Draft Shopfront Design Guide Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) - July 2019

Draft North Somerset Council Shopfront Design Guide - July 2019

Shopfront Design

A traditional shopfront is made up of key elements which frame the shop entrance and shop window. Each element has its own practical and visual function. The image below highlights the key features of a traditional shopfront and a glossary of terms can be found in Appendix A of this document.

Figure 2 Key components of a traditional shopfront:

figure 2

The pilasters provide the vertical separation between shopfront units. The cornice is an important element that finishes the top of the shopfront and provides a transitional element between fascia and first floor. The stallriser creates a visual and structural base for the glazing of the window. The transom is a horizontal bar dividing the upper section of the window and aligns with the top of the door. In North Somerset this transom feature is found on many traditional shopfronts, often with smaller panes of glazing above the transom line and a fanlight above the entrance door.

In addition to traditional shopfronts, there are many modern, typically twentieth century developments where the shopfronts have a distinctively different character. Modern shopfronts are characterised by lower stallrisers, modern frame materials and less ornamentation. The vertical division between units will be defined by the structural column instead of the traditional pilaster. Mosaic tiles will often be used as a decorative layer instead of a timber moulding or carved stonework.

The typical components of a modern shopfront are highlighted below and a modern design approach will be appropriate where the setting or building suits this situation. Locations such as the High Street south of Regent Street in Weston-super-Mare, or The Precinct in Portishead are good examples of where a modern shopfront design would be appropriate.

In every instance, the shopfront should be formed by the original building framework set by structural walls and beams and should carry significant features through to ground floor level rather than visually separating the ground and first floors.

Figure 3: Appropriate new shopfront design

figure 3

In areas which aren’t distinctly traditional e.g. a Victorian setting or overtly modern e.g. a twentieth century architectural setting, the design of a new shopfront should seek to include the following important elements and principles:

i) a cornice above the fascia.

ii) a stallriser that provides a solid base to the glazing - aim for between 400 to 700mm high. Ensure the cill is appropriately detailed.

iii) a glazing arrangement that breaks down large expanses of glass.

iv) a continuous horizontal transom that defines the top of the door and creates an upper section of glazing that can be intricately detailed, and where necessary conceal a suspended ceiling with opaque or back painted glazing.

v) avoid disproportionately wide or tall entrance doors

vi) use sustainable natural materials such as timber and specify the correct materials to create sufficient robustness.

3.1       Preservation, restoration and modern intervention.

Where the existing shopfront contributes variety and interest to the character of the building or street, it will always be preferable to repair rather than replace the shopfront. For traditional, historic shopfronts, which in some cases will still have the original materials, this will be the expected approach. The retention of existing features that contribute to the special character of a conservation area is especially important and is supported by development management policies. Alterations to statutorily protected listed buildings will require separate listed building consent, including fixing details for signage or other external attachment.

Key principle 1 – the character and significance of buildings and their surroundings should be preserved or enhanced by the implementation of well-designed shopfronts using appropriate, high quality materials.

To understand whether the shopfront can be repaired, applicants and their agents should seek advice from an external consultant specialising in the repair of historic fabric. Please contact the council conservation officer for further advice and information in this regard.

Key principle 2 – shopfront alterations should retain and enhance the original architectural features of a building rather than hide or detract from them. Repair rather than replace architectural features.

After a full investigation into the feasibility of repair, and where the only course of action is to replace a traditional, historic shopfront, a newly designed shopfront should take into consideration the constraints of the existing shopfront and style of the building. Emphasis should be on a design that respects the architectural language, proportion and style of the appropriate historical period, for example a traditional shopfront would be appropriate in a Victorian setting. Appendix B recommends further reading on the subject of historical shopfront development. Replacing materials like for like to the original will preserve the special character of a building and new design proposals should be informed by buildings of similar historical character or based on archival evidence if the original design or materials have been lost. Poor quality imitations of historical shopfronts should be avoided.

In some instances, it may be appropriate to interpret the design of a shopfront in a modern way; each planning application will be assessed on a case by case basis and a contemporary design approach, departing from the guiding principles in figures 2 and 3, will need to be of exceptional design quality with a justification for the proposal and how it either preserves or enhances its setting set out with illustrations in the design and access statement.

Poorly designed shopfront alterations that detract from the character of the parent building or local area will be refused.

3.2       Shopfront unity and cohesion

Over time, alterations to shopfronts can lead to a loss of unity in a building’s appearance, which can result in a loss of harmony or cohesion across a group of buildings. When altering shopfronts, businesses and owners should aim to restore cohesion across architectural lines and design features. Efforts should be made to establish visual order across all stories of a building or facade, as opposed to focusing on the ground floor shopfront in isolation.

