Preserving the Past: The Art of Shopfronts and Signage in Historic Places

HAT, 17 June 2024 - About Archaeology in Buckinghamshire

In the heart of our historic districts, shopfronts and signage play a pivotal role in maintaining the aesthetic integrity and cultural significance of our heritage. These elements are not merely functional aspects of commercial spaces; they are integral to the narrative of our towns and villages, telling stories of the past while serving the needs of the present.

A Harmonious Blend

The design of shopfronts in historic places requires a harmonious blend with the existing architecture. It's about creating a visual dialogue between the new and the old, ensuring that any addition respects the building's original character. The key is to enhance, not overshadow, the architectural features that make our historic buildings unique.

An historic brick-built building with a store front

Design with Respect

When designing shopfronts, it's essential to consider the entire façade of the building. The ground floor should complement the stories above, creating a cohesive look that respects the building's proportions and symmetry. This approach helps maintain the visual integrity of historic streetscapes, ensuring that modern interventions do not detract from the area's historic value.

A historic building with arched windows

Signage: A Subtle Touch

Signage in historic areas should be subtle, not loud. It should fit within the architectural context, using traditional materials, colours, and scales that align with the historic environment. The goal is to provide clear information while preserving the visual harmony of the area.

Colour: More Than Just Aesthetic

The choice of paint colours for shopfronts is more than just an aesthetic decision; it's a historical one. Colours should be selected with an understanding of the building's age and style, ensuring that they complement rather than clash with the historic palette.

A historic building with arched windows

Lighting: Enhancing Character

Lighting should serve to enhance the character of historic shopfronts, not alter it. Thoughtful and discrete lighting design can highlight architectural details and create a welcoming ambiance without compromising the area's historical integrity.

A brick-built building with a store front

The Impact of Heritage-Led Regeneration

Heritage-led regeneration projects have shown that sympathetic shopfront and signage design can contribute to the revitalisation of historic high streets. By prioritising the preservation of character, these projects create vibrant, attractive spaces that highlight the past while embracing the future.

A great example of this is Derby’s historic city centre. A joint project between Historic England and Derby City Council has turned one of England’s poorest-performing retail areas into an award-winning and successful shopping destination through the refurbishment and restoration of historic details to some 97 properties within the conservation area. During the 2008 financial crisis, Derby showed great resilience by only seeing a 7-9% decrease in footfall in the centre when the UK average was 26%. Further information can be found here.


The design of shopfronts and signage in historic places is a delicate balance between preservation and progress. By respecting the architectural heritage and the stories these buildings tell, we can ensure that our historic districts remain not just reminders of the past, but active, living parts of our communities.