Spotlight on The Team – Tony Keller

Tony Keller – Chief Designer

Tony formed Building Tectonics Ltd in 1985; following a career working on large commercial projects in and around London. Their ethos is to provide a high-quality architectural design led by a careful feasibility planning process to make clients projects a reality, without suffering the pitfalls that many owners of properties face. With his excellent organisational and communication skills and extensive knowledge of what does and doesn’t work design and build wise, it means all the projects that the company take on are managed successfully to completion.

Building Tectonics moved to Fenny Stratford in 1998 after completing the conversion of a Grade 2 listed building into three commercial units and three flats; after which the team moved to their current office space in an old Salvation Army Hall. It was completely refurbished to create a wonderful studio space that they now enjoy together with other companies.

Renovating listed buildings takes a certain skill set which, fortunately as a practice, Building Tectonics have and it also helped Tony realise his other dream of owning his own restaurant and they converted their original office in the Grade 2 listed building into ‘The Fenny Kitchen’ an Anglo Mediterranean Restaurant which opened in August 2018.

When he’s not visiting clients houses or working on plans, Tony can be found in the kitchen of the Fenny Kitchen drinking wine and trialling new recipes to try on his new restaurant customers.

Three things that inspire Tony:

Making things work – arriving at a design that creates a workable layout, a pleasant interior and exterior and is practical in its build
Pleasing people – giving them something that they can dream about and eventually reside in
Running my own business – It’s tough but somebody has to do it

 

What is your favourite example of Architectural Design?

My favourite building is The Barcelona Pavilion which was designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and was the German Pavilion for the 1929 International Exposition in Barcelona, Spain.

 

A close up of some green Christmas tree branches with two red baubles hanging off of them, and some star shaped cookies in the background with white icing.

What Christmas Decorating Traditions do you have?

Christmas is fast approaching and the first Sunday of Advent is typically when people put their Christmas decorations up; which this year falls on the first Sunday of December. Advent comes from the Latin word meaning ‘coming’ and while we regard Advent as a joyous season, it is also intended to be a period of preparation, much like Lent.

However, every year it seems to get earlier with some people starting to put their Christmas decorations up from mid-November whereas others may leave it as late as the weekend before Christmas. This is influenced heavily by what’s in the shops as many stores start selling decorations as soon as the kids go back to school in September.

When it comes to painting and decorating the interiors of their homes, each individual has a different idea of colour schemes they prefer and how they like to accessorise their rooms; and it is the same when it comes to decorating their houses at Christmas. One family may have an 8ft Nordmann fir and spruce it up with lavish baubles, toppers and lights, and another may simply decorate a fake tree that cost a tenner.

The traditional Christmas decoration colours used to be red and green with green representing the continuance of life through the winter and the Christian belief in eternal life through Jesus; and red symbolising the blood that Jesus shed at his crucifixion. Whereas, in the past you used to just decorate your lounge and hallway with some tinsel, paper chains, mistletoe and holly with possibly a nativity scene set up, now Christmas decorating is big business and competition is fierce amongst the high street stores and online retailers; with so much variety to choose from and personalised options on wreaths and just about every accessory you can think of.

It’s now socially acceptable to have a different colour scheme in every room of your house and people go to great lengths to co-ordinate their houses, with some even going as far as to hire an interior designer especially for the Christmas season. Basically, when it comes to decorating your home for Christmas, anything goes and there is a theme and colour scheme for everyone.

One family may dig out the same decorations every year whereas others may start with a clean slate and colour scheme each year. If you really want to be on trend for 2018; this year the fashionable colours are varying within the range of purple, blue and grey so if you fancy a change try this out?

For many the central element of the festive decorations is still the tree; and this can now range from having one tree up in your hallway or lounge through to trees in each of the main rooms. Traditionally, people would have chosen a real fir tree but now the options are endless from artificial trees with integrated lights or decorations through to trees with music systems build in and one of the newest trends in the last few years – upside down trees to allow room for more presents to be stored underneath. More people are starting to think about their choice of tree and realising that an artificial tree they bring out each year is so much better for the environment; and with the improvement in their build quality, it is now sometimes difficult to tell the difference between real and artificial trees.

Tinsel used to take over houses for decades with every colour you can think of and then took a downturn with some feeling it looked cheap and nasty, but is now having a revival; however, it’s best not to overuse it but just choose carefully where you feature it in your overall decorating scheme.

