Mews House Renovation: Challenges & Insights

What is a Mews House: Mews House Renovation Challenges & Opportunities

by | Jun 18, 2024 | Home Refurbishment | 0 comments

Mews houses have been an advocate of beauty and simplicity of 18th century England. During the 18th and 19th centuries, they remained an integral part of the urban settlements for wealthy people. Their original purpose was to serve as stable houses for grand townhouses.

London is one of the cities where you will find mews in abundance. After the dissolution of monasteries, led to the frequent growth of the city of London, allowing rich and influential people to come and settle, and introducing a distinct form of living habitat – mews. 

1537 was the year when “Mews” were first mentioned in London. That was the time when the disruption of fire destroyed Henry VIII’s stables in Bloomsbury Royal Mews which had become his royal stables. This was the point of inception for mews.

This blog will go deep into the facts of the presence of mews in London, moreover, major focus will be on Mews House Renovation, in case you are an inhabitant of London Mews looking to give a postmodern semblance to your place.

What is a Mews House?

The word “Mews” itself refers to a traffic free street which was popular during the 18th and 19th century. These streets are usually paved with cobbles and these were mainly meant for keeping royal falcons for the purpose of hunting. Falcons used to shed their feathers which was called “mewing,”(French verb ‘muer) and it led to the naming of streets as mews. However, after the decline of falconry and evolution in the mode of transportation to carriages and horses, the mews were converted into stables for horses and carriages. 

According to Collins Dictionary

“A mews is a street or small area surrounded by houses that were originally built as stables.”

Mews houses were built with stables at the ground floor and the rooms of servants, coach drivers and stable workers on the first floor. With further advent of motor vehicles, the need for stables vanished which led to the mews house renovation from stables into residential mews.

You can find mews in Kensington, Chelsea, Gloucester Road, Launceston Place, and in Westminster. 

Mews House Features

Mews houses are known for their unique and distinct features.  Here’s a breakdown of features to look at when you spot one:

Feature Description
Converted Stables Mews properties are often converted from former stables or carriage houses, retaining elements like large doors used for horses and carriages.
Brick or Stone Construction Many mews buildings are built from brick or stone, giving them a sturdy, traditional look with exposed brickwork adding texture and character.
Arched Doorways and Windows Characteristic arched doorways and windows add elegance and architectural interest, often with decorative details like keystones or mouldings.
Courtyard or Mews Setting Typically arranged around a shared courtyard or mews, originally for housing horses and carriages, now used as private gardens or parking.
Compact and Efficient Layouts Features compact, efficient layouts to maximise space and natural light, with open-plan living areas and mezzanine levels for versatility.
Wooden Beams and Exposed Timber Retains original wooden beams or exposed timber elements, adding rustic charm, warmth, and character to the interior spaces.
Carriage Entrances or Arches Distinctive carriage entrances or archways, originally for horse-drawn carriages, serve as focal points and add historical character.
Location Nestled in quiet, often cobbled, streets or courtyards.
Layout Compact and efficient, with living spaces typically spread over two or three floors.
Architecture A blend of historic charm and modern luxury, retaining original features like stable doors and exposed beams.

Mews House Types

You will not find mews houses of the same layout and sizes all over, instead, they are going to vary a lot in both size and layout. 

We have small mews houses, which were the stables with modest accommodation for stable workers on ground and first floor levels respectively. They had narrow frontage, only wide enough to allow a carriage to pass through. Furthermore, these consisted of a small living area accompanied by a compact kitchen and one or two bedrooms.

Moreover, we have medium-sized mews houses which were slightly larger with better extensions and modifications including wide frontage, multiple bedrooms, modern amenities and space up to three stories. 

Large mews houses are at the upper end of the size spectrum due to the presence of their multiple large bedrooms, luxurious amenities and an expansive living area. Most commonly, large mews houses have open-plan kitchens with high ceilings and large windows. Its multiple floors usually have lofts and basements added.