Figure 4: Shopfronts that relate well to the building façade and street

figure 4

Figure 5: Shopfronts that have little or no cohesion with inappropriate alterations

figure 5

Where opportunities exist to improve unity across a façade or group of buildings, North Somerset Council will work with business and property owners to ensure consistency in design as part of the planning process. Where site wide improvements are required, for instance in a conservation area, the council may use planning conditions to secure improvements to the development.

3.3       Materials

Materials used in alterations or new shopfront design should be appropriate i.e. reflect the status of a building; should not contribute to the deterioration of an existing material; be sufficiently durable and attractive. North Somerset Council support the use of traditional craft skills and sustainably sourced materials such as timber should be specified for alterations to historic shopfronts. Materials that are original should be preserved and where necessary repaired using appropriate techniques, minimising the need to replace materials on a like for like basis.

In Victorian shopfronts, a durable softwood such as Scots Pine, European Redwood or Douglas Fir would have been used for general timber joinery. Elsewhere, European Oak would have been applied to areas that required greater durability, such as thresholds and steps. Pine panels would have been used for fascia boards. Exterior timber finishes would have been painted or varnished offering protection to the elements and to distinguish one shop from another.

The design of new shopfronts should aim to use these same materials and techniques or achieve the characteristics of these historically appropriate materials and their external finishes. Fascia panels should be made of solid natural timber and not a lower grade equivalent that may delaminate. The use of plywood, chipboard, MDF or other timber composite panels will be discouraged as their edges will require covering to prevent delamination, resulting in an unnatural appearance. Applied mouldings that are poorly fixed and historically inaccurate will not be permitted as they are inappropriate features, particularly within a conservation area, and are often proven to be short-lived. Traditional joinery techniques should be applied to timber shopfronts if they are to remain robust and attractive.

Excessively glossy or reflective materials such as acrylic or plastic will not normally be permitted in new shopfront design or alterations. In new or replacement shopfront design, it is preferable to have a matt finish to prevent an overly reflective or bright surface. In areas where there are existing glossy or reflective materials that have a negative visual impact, for instance in a conservation area, the council will seek improvements and will work with businesses and property owners to achieve this aim. The council may use planning conditions to secure improvements to the development.

New buildings and buildings designed and constructed in the twentieth century provide scope for the use of more modern materials and fixing methods. Bronze, aluminium and steel shopfront frames and finishes are all evident in North Somerset. Granite can be seen at the ground floor level on some of the more high-end examples. Mosaic and stone tile cladding are a commonly found feature on twentieth century commercial developments and should be repaired or restored as part of any new proposal. Good quality materials are the key to successful modern shopfronts.

The focus of a shopfront design or alteration should be on the appropriateness of the material to the age, style and character of the parent building. In cases where there is no alternative but to replace materials and only after a full investigation into the feasibility of repair, replacing glass while leaving the frame intact may sometimes be preferable over a comprehensive replacement of frame and glass, particularly where the replacement system may be of a much lower quality. Replacing original timber, aluminium or other metal shopfront frames with uPVC will not be permitted as it would result in a lowering of the quality of the shopfront. The higher commercial cost of fabricating and installing the original shopfront frames should be borne in mind.

High standards of design and construction are particularly important. It is therefore recommended that anyone designing or specifying a shopfront and those on site repairing or constructing a shopfront are sufficiently capable and experienced. Consult a specialist such as an architect or heritage consultant if in doubt.

3.4       Use of colour

When considering the colour of new or replacement shopfronts it is important the selected colour scheme complements the character and style of the building rather than conflicting with it. The colour of a shopfront should be sympathetic to the historical style and character of the building and the prevailing historical character of the area in which it is located. External paint finishes should preferably be of a matt finish and not excessively bold or bright. The RAL range of conservation or heritage colours may be appropriate. Applications to alter shopfronts should include a colour scheme in the form of colour swatches or illustrations which should include a comparison with the external materials of the parent building, for example stone or brick.

For historic buildings it is important the solid masonry external wall maintains a permeable external surface so any moisture within the fabric can evaporate. Painting masonry or external render will often trap moisture within the fabric of the wall. This can lead to deterioration of the structure and should be avoided where possible. Any external application of paint or render should ensure that it will not trap moisture within the fabric of the external wall. Consult a specialist such as an architect or heritage consultant if in doubt. Stonework, especially Bath stone, should not be painted over under any circumstances. Caution is required when removing paint from historic buildings as some older paints contain lead which is hazardous to health.

Attention to architectural detail is also required to ensure rainwater adequately runs off the shopfront. Lead flashing on top of the cornice and an adequate drip edge detail for the window cill should be considered at the outset.