Decorating the exterior of your house used to only be for the rich; but is now becoming increasingly popular with decorations ranging from garish inflatable snowmen right up to lights that change colour across the house in time to music; and front gardens filled with reindeer and sleights.

It’s all about personal choice but there is no need to spend a fortune if you can’t afford to (or simply don’t wish to) as you can just take your inspiration from nature and get the kids involved. Take a walk in the local country park or forest and collect greenery, fir cones, berries etc and make your own wreaths, candle displays etc and have fun making craft creations as a family.

Do you prefer a modern clean and contemporary look to your Christmas decorating or do you prefer a traditional red and green colour scheme and hang family baubles on your tree and add to it year on year? We would love for you to share your photos with us of how you decorate your house at Christmas.

Building Regulations in the United Kingdom

If you’re looking at extending your house in the UK, you might have heard the term “Building Regulations” mentioned. In essence, these are a set of rules which must be adhered to in order to receive consent to allow the building work to be carried out. The document is split into numerous parts, each tackling a specific area of the building. Such parts would include structure, fire, sound, thermal, drainage, stairs and electrical safety.

Whilst the Building Regulations in their current form were first introduced in 1965, the origins of the British version of these legislative documents can be traced back to London around the turn of the 1200’s. Constant fires due to the popularity of timber and thatched buildings as well as how crowded cities such as London were led to many residents voicing their concerns with some matters dealt with in court.

Perhaps one of the most important events which led to the rules becoming more stringent was the Great Fire of London in 1666. The widespread damage which this caused laid down strict rules on how Buildings were to be constructed, as well as which materials should be used. This was done in order to avoid a repeat of the devastating fire which wiped out most of the City of London.

Since the introduction of the Building Regulations as we know them today some 50 years ago, many improvements in Building Technology and materials has warranted the amending of the Regulations every few years. The current Regulations which were introduced in 2010, have been amended two or three times for instance. Evolutions in the way in which Buildings are constructed have meant that new methods and techniques have been adopted as standard practice in most domestic scenarios. Cavity walls filled with Insulation have allowed houses to be warmer than ever before whilst new buildings are required to be wheelchair friendly in thier design. The latter of which helps to make new homes somewhat future proof and accessible by everyone.

Although there have been leaps and bounds in the standard of quality expected from the Regulations, they don’t cover everything. A good set of Building Regulations drawings with plenty of details should be produced to aide with this. At Building Tectonics Ltd, we pride ourselves in being able to put together the details needed to create a package that can both be used to gain Building Regulations approval, and can also be used by the builders to work from. Some things such as floor and wall finishes and positions of plug sockets tend to be best left to the client and builder to discuss, although most of the hidden detail is shown within the detailed Building Regulations drawings.

Photo of a large spacious room with off white walls, a grey corner sofa, wooden floor and wooden coffee table. Next to that there is a grey rug,matching the sofa. There is a glass dining table with large wooden legs, and wooden chairs with grey cushioning.

Makeover in Dunstable

Yesterday, I happened to visit and photograph a project we’ve designed, it was a last minute opportunity so taking these pictures in the evening never shows off the architecture as it should. However, I thought it would be nice to share them nonetheless.

Our clients loved the location of their house, but not the design. Some areas were very nice, but what let the house down was the long journey from the road to the front door, long internal corridors and the overall style of the house. It had been extended a few times previously, and a holistic overview was needed to revamp the house to put these things right, and also to add some more accommodation. We suggested moving the lounge so that the entrance led into this very impressive hall type lounge, thus removing the long distance from the road and parking to the front door. This also removed the long corridors because they now became rooms that themselves connected other rooms together. More accommodation was added to create a two storey bedroom wing and the house was given an external makeover at the same time, I can’t wait until I’m invited back!

Written by Tony Keller – Building Tectonics Ltd.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Fenny Kitchen Restaurant

The main bulk of our projects here involve working on our client’s houses, but every now and again we also get involved in some commercial projects. We recently designed and project managed the interior of a restaurant, this has been ongoing for some time with the work being split into two phases; the first of which was the refurbishment and restoration of the external timber together with some structural alterations. Due to the fact that the building is a Grade 2 listed building, the Local Authorities Conservation Team had to be consulted along with the Planning Department, Structural Engineers and Building Inspector. Many of the details had to be resolved on-site and communicated to the builders on a daily basis.

