Combining Historical Properties and Modern Living


Many heritage properties that are still in use as residences today were built long before the arrival of internal plumbing, let alone boilers for central heating. It’s not that our tastes have become more refined, modern living simply requires much more thermal efficiency and mould prevention than the architects of yore could have even imagined, let alone what the technology of the time could achieve.  Add this to the inevitable decay and drafts that come with decades of time passing, and it might feel like an impossible task to update a heritage property for modern living, especially with the restrictions in place that mean you must preserve the look and feel of the building.  So, how do you go about it?  Peter Daniel, at the Rooflight Company, explains how this very question kickstarted the business…

History of the Rooflight Company
The Rooflight Company’s story is directly linked to the problem of updating heritage properties for modern living. Our founder, architect Peter King, was finding that an increasing number of his clients wanted to extend into their attics, but to do so would require adding light and ventilation into the space. At the time, roof windows and dormers were the only options available, which didn’t fit the aesthetic of the Victorian style properties his clients owned, so would not be allowed by the Conservation Officer.

As an alternative, Peter sought out some beautiful original cast iron, single glazed rooflights, but found that their performance was nowhere near that of the modern-spec alternatives.

Peter therefore made the decision to begin designing his own rooflight product, combining the original look of the Victorian cast-iron windows with modern day performance. He used steel, introduced double glazing, draught slipping and a new patented thermal lining of his own design.

Just like that, the Conservation Rooflight emerged. Using the original Victorian patterns, Peter designed a range to fit the wide variety of homes he worked on. Conservation Officers and architects loved the product as it provided low profile, slim sightlines which remain as stunning as they were a quarter of a century ago. To this day, it is still regularly specified. Butler’s and Colonial Wharf is just one example of this…

Butler’s and Colonial Wharf
Originally built in the 19th Century, Butler’s and Colonial Wharf served as the largest warehouse complex in London for more than 150 years. It accommodated goods being unloaded from ships using the Port of London at the peak of British involvement in the global spice trade.

Having fallen into disrepair over the years, in 1980 the decision was made to convert the building into a residential estate. As a result of the unusual shape of the building, each flat had low ceilings and oddly positioned partition walls. This was particularly problematic as it reduced access to both light and ventilation for the residents.

A full internal restructure would be required to bring these flats into the 21st century. This is what McDaniel Woolf Architects proposed to do, reordering the layout of the 80s apartments within the Grade II listed Victorian property to create bright, spacious, and well-ventilated luxury abodes.

But, like Peter King before them, McDaniel Woolf Architects still faced the challenge of combining the requirements of a modern homeowner with the restrictions placed on a historic building.

The top floor apartments would need light, so rooflights seemed like an obvious addition. But, as a listed building, these rooflights would need to suit the look of the property, while meeting modern standards. Naturally, McDaniel Woolf got in touch with the Rooflight Company with the specifications for bespoke versions of its Conservation Rooflight.

The team at the Rooflight Company worked with the architects to create these rooflights, which also included self-cleaning glass and automatic openings, delivering on the expectations of luxury that potential buyers would have.
Architect Richard Woolf stated that “McDaniel Woolf are proud to continue their close collaboration with the Rooflight Company, two decades of successful partnership. At Butlers and Colonial Wharf, our requirement was for oversized replacement rooflights for a Grade II Listed nineteenth century C19 industrial building in London’s Docklands. This could only be undertaken by a manufacturer with the ability to work closely with ourselves and our mutual client and advise on the technical opportunities and limitations a bespoke project required. The final installation has respected the significance of the historic site, whilst providing a solution of the highest quality.”


The Range
The Conservation Rooflight comes in a variety of specifications and sixteen standard sizes, although bespoke, made to measure options are also available. Their slim sightlines and low-profile make them a perfect match for any home, especially those where conservation is the priority.

These rooflights come with optional linking bars, making it easy to create unlimited runs of astounding natural light. The white internal linings sit flush within the reveal, making the whole window a seamless addition to any home.

The Conservation Plateau Rooflight is the only flat heritage product currently available to buy. It features a unique, authentic skirt design, clean lines and internal linings that go up to the glass, creating a clean finish inside and out.

It comes in thirteen standard sizes and five access and egress sizes, all of which feature our unique Thermoliner, eliminating the occurrence of condensation and mould. This makes it a great option for any property where a flat roof is being installed. Enhanced security features are also available including Secured by Design, which is recommended by the Crime Prevention Officers, making it as safe as it is attractive.

The Conservation Pyramid, as well as the Lantern option, offer a different look for a flat roof, adding significant architectural interest to a heritage property. They come with robust double glazed 3mm windows and slim sections, both made of steel, as well as the option of self-cleaning glass, privacy and solar control as additions.

The Pyramid Rooflight also comes with a flexible opening option, either manual or electric, ensuring adjustable ventilation, which is a common requirement in a modern home. The Pyramid option comes in four standard size options, while the Lantern comes in six. Both can be made-to-measure too, meaning you can match the bespoke frame colour to any RAL or BS paint colour on offer.  
A few tips on general work with heritage properties

We’re very lucky in the UK that, like the Butler’s and Colonial Wharf, much of our building stock is ancient. There are innumerable residences across the UK that are either listed or fall within a Conservation Area. But the Rooflight Company was founded on the principle that that doesn’t mean that these homes cannot be brought up to the standards of their modern owners.  The history of your home should be something you celebrate, rather than rue.

Over the years being involved in so many similar projects, we’ve picked up a few tips and tricks for updating heritage properties.  We hope they’re helpful!

Firstly, it is, of course, important to keep your Conservation Officer on side as they are often the gate keepers on any work you’ll want to do. They will be able to recommend the types of products to use, as they know best which ones are designed to meet specifications and pass inspections, like the Conservation Rooflight for example.  

Once you have decided on the work to be done and sourced your modern-spec products with a suitable aesthetic, you’ll want to consider who might do the work. Depending on what you’re having done, contractors who specialise in new-build homes, meaning anything built after 1930, may not be the best option as they are unlikely to have the archaic skills required to carry out work that is no longer common practice. If you live in an area with a lot of heritage properties, this is less of a problem, just ask your neighbours for recommendations.  They’re bound to have had work done before and will be able to give you the number of craftspeople with the right skills.

Updating a property within a Conservation Area for modern living requires jumping through some extra hoops, but it isn’t impossible to do. There are some great options out there to choose from which would make a great addition to any home. The trade-off for all of this effort is a stunning home, just like Butler’s and Colonial Wharf, to enjoy for many more years to come.

To discover more about The Rooflight Company, please visit


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