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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Design – it can be difficult.

Every project we work on is different, and coming up with architectural design solutions isn’t always easy. However, we pride ourselves on being able to produce at least one solution that works well. This is why during the feasibility stage we keep working on a project until we find a scheme that is satisfactory.  When designing, we like to take all of our clients requirements into consideration to fulfil their wishes, however, it can be challenging to come up with a compromise between room arrangement and making the layout technically feasible. Experience can help but occasionally we have to do a lot of background work to ensure that what we are suggesting to the client can be done.
Initially, we start with what we believe is the most complex requirement asked for by the client and look for alternatives. We repeat this process for each piece of criteria; this quickly narrows down the available arrangements. Sometimes there is no solution that achieves all the clients requirements and so you have to ditch one and start over.
This is why the feasibility scheme process sometimes takes more time than we usually estimate. It seems to me that clients that have worked in a creative industry understand that creativity cannot always happen to order. Last week a client was surprised to hear that we would need another week before sending him the proposed schemes. Upon receiving them he now understands and is delighted by how much extra effort has gone into the idea. We wouldn’t have expected that this last minute thought would have turned into the best design.
Of course, “best” can be subjective and clients occasionally get schemes that do not meet all their objectives but we like to give them the chance to reevaluate their wish list in the light of our findings.
All I can say to prospective clients is please be patient, it’s not because we are dragging our feet.

Rear Extension in Great Holm

We had worked with these clients before, and having successfully remodelled their previous house they had decided that it was time to move on. The house that they consequently bought was much larger, but the layout didn’t work for them. When there is so much to be done in the way of re-decorating it can stress some people out, but not these clients. If you can figure out the points that are wrong with the architecture of the house and how to rectify them it’s worth doing, even if it’s a smaller ‘facelift’. Working out how to solve these problems is our job, and we can always find a way.

In the end, the changes made to the layout turned out to be quite modest; relocating the kitchen plus the addition of a garden room at the back has made all the difference. Sadly, the planning authorities had vetoed the external changes we had proposed which is unusual, but it happens sometimes.

Although most of our clients get a kitchen designer in, we always show a working kitchen layout on our schemes (plans), because it’s important for us to show a space that functions well as a kitchen. In this particular case our clients are very much into their food and cooking; so we worked together with them and ended up with a design that is not only practical but looks good too. During this design process, the clients were always thinking about their decor and where it would go, we love what they’ve done with the space provided.

We’re pleased to say that our clients are very happy with the outcome, and we were happy to assist.

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5 tips for anyone thinking about improving their house

You gain new experiences and knowledge in everything that you do, and that’s no different for us and our clients. Every project is a learning process, be that for us or for the clients; here are some tips from previous clients for anyone looking to make some changes to their homes in the future. This is what our previous client said:

Find out what foundations you have before the ground is broken.
Some previous clients didn’t know to have this checked before their project started. They later discovered that a small tree in their neighbours garden meant that they had to have a custom designed foundation.
Fortunately for them their builder had seen the same circumstance, so they were about to get them designed beforehand and the groundworks were correct from the beginning.

Choose your builders carefully.
Finding a reputable, well-organised builder will help you immensely as your project progresses; they are likely to know the local building inspector’s particular likes/dislikes, additionally, they should be able to recommend some good subcontractors. If you get the chance, go and look at some of their work. Try not to worry too much if they have no website, they should be organised enough to tell you when they will start your project and how long it will take. During the process, get involved by taking a look at where they’re at as often as you can, and if something doesn’t look quite right, talk to them about it.

Give as much detail as possible to your builder.
Giving the builder as much information as you can from the beginning will help both the builder and yourself in achieving a smooth project. If you can, get it included in your contract so that all parties involved know what is expected. Try to include window sizes and finishes, the type and amount of sockets and lights that will be needed, what size and type of heating you would like, and subsequently how many radiators if applicable, whether you want the steels hidden or not, door types, sizes and finishes among many other specifications. This level of information helps the builder, and helps you to clarify your expectations. Also discuss things with your builder; they may have ideas for how to deal with certain things that arise. If you’re unsure of how to convey all of this information to builders, we can help with that in our building regulation stage.

Pay your builders bills on time.
This helps to keep the builder on your side, and also keeps the project moving forward smoothly.

Make sure all subcontractors liaise with your builders.
If you use subcontractors alongside your builders, eg: Kitchen designers, make sure that they work together with your builders as per the requirements.

From a Building Tectonics point of view, these are all sensible points but where foundations are concerned, there are cases where the existing foundations are less important. Also, the design of the new foundations sometimes need to be modified once the foundation trench has been excavated. It’s the one area that, in our view, the builder can justifiably say that his price is provisional and may have to be adjusted. Using subcontractors instead of using one main contractor to organise all the work can lead to problems about who is responsible for health and safety on the building site; remember that there are very heavy fines and even prison for serious breaches of site safety.