quarried locally, so it can continue to give new development a local character and it weathers beautifully.

  • The roof in front has replacement Brazilian slates while the one in the background is local green slate. The difference in coursing and texture is clear. Image: Burlington Slate Ltd.

  • In some parts of the Lake District, as here in Hawkshead, slate is hung on walls for protection from prevailing winds.

  • Welsh slate in Askham

    Welsh slate is rare in the Lake District. This Welsh slate roof has a purple heathery colour and a noticeably flatter plane, as these slates are thinner than Lake District slates.

Where different roofing slates are traditionally used in the Lake District

Click to zoom in

Walling Materials

The walls of a building can often be as important to local distinctiveness, character and sense of place as its roof, especially within a dense town context or a tightly knit farm group when seen from road level. Wall finishes are functional, decorative and often both.

Local walling materials vary more obviously across the Lake District than roofing slate. Stone is less easy to transport and therefore historically, the easiest stone to build a house or barn from was the closest available. Walls were often built upon boulders or bedrock, with stone quarried from the nearest rock face or gathered from the land or nearby streams. Most buildings constructed in this way using ‘found’ rubble stone would historically have been externally finished with a lime render and limewashed.

Because it is a by-product of slate manufacture, slate stone remains the most common walling material for buildings in the Lake District, with limestone, granite and red sandstone used in outlying areas.

Roughcast render or ‘wet-dash’, or modern products which replicate its appearance, is the other most common walling finish. Roughcast render is used throughout the Lake District and its use as a wall finish is likely to be appropriate on a range of buildings, particularly where it is not possible to obtain stone to match nearby buildings.

Agricultural buildings, with the exception of farmhouses, were generally not traditionally rendered in the Lake District. This made a clear distinction between domestic and functional space. Unless evidence can be demonstrated on the building itself or through research, former agricultural buildings must not be rendered.

Back to top

  • The local blue grey slate stone has a distinctive appearance and is still quarried in Cumbria.

  • Locally quarried green stone walling combined with red sandstone that may well have been quarried at or near St Bees, Cumbria.

  • Local blue grey slate stone is a by-product of the local roof slate industry and is used for walling. Image: Burlington Slate Ltd.

  • Here the boundary wall incorporates boulders of the local blue-grey stone, giving a particularly rural character.

  • Note the different sizes and shapes of local stone used for the walling of the building, the building corners and the boundary wall.

  • The distinctive green-grey-brown local stone is used for walling across much of the Lake District. Image: Burlington Slate Ltd.

  • Grey limestone is a material quarried around the southern fringes of the Lake District and used for walls and buildings. Image: Burlington Slate Ltd.

Alternative materials for roofs and walls

It will be necessary to demonstrate that the use of materials other than local slate, stone and roughcast render is appropriate.

Metal wall cladding (including zinc, copper, lead, stainless steel and aluminium) and timber wall cladding or composite cladding products which mimic the appearance of timber are only likely to be acceptable where used sparingly as part of a cohesive design solution and where the context of the site and character of the landscape means that its use would not compromise sense of place.

Large areas of glazing do not reinforce local distinctiveness or sense of place. Large areas of glazing can also result in light pollution which both national policy and the Local Plan seek to avoid. In sensitive landscape locations the extensive use of glazing is unlikely to be acceptable.

Landscaping, gates, fences and walls

Hard and soft landscaping and boundary features including gates fences and walls must respect landscape character and sense of place and must be included in all proposals where wider landscaping, new or altered accesses or new or altered boundaries are proposed.

With a large or prominent development, including conversions to buildings in a sensitive area, the way the development interacts with the landscape beyond its boundaries can be equally as important as the appearance of the building itself. The entrance and boundary walls is the place where private space meets public and where the influence of your development on the landscape and can be felt most.

Stone boundary walls will normally be the most appropriate option. Stone used should reflect existing stone walls in the area in terms of type of stone and method of laying. Dressed stone is not normally used for boundary walls. Other boundary types such as native hedge planting will be considered where this is consistent with the other boundaries in the area.

Large entrances will rarely be appropriate in the context of small-scale vernacular buildings and in sensitive rural landscape locations.

Hard landscaping should be kept to a minimum and must take cues from the surrounding area, subject to associated constraints such as drainage and durability. The choice of surface must harmonise with local character particularly in terms of colour.

  • Cobbles harmonise visually with quarried stone.

  • Cobbles lend a rural character to paved areas.

  • River cobbles are a colourful and attractive alternative to paving stones in hard landscaping. Hawkshead.

  • Boundary

    Hedges provide a consistent boundary feature along this lane in Windermere. A mixed native species hedge would provide more biodiversity benefit than laurel.

  • Boundary

    In some parts of the Lake District there are distinctive local boundary traditions, such as this stone slab boundary at Hawkshead.

  • Boundary

    Here at Grasmere the old stone field boundary has been kept and a native species hedge added to provide privacy for these rear gardens.

  • Boundary

    Here at Hawkshead, the private gardens to these houses are well-screened by a thick native species hedge – even in winter.

  • Boundary

    This low wall of Lake District stone is a characterful feature.

  • Boundary

    Drystone walls of different heights have been used to enclose different types of spaces. Rosthwaite.

  • Boundary

    In rural areas where stone walling is the norm, timber fences can look out of place.

  • Boundary

    High, solid gates and fences detract from the character of streets due to how defensive they look.

  • Boundary

    Materials and colour can have a big impact on the appearance of boundary features. Here, this fence has given a suburban character that contrasts with the traditional field boundaries in the background.

  • Boundary

    High fences usually give a poor edge to settlements and developments. They create an unattractive ‘blind’ edge that can become disjointed as fences are altered, replaced or painted different colours by their owners.

  • Boundary

    A large, formal-style gateway such as this looks out of place in the landscape due to its suburban character. In this case, the use of imported brick and standard off-the-shelf steelwork exacerbates its visual impact.

  • Boundary

    Often all a boundary feature needs to be is sufficiently robust and to clearly mark a boundary. This informal timber fence does exactly thatwith minimal fuss.

Resources image

Next chapter:

Sustainable Design

Other Design Code chapters

Context and character

Sustainable Design


Return to Design Code home page