Taking Shape

In the second part of our journals with David Holland, a talented Worcestershire-based architect, we explore the emotional and physical development of buildings. At whatever stage you get introduced to a space; whether it be through the initial design stages, being the first habitant or you get to enjoy the home down the line, there’s always something exciting around the corner.


It’s important to realise, when you buy a period property, you are just passing through. It may have existed there for hundreds of years in one guise or another. People have been born there, found their first love, fought, experienced life-changing moments, and perhaps even died there at different points in its history. The house has gone through it all with them. From the carpenter who made his marks in the timber work, to the previous owner that cracked a tile dropping a pan on the kitchen floor, it’s full of these little details. Moments of everyday life, captured within the very fabric of the building.
The mistake that a lot of people make is to want to ‘make it their own’. It’s completely natural, and I think it probably stems from some primal territorial instinct. We like to be the kings and queens of our castle and it bothers us that the marks of our predecessors are still there. It is also very much a western phenomenon. Our world view is historically based on ideas of beauty and perfection. We have trouble accepting anything else. Back to Mousley House Farm, we experienced this. 

“I love this floor” I said to Paul. We were in the attic now. A wonderful lofty space, crammed with all the sorts of things we accumulate throughout life; boxes of books, Christmas decorations, an old hoover. The floor was completely boarded, probably with oak or elm planks, each one about 8 inches wide and probably 1 1/2 inches thick.
“What would you do with it?” Paul asked. “Sand it?”
“I wouldn’t do anything” I replied. “Well, I would give it a good clean of course, but I don’t think I’d sand it. You would lose the character.”
Again, I could see that Paul instantly understood what I meant. We just automatically jump to conclusions sometimes. I do it, you do it, it’s just human nature. We see a wooden floor; we automatically think, let’s sand it. We just have to constantly ask ourselves why? When we do that, there are usually three possible answers:
The first possibility, is there is a good reason why, and it’s the right call; “That tile needs replacing. Why? Because the roof is leaking, duh!” The second possibility is we answer with something like “because it’s dented”, or “it looks old”, or “it’s wonky”. In that case, ask yourself, aren’t all those the qualities that made you like it in the first place? If you get rid of them all, why is this house going to be any different to one of the hundreds of thousands of homes being built by the mass house-builders? The third option is you find that you don’t really know why; “because that’s just what you do isn’t it? You sand wooden floors…don’t you?” In that case, maybe you can approach the ‘problem’ with a different mindset and decide that it’s actually perfect as it is; even with all of its flaws and imperfections. It has soul.

Now, this is not to say that we should all be overly sentimental and treat our homes like living museums, preserving everything at the expense of actually enjoying it! We can still write the next chapter for our homes, but it’s important to realise we don’t need to completely erase everything that has gone before in the process. The imperfections are not necessarily negative but rather give character to something to make it wholly perfect in itself.

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