3.5       Fascia design

The fascia sign is an important element in the shopfront design and consideration should be given to the scale, placement, materials, colour and lettering. Fascia signs should appear as an integral part of the design of the shopfront and the building, and should not dominate the façade. They should frame the top of a shopfront at the correct proportions and should not cover first floor window cills or other architectural features.

Oversized fascia will not be permitted – aim for a depth no greater than 750mm or no more than one fifth of the height from pavement level to the bottom of the fascia.

Fascia signs should not project forwards of the building line, they should sit between the console brackets at either side. Fascia signs should contain the name of the business and preferably the property street number. Supplementary advertising applied to fascia will not be permitted and fascia colours should aim to complement those of the building as a whole.

Two adjoining shopfronts (or more if part of a terrace or group) of the same architectural phase should attempt to align their fascia in order to restore cohesion across the pair or group. If a shop occupies more than one building, the vertical division between the buildings should be retained. Separate fascia signs rather than one long fascia sign across multiple units will maintain a distinction between units.

The use of single sheet plastic signs or other excessively glossy or reflective material glossy will not normally be permitted. The use of traditional materials such as timber with a painted finish will be supported.

Please refer to the materials section for information on appropriate materials to use. The council may use planning conditions to secure an appropriately detailed shopfront design. Work that is proposed to alter or install small scale architectural features or details should provide elevations at 1:10 or 1:20 and sections at a legible scale of 1:5.

3.6       Fascia and signage lettering

Hand painted fascia signs will be supported for traditional shopfronts. A capable and experienced signwriter should be employed to ensure a professional appearance.

Key principle 3 – shopfront or fascia signage should not be oversized, overly assertive or brash.

Individual letters mounted onto the fascia are also appropriate where they are well-proportioned, respect the character of the shop or business, are appropriately fixed using minimal fixing pins, and are made of an attractive durable material with an appropriate matt finish. Excessively glossy, reflective or oversized lettering will not be permitted. As a general principle, aim for all lettering, figures, symbols or similar features in the design to be no greater than 0.3 metre in height.

Traditional hanging signs, when of an appropriate design and size, can enhance the streetscape. The character and material of the sign should complement the fascia, preferably made from a similar material and in a similar style. The sign should suspend from a traditional bracket. Oversized projecting or hanging signs will not normally be permitted – aim for a sign no greater than 750mm x 750mm positioned centrally on a pilaster, preferably at the same height or slightly above the fascia sign, and certainly no lower than 2.6m above the pavement to the underside of the sign. Projecting or hanging signs should not obstruct architectural detail and no more than one per business is permitted with deemed consent.

Figure 6 High quality fascia lettering at an appropriate size, Weston-super-Mare

figure 6 Stable

3.7       Windows, doors and stallrisers

From the fascia downwards, a shopfront generally consists of windows, doors and stallrisers. Together with transoms and mullions, these separate elements form the main window display of a shopfront and play an important role in framing and presenting the products of the business. The main window provides natural light to the shop and a view out towards the street.

Historic shopfronts tend to be more detailed and ornate in design, drawing their influences from different architectural or stylistic sources, while modern shopfronts are often much simpler. In terms of their historical development, older shopfronts are typically characterised by smaller more numerous panes of glass. At the beginning of the Victorian period, technological advances ensured larger sheet glass could be produced at much lower cost and this became evident in the design of shopfronts as windows became larger and glazing bars less numerous. It also meant the window cills of shopfronts could be lowered along with the heads of windows which could be raised. Towards the end of the Victorian period deeper entrance lobbies became more of a feature.

 Figure 7: (a, b, c) Traditional shopfront details in Weston-super-Mare

figure 7 a   figure 7 b   figure 7 c

In modern shopfronts, large expanses of glass can sometimes be out of scale and can be expensive to replace. The method of subdivision of the shopfront glass should suit the character of the shopfront as well as the design of the building, including the position, size and proportions of the first floor. Glazing bars, transoms or mullions should be used to subdivide large windows so they relate to the building and create a more intimate scale. Doors and recessed lobbies can also be used to break up the window area.

For the design or alteration of a shopfront, the starting point should be to consider the details presented in figures 2 and 3 as elements will vary according to the design principles set out for either a traditional or modern shopfront.

In historic buildings and high-quality buildings constructed in the twentieth century, the original shopfront fabric should be preserved and repaired, minimising the need to replace materials on a like for like basis. During alterations, traditional details may have been hidden from view behind oversized fascia or other modern panels. Where traditional details are discovered, they should be preserved and repaired, restoring the historic shopfront to its original design and quality.