The building itself was originally a farmhouse built around the 1630’s, it’s been built with a timber frame and brick infill which is of a high standard. As the photo above shows, the top of this timber column has been carefully carved, which leads us to believe that the farmhouse was built for someone of a high status.

When confronted with carrying out work to an older building, it’s good practice to make it clear what’s new and what’s original. In this respect, a bit of ingenuity is sometimes required when necessary structural improvements need to be carried out.
In the photo above, the layering of the structural enhancements can be clearly seen; the dark oak in the middle has been sandwiched between pitch pine in Victorian times, which has subsequently been sandwiched by a steel plate and bolts in modern times. Thus, the existing structural frame is on show but with sympathetic improvements. A carpenter has then filled in some of the oak which was then rotten and decayed with some new oak, and no attempt has been made to create an ‘invisible mend’ quite deliberately.

Once all of the structural work was completed, the second phase could commence. This was working on the interior, which wasn’t easy. A different team of tradesmen were brought in with a different set of skills, but they proved to be unreliable, so we had to replace them with others. The case was the same with the electrical company and by the end of the project, we had a great team of builders, electricians and plumbers.

Often, good design can come about by following obvious structural necessities. In the above photo, a new steel column with cap plate was required to support the timber frame above and following good practice, the new and the old should be bolted together.

The restaurant opened on Sunday to much acclaim, and we are proud to have been involved.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Detailed drawings and Building Regulations

We are getting more and more requests to take on projects that have already been started by other design companies (including architects, architectural technologists and amateurs). The problem for us is we almost always have to start again, and so our fees are the same as they would be had no design work been undertaken previously. Of course, this is very annoying for clients who have already paid someone else (sometimes, far more than is warranted) for this abortive work. From our point of view, we feel very uncomfortable having to explain and justify our fees under these circumstances, but the reason is generally two-fold.

Firstly, we need an accurate model of the existing building before any design work can continue, and so we have to undertake a measured survey and draw this using our CAD software. Few companies take as much trouble with measuring as carefully as we do, so although there is an accurate survey and computer model we still have to check it. If it’s wrong, it can and often does become very problematic during the building/construction phase because, for instance, steelwork may have been incorrectly designed, and space the clients think they are getting could be smaller. We always expect builders to check the dimensions before ordering or manufacturing components, but our plans can usually be relied upon to project manage and design individual components; such as steelwork and fittings. For us, the only way to check if a survey by another company is accurate is to undertake it ourselves and compare; this then means that the earlier survey is now redundant.

The second reason we have to charge as if no previous architectural work was undertaken is because quite often, the previous design is flawed. It’s alarming to say that we’re seeing this more and more often for some of the most appalling design work that people have paid far too much for in some cases. I have concluded that there are some “designers” (so-called) out there who commence a project with no intentions of dealing with the later stages of the design process, consequently, they just don’t seem to care whether or not the design works. With this in mind, my plea to those of you commissioning design work is to ask the designer whether they would take the design work through to a detailed design stage; if they say no, you really should wonder why. The architectural design process must consider the practicalities and cannot just be a set of pretty pictures; just because it can be drawn doesn’t mean it can be built. In our field, when we design, we always consider how it will be constructed and we always appraise the proposed design for compliance with building regulations, for instance.

There are many competent design companies and architects to choose from other than Building Tectonics, but if you are commissioning then please, please check your designers competence. Even though we have a long and very successful track record (most of our work goes on to be built, which isn’t true of many companies in our experience), I am surprised how seldom clients ask us for references. In our case, we have a lot of completed projects which can be viewed here on the website, we also have many appreciative comments from previous clients, most of whom’s projects were completed without any significant problems on site. I wouldn’t mind being asked to verify that. I doubt if some of the individual companies who produce these very poor and unworkable designs could exhibit such a vast catalogue of work.

 

The external architecture of your house.

One area of our work that we believe is unbeknownst to our clients, is what we call the external makeover. Quite often at the initial enquiry, the client may talk about how dark their hallway is, or mention that the stairs in the hallway need updating, but very seldom does a client mention that they dislike the external appearance of their house. It may be because the lay-person doesn’t consider the transformation of the exterior as a possibility, or economically viable. It can be true that when combined with some internal transformative work to the house, it becomes easier to justify in terms of cost or effort, but it’s a shame to relegate the architectural style of the house to that of secondary importance.