Understanding Your Specific Mews House Type 

Understanding the type and layout of your mews house is crucial for Mews House Renovation and other possible things. Knowing whether your house is single or multi-story will guide your renovation plans, such as where to place new rooms or amenities. Moreover, properly planning the use of available space is essential, especially in smaller or compact mews houses. Some older, historically significant mews houses may have restrictions on modifications to maintain their character, therefore, there is a need to take a closer look.

Mews House Renovation Permits

With a rapid evolution of residential spaces, mews houses underwent major transformation to accommodate the needs of 21st century living.  Mews House Renovation may seem like an exciting project, but going into depths, it needs careful considerations and permits. 

It comes with a lot of challenges due to its historical significance, which needs to be addressed professionally. Here are the potential challenges associated with obtaining permits due to historical significance.

Conservation Areas

Mews houses are often located in conservation areas where the local authority enforces stricter controls to preserve the area’s character. This means that changes, even minor ones, may require planning permission. 

Furthermore, the use of specific materials and design features that match the historical aesthetics of the area is often required. This can limit your choices and potentially increase costs. Any significant alterations, such as adding floors, changing the building’s footprint, or altering its appearance, typically require planning permission from the local council.

Listed Buildings

If your mews house is listed, any alteration, no matter how small, requires listed building consent. This is in addition to standard planning permission. The process can be rigorous and time-consuming, involving detailed plans and justifications for the changes.

You may need to preserve original features such as facades, windows, and even internal elements like staircases or fireplaces. This can complicate renovation plans and require the use of specialised restoration techniques and materials.

Local Authority Scrutiny

Applications for renovations in historically significant areas often require more detailed submissions, including historical impact assessments and comprehensive plans. The approval process can take longer due to the need for additional consultations and assessments. Be prepared for potential delays.

Consulting with Relevant Authorities and Specialists

Engage with Local Planning Authority

Pre-Application Advice

Many local councils offer pre-application advice services. Engaging with them early can provide valuable insights into the feasibility of your project and highlight any specific concerns the council might have.

Consult a Heritage Consultant

Expert Guidance

Heritage consultants specialise in dealing with historically significant buildings. You can go to well-known institutes like IHBC for consultation. They can offer expert guidance on how to navigate the complex requirements for listed buildings and conservation areas.

Hire an Experienced Architect

Specialised Experience

An architect with experience in renovating historic buildings can help design your project in a way that respects the building’s heritage while meeting modern needs. They can also assist with preparing detailed plans and navigating the application process. You can hire an architectural team from Powerpillar for best results as they will walk with you from the inception to the end results. They will also ensure that your renovation complies with building regulations by working closely with your local building control body. This includes safety, energy efficiency, and structural integrity.

Mews House Renovation Cost-Saving Strategies

Mews House Renovation comes with a challenge of managing costs. Either you are planning a mews house extension or a mews house conversion, budgeting and cost planning must be your first priority in order to not break the bank. Here are detailed, practical strategies to help you save money while achieving your renovation goals, along with a focus on sustainable solutions that can further enhance your budget and the environmental impact of your project.

Reuse and Recycle Materials

One of the best ways to maintain the character and save cost on your mews house is to retain and restore original features. Consider keeping elements like doors, windows, and flooring. These can often be refurbished to look like new, saving on the cost of replacements.

Repurposed Materials

Look for opportunities to reuse materials from other parts of the house or source reclaimed items. For instance, old timber can be turned into beams or flooring, and reclaimed bricks can be used to add character to new walls.

Cost-Effective Materials

Consider using materials that mimic high-end finishes but are more affordable. For instance, engineered wood or laminate flooring can provide the look of solid wood at a fraction of the price.

Where feasible, take on some of the simpler tasks yourself. Painting, stripping wallpaper, and basic landscaping can be tackled with a bit of effort and skill, saving you on labour costs.

Prioritise Renovations

Start with the crucial upgrades, such as structural repairs, plumbing, and electrical work. These are vital for safety and functionality, so they should be your top priority.

Spread the renovation over different phases. This approach allows you to manage your budget more effectively and adjust plans based on your financial situation. You might start with essential structural work and then move on to cosmetic improvements. Use budgeting tools to keep track of your spending and ensure you stay within your budget.