In modern shopfronts, window heads and fascia are often oversized and lowered to disguise a new suspended ceiling inside. To overcome this issue, suspended ceilings should be inset by a minimum of 1 metre from the shop window. Alternatively, careful detailing of the glass above a transom may be appropriate adopting opaque glass to disguise the suspended ceiling within. Careful consideration of the architectural proportions of the shopfront will be required in this instance.

3.8       Shopfront advertising

Advertisements, including shopfront signage should be kept to a minimum. In general, if the business premise is a shop, an advertisement may be displayed only on an external wall which has a shop window in it, and no more than one hanging sign and one fascia sign will be permitted. The Town and Country Planning (Control of Advertisements) (England) Regulations 2007 and its subsequent amendments set out the advertisement control system and how it applies to shopfront development.

There are different categories of advertisement consent and certain classes of advertising that benefit from deemed consent are not applicable in conservation areas, so please check before proceeding. Care should also be taken when signs are displayed on or close to listed buildings so they do not detract from the character and appearance of the building. Signs that are normally permitted within the advertisement regulations (through applications for advertisement consent or full planning applications including advertisement consent) require separate listed building consent if they are attached to listed buildings.

Shopfront advertising should not extend above the level of the bottom of the first-floor window in the wall where the advertisement is.

Where opportunities arise to improve the appearance of a shopfront or building, through the reduction of stickers, laminate and posters for example, such a de-cluttering exercise will improve the attractiveness of a business and the council may use planning conditions to secure improvements to the development.

The display of an unauthorised advertisement is an offence and can be subject to prosecution in the Courts where substantial fines can be imposed. It is strongly recommended that anyone wishing to display an advertisement first checks with the Local Planning Authority and, when required, obtains the relevant permission first.

The use of graphic window displays which cover the whole or the majority of a shop window will be discouraged and will not be permitted on listed buildings or within a conservation area. This technique frequently turns a shop window into an oversized advertising hoarding and detracts from the character of the area and appearance of the building.

Figure 8: Traditional hand painted lettering, Weston-super-Mare

figure 8

3.9       Shopfront lighting

Internal lighting within a shop can enhance the attractiveness of the property and bring life to the wider streetscape, especially during the winter months. The night time economy can also be supported by a degree of internal illumination and shopfront security enhanced by a sensitively lit display area.

External illumination of the shopfront should be carefully considered. Within a conservation area, special attention will be paid to the desirability of preserving or enhancing the character and appearance of the area and lighting schemes that affect a listed building or its setting should have special regard to the desirability of preserving the building or its setting. Therefore, illumination of signs or advertisements on listed buildings and all buildings in conservation areas will only be permitted where it can be demonstrated that it makes a positive contribution to the preservation and enhancement of that area or building.

The deemed consent of illuminated advertisements does not extend to any premises in a conservation area. Internally lit box fascia signs and projecting box signs will not be permitted in conservation areas or on listed buildings because they are unsympathetic to the special character of the area or building.

In cases where external illumination is appropriate, such as on business premises that are open in the evening, the amount, type and design of illumination should be sympathetic to the building and its wider street setting. Light fittings should be an integral feature of the fascia, concealed at source to prevent overly bright or dazzling displays. Signs lit by individual halo illumination or signs illuminated by light fittings concealed within a trough integral to the fascia may be acceptable.

Other forms of lighting such as swan necks can adversely affect the character of a shopfront by obscuring historic details but may be appropriate for public houses. Careful consideration should be given to the environmental impacts of lighting and illumination, and how these effects can be mitigated. Many buildings in commercial areas are externally lit beyond their basic requirement and light spill can disrupt the attractiveness of an area at night.

3.10     Blinds and awnings

Traditional retractable awnings or blinds can be an attractive feature in the streetscape particularly where a sense of enclosure or intimacy is desirable for window shoppers or the provision of external tables and chairs. The appearance of the awning is important and its material should be sufficiently durable to protect against the sun and rain. Awnings were originally made of canvas. Care is needed in the selection of an appropriate fabric for a shopfront, particularly in conservation areas. Correct detailing and traditional craftsmanship is encouraged on all historic buildings, including listed buildings.

Recessed blind boxes provide a protective enclosure for the blind or awning when it is not in use. Integral blind boxes will be supported where they are positioned neatly above or below the fascia board. Blind boxes added retrospectively should not project forward of the building line or sit uncomfortably above the cornice. It may be possible to fit the blind box on the underside of the structural soffit.

Modern fabrics, where they have a non-reflective or glossy plastic appearance are suitable in new awnings. The colour of the blind or awning should correspond to the shopfront and fascia and the blind should not act as the primary sign for the shop with lettering kept to a minimum, limited to the name of the company or business.

Curved, rigid framed fixed blinds, also known as Dutch canopies will not be permitted in new development in conservation areas or on listed buildings as they are generally unsympathetic to the character of the area or building.