Often, clients initially choose a house for practical reasons and accept the exterior of the house as it is, not even questioning whether it could be changed at all. That is, until it comes up by chance during a conversation with the team at Building Tectonics. Please take some time to see what we can do regarding this because how your house looks is important, probably more important than most people acknowledge.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It’s not just an exercise of pastiche, as there is a definite skill needed to pull this off well. I’m sure some people could do this easily, but unless you possess this innate skill, an understanding and knowledge of a range of architectural styles is very helpful. Other factors to keep in mind, other than what may be termed “architectural fashions” are how the facade will weather, and whether it will need any maintenance.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Sometimes a facelift can also bring about other positive points such as improved thermal insulation or improved sound insulation from noisy traffic. Even without such practical improvements, your house could be worth more and may sell much quicker when the time comes to move on after these improvements have been made.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

New Enquiries; picking up the pieces.

We’ve recently had a lot of new enquiries who had hired other companies within our field coming to us instead to complete the final stages of their projects. Some of these other companies had completed the planning drawings, and then refused to prepare the drawings for the next stage.

When we look at these plans, we can see why the other companies were unwilling to complete the technical plans; the designs they proposed are unbuildable in some cases.  That leaves us in a difficult position because it’s not professional to criticise other companies, but when I tell these potential clients that we’d have to start again, I also have to explain why we couldn’t just adopt their current plans. Starting again has to be reflected in our costs, which doesn’t usually go down too well…

Take care when choosing your architectural designer.

This week has been a rather distinctive one from what the team usually faces. One of our clients who had spoken to us last year, and ended up engaging another, more local designer for their project, has got back in touch with us. Unfortunately, the local architect they hired failed to produce any plans or ideas despite taking a fee from our potential client. The fact that the client has returned to us ought to please me I suppose, but I dislike hearing stories of fellow architectural professionals letting people down.

Soon after this, another unusual situation occurred where a different client had engaged us to produce detailed plans for him and his builder, who was ready to commence building work within the next couple of weeks. This meant that our usual turnaround had to be shortened. Of course, we accepted the “challenge”, however, I’m glad that not all of our clients are in such a hurry because we like to take time over our work; this allows us to digest the ideas and make sure that what we are sending out lacks mistakes.

As promised, the plans were ready within two weeks. When we telephoned the client to say that we were done, he said that the decision had been made to sell the house a few days ago, and if he had known we would be so quick he would have rung us to stop us. Needless to say, the client wasn’t best pleased to have to pay for plans that he no longer required. However, he understood that we will not get the time we spent on producing his drawings back, so he paid us despite having no use for them. Actually, we don’t like taking money for abortive work, but the team had worked very hard and had put in extra time to complete it, so it was only fair that we still receive the payment. As to every anecdote, there is usually a moral; choose your architectural designer with care, and once you’ve engaged the right people, make sure they’re kept updated and vice versa.

Improving the value of your house on a budget

Your house is the most important asset you have. We would assume you spend a lot of time in your home, so improving your house increases not only the quality of living within it but quite often, it also increases the value. I say often because not all of the changes made to a property will increase its value, or get a good return so to speak. A good example of this is garage conversions, in my opinion extending is much better than converting and therefore losing a garage.

If we ever see anything occurring in the design stage which would decrease the value of the property, we make our clients aware because we always look to try to add value to the building when developing schemes for a project. If we were asked to add a porch for example, we would automatically look for ways in which we could improve the whole façade.

Currently, I have a project on my desk where the clients have asked for fairly modest changes; namely adding some lounge space. The rear garden has no access other than through the house, so the obvious answer to add this space is probably through a rear extension. The problem with this is the process of removing the excavated foundation soil, and bringing in materials is going to be labour intensive and therefore very expensive.

We discussed with the clients the points about their house that they like and dislike, and one of the outstanding points that they mentioned was their dislike for the front of the house. Due to this, one of the schemes that I am currently developing for their project is for a front extension, whilst rearranging the non-loadbearing interior walls so that the lounge is made bigger by moving the kitchen further forward.

Written by Tony Keller, Building Tectonics.