Bulk Buying

Purchase materials in bulk to take advantage of discounts. Many suppliers offer lower prices for bulk purchases, which can significantly reduce your overall costs.

Keep an eye out for sales, clearance items, or discount stores for fixtures, fittings, and appliances. 

Sustainable Solutions for Cost Savings

Investing in good insulation can significantly reduce your heating and cooling costs. Consider using eco-friendly insulation materials like sheep’s wool or recycled denim. These materials are not only sustainable but also highly effective.

Installing double or triple-glazed windows can greatly improve your home’s insulation, reducing energy consumption and enhancing comfort. Look for windows with high energy ratings to maximise efficiency.

Incorporate Renewable Energy

Although the initial investment can be high, solar panels can significantly reduce long-term energy costs. They not only lower your electricity bills but also increase your property’s value.

Upgrade to energy-efficient heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. These systems consume less energy, reducing both your carbon footprint and your utility bills.

Adopt Water Conservation Measures

Replace traditional fixtures with low-flow showerheads, faucets, and toilets. These fixtures reduce water usage without sacrificing performance, leading to lower water bills.

Consider installing a rainwater harvesting system. Collecting and using rainwater for garden irrigation or even for flushing toilets can significantly reduce your water consumption and bills.

Mews House Renovation Planning Tips

Renovating a mews house requires careful planning to make the most of the unique space and character these properties offer. Here are some key tips to ensure your renovation is successful and your space is optimally utilised.

Detailed Planning

Proper planning helps you foresee potential issues and avoid costly mistakes. It ensures that every aspect of the renovation is considered, from structural changes to finishing touches.

Budget Management

With a clear plan, you can allocate your budget effectively, prioritising essential works and avoiding overspending on less critical areas.

Permits and Approvals

Ensuring that all necessary permits and approvals are obtained before starting work prevents delays and legal issues. Proper planning includes understanding and complying with local building regulations and conservation requirements.

Project Timeline

A well-thought-out plan includes a realistic timeline, helping you manage the renovation process efficiently and ensuring timely completion of the project.

Built-In Storage

Utilise built-in storage solutions to maximise space. Custom cabinetry, under-stair storage, and built-in wardrobes can help keep your home clutter-free while making the most of available space.

Maximising Natural Light

Consider installing larger windows or even skylights to allow more natural light into the space. Natural light makes rooms feel larger and more inviting.

Use light-coloured paint and reflective surfaces like mirrors and glass to enhance the natural light and create a brighter, more open feel.

Open Plan Living

Where possible, remove non-structural walls to create an open-plan living area. This not only increases the sense of space but also improves the flow of light and air throughout the home.

Use furniture and decor to create distinct zones within an open-plan layout. Rugs, bookcases, and strategically placed furniture can define different areas without the need for walls.

Vertical Space Utilisation

Make use of vertical space by installing high shelves and cabinets. This can be particularly useful in kitchens and living areas. If your mews house has sufficient height, consider a loft conversion to add extra living space. This can be a bedroom, office, or even a storage area.

Mews House Extension Possibilities

Extending a mews house can significantly enhance its functionality and value, but it’s essential to understand the structural and regulatory considerations. 

Structural Feasibility

Assessment by a Structural Engineer

Before planning an extension, it’s crucial to have a structural engineer assess your property. Mews houses often have unique structural characteristics that must be considered to ensure any extension is safe and feasible.

Historical Integrity

If your mews house is listed or located in a conservation area, preserving the building’s historical integrity is vital. This might limit the extent and type of extensions allowed.

Regulatory Compliance

Planning Permission

Extensions generally require planning permission from your local council. This is particularly true for mews houses, which often fall under stricter planning controls due to their historical and architectural significance.

Building Regulations

All extensions must comply with Building Regulations, which ensure that buildings are safe, energy-efficient, and accessible.

Additional Floor

Vertical Extension

Adding an additional floor can significantly increase your living space. This option is dependent on structural feasibility and planning permission. It’s an excellent solution for expanding without altering the building’s footprint.

Roof Terrace Conversion

If an additional floor isn’t possible, consider converting a flat roof into a roof terrace. This can provide valuable outdoor space, especially in urban areas.

Courtyard Expansion

Single-Storey Rear Extension

Expanding into the courtyard can create more ground-floor living space, ideal for extending the kitchen, living room, or adding a dining area. This type of extension usually requires careful design to ensure it doesn’t overshadow neighbouring properties.

Wrap-Around Extension

For mews houses with more extensive courtyards, a wrap-around extension can maximise available space by extending along the rear and side of the property.

Basement Conversion

Underpinning and Excavation

Converting an existing basement or creating a new one can add significant living space without altering the external appearance of your home. This option is complex and costly, often requiring specialist contractors and extensive planning.

Loft Conversion

Dormer or Mansard Roof

If your mews house has a pitched roof, a loft conversion can provide additional bedrooms or office space. Dormer or mansard roof extensions can create more headroom and usable floor space.

Mews House Conversion Ideas

Here are some detailed conversion ideas to inspire your renovation project.

Stables to Living Space

Many mews houses were initially built as stables or carriage houses for horses and carriages. These spaces are often characterised by robust structures, high ceilings, and large doors.

Converting these stables into modern living areas can create unique spaces. For example, the stable area can become a spacious kitchen with an open plan dining area. Retaining original features like wooden beams and brick walls adds character and history to the space.

Conversion Idea: A stable conversion might feature a large, rustic kitchen island made from reclaimed wood, combined with contemporary appliances and lighting for a blend of old and new.

Rooftop Terraces

Utilise the often-unused roof space to create a private rooftop terrace. This area can serve as an outdoor living space in urban environments where garden space is limited.

Rooftop terraces can offer stunning views of the city or surrounding area. They can be designed with decking, outdoor furniture, and potted plants to create a tranquil retreat.

Conversion Idea: A rooftop terrace might include a seating area with comfortable outdoor furniture, a small garden with potted plants and herbs, and ambient lighting for evening use.

Basement Conversion

Basements in mews houses are often underutilised. Converting a basement can provide additional living space, such as a family room, home theatre, gym, or wine cellar.

Bringing natural light into a basement can be challenging but is essential for creating a pleasant living area. This can be achieved with light wells, glass doors, or strategically placed windows.

Conversion Idea: A basement conversion might feature a cosy family room with a large sectional sofa, a home theatre setup with a projector, and built-in shelving for storage and decor.

Loft Conversion

Converting a loft can add valuable space to a mews house. This area can be turned into additional bedrooms, a master suite, or a home office.

Adding dormer windows or converting to a mansard roof can increase the headroom and usable space in the loft.

Conversion Idea: A loft conversion might include a spacious master bedroom with an en-suite bathroom, featuring dormer windows to maximise light and space, and custom built-in wardrobes for storage.

Open Plan Living

Removing non-structural walls to create an open-plan living area can make a mews house feel more spacious and improve the flow of light and air.

An open-plan layout enhances the sense of space and can be designed to suit modern living needs, combining the kitchen, dining, and living areas into one cohesive space.

Conversion Idea: An open-plan conversion might feature a large kitchen island that serves as a focal point for cooking and socialising, with seamless transitions to the dining area and living room.

Final Take

A mews house renovation carries a very marked blend of challenge and opportunity. Historic regulations will be firmly in place, working within the structural confines of an older building will also pose a significant challenge, and obtaining requisite permissions is expected to be a headache. 

This, however, gives the great opportunity to retain much of the original character of the mews and bring out its grace with exposed brickwork, beams, and other such features. Beyond that, huge scope exists to bring in energy efficiency through modern up-grades and sustainability measures—solar panels and eco-friendly materials. 

You can extend the living areas of your historic property without losing that quaint historic appeal by using some innovative design solutions like loft conversions and rooftop terraces, which basically very easily makes this just a fusion between old-world charm and modern day living.

Emmanuel Nwaebo

Emmanuel Nwaebo is the Managing Director at Powerpillar Ltd and has more than 25 years experience in building construction and renovations. He has a bachelor’s in Electronics and Electrical Engineering with certification in Construction Health and Safety Technician (CHST). With an experience in managing construction and renovation services for years, he is extremely passionate about property management and loves helping people find their dream property.

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