Accommodation for Relatives

We’re often asked to prepare schemes to facilitate members of the family to come and live alongside the clients. This request isn’t all that unusual, the so-called “Granny Annex” is quite common. Where a change has occurred is in who comes to stay, rather than the Granny coming to stay, it could be a son/daughter or another relative. Of course, this had been driven by the realisation that some youngsters can’t afford to buy their own house (or even rent in some cases), and sadly, the realisation that they’ll never be able to afford their own house has triggered an amalgamation of resources.

For this to work successfully, the layout, splitting of accommodation and access has to be carefully planned so that each part of the house gets the accommodation needed to facilitate true independence, this all has to be done to some sort of budget. Some of the “granny annexes” that we’ve worked on are truly grand affairs, and others are very small, it depends on the resources available.

I must say, it’s touching to see the sacrifice some parents make to see an economical roof over the heads of their sons and daughters, or even grandchildren. In some cases, a disabled parent or relative is involved and part of their game plan is to be their carer too. As a designer of spaces, if we know that the accommodation is for a disabled person then clearly we have to take that into account, especially in bathrooms and kitchens where space is needed for manoeuvring.

If you have such a project in mind, please get in touch.

Written by Tony Keller – Building Tectonics.

After interior of a kitchen leading to living room.

Extended in Tattenhoe

Our client wanted to create a larger kitchen family area, and a space to sit with friends and enjoy the views over the sunnier side of the house. They’d already thought that converting the garage to livable space may be part of the answer, but our job was to show how the existing and new spaces could be satisfactorily connected together. The resulting scheme achieves a very spacious house, with rooms that allow for separate activities to take place without interference, but also when the time is right, the doors can be opened to allow the new spaces to fully interact. Large folding sliding doors to the garden also allow the outside spaces to be used in conjunction too.
Our client said the following:

“The design has also allowed for some flexibility in how we use our living spaces, which has meant that we have been able to make the most of the increased light coming from the bifold doors and velux windows. We’re delighted with the new living area and the vaulted ceiling has created even more of a spacious feel than we had anticipated”.

The client is extremely pleased with the end result, as are we. To have choices in the way you use space is nice to have, and even though it isn’t requested by clients, we’ll suggest this to clients in the future.

We had been recommended to this client by a previous client, which makes it so much more rewarding.

Open Plan Living

It seems to us that the world can generally be divided into two camps; those who like open plan homes, and those who don’t. We’ve written ad nauseam about family space and kitchens as a combined space, but what we’re talking about here is much more extreme with the kitchen, informal and formal dining, and lounge all as one space.

This style of living is reminiscent of apartment living so more often than not, it’s encountered in continental Europe than in the UK. Although, saying that, it appears that a select few in the UK love to live like this. We’ve now got a growing number of clients who have commissioned us to open up their houses by removing most of the walls on the ground floor. Sometimes, even the staircase is included in this space as well. From a living point of view, if you are considering this, you have to think about noise emanating from other members of the family or guests, odours from cooking, heating all the spaces to the same temperature etc. From our point of view, we have to consider the structural implications of removing so many internal walls and the regulations regarding escape in the event of fire.

If you’re considering such alterations, you might want to consider having a separate ‘snug’ to retreat to when the need arises and, in my opinion most essentially, a utility room to house any noisy equipment. The design of such open plan spaces has to be carefully planned because less wall space means less perimeter for furniture, including small wall cupboards, that means that more floor space is generally required than if you had a more traditional cellular house layout. One big consideration is resale value, I can’t comment on what effect such alterations would have on the value of your house, but I can say that these days more emphasis is put on the quantity of floor area, not just how many reception rooms you have. Furthermore ‘you only sell your house once’, so as long as you can attract that one buyer who loves what you have created, you might sell it.

Written by Tony Keller – Building Tectonics Ltd.

After interior kitchen with dining space.

House remodel in Woburn Sands.

Our clients had bought a bungalow in a very sought after area of Woburn Sands. They had carefully assessed what they wished to achieve with the alterations to the bungalow, in brief this consisted of creating an open plan downstairs where they could eat and entertain guests, and create a first-floor bedroom in the loft space. On analysis, it was clear that not much of the roof structure could be kept, and so they vacated the whole house for a few months to allow the roof to be removed, and a new taller roof structure created. It was all quite a major overhaul of what was a very tired and outdated house.

We also suggested that given the radical nature of these changes, consideration should be given to improving the entrance area. As clients go, these were a joy to work with and we found out early on that as a design team (I believe that the client is also apart of the design team), we could all introduce ideas into the scheme knowing they would all be given open and full consideration. Many ideas were introduced into the design even from the earliest discussions, and the eventual final design managed to effortlessly accommodate nearly everything the clients had wanted, and more.

The resulting chalet now has a fabulous bedroom suite overlooking the most beautiful canopy of trees rising up from the valley below. The interior has been modified and slightly extended to create a collection of spaces which achieve what is required of individual spaces, but they also connect together so that you can pass from space to space in an easy, uncomplicated way whilst taking in the interior and exterior views.

Externally, the building was given more of a facelift. The raised roof structure was treated to a new slate roof, which together with sprocketed eaves always looks majestic. The walls were clad in render and cedar, which enabled us to introduce more insulation underneath, and together with the limited use of metal on parts of the roof, the house now has a modern, fresh and contemporary look.

Obviously, our clients have invested heavily in this project, but the resulting house is perfect, and very special. From out point of view, we’re proud to have been a part of this project, and would thank our clients for the commission, which incidentally has already resulted in two more commissions from admiring neighbours.


Sex, drugs and architecture

One of my architectural lecturers used to say that along with eating drinking and sex, building was also up there as a natural impulse. Perhaps, in essence, at its heart it is nest building. This same nest-making urge may explain why some of our customers wish to convert their loft into a habitable room or extend their house even if they do not need the extra space, at least that’s what I’ve always assumed. However, there may be more to it.

Consider this, we give spaces names such as kitchen, bedroom and lounge etc and even though this nomenclature is very useful when we wish to identify a room, it also describes the activity that takes place there and so becomes a sort of repository for that function. We all like to compartmentalise whether it be our book collection or the aspects of our life and this I’m sure helps us to make order of our lives and make decisions.

However perhaps using such nomenclature belies the subtlety of human existence and life. I now realise that some clients are after a space to sit and ponder for instance, or somewhere to have a quiet face to face chat or even view their collection of matchboxes and they find it hard to explain to me as their designer what they are after.

For me, the nearest we come to this discussion is the subject of phenomenology, which may be described as those factors that together coalesce to form the character of the space. It is not just about the room or the materials or even where the space is geographically located, but something even more esoteric. It’s quite simply about the feeling the space is to engender and therefore, the problem for me is how on earth can I get inside a client’s head to know what feeling this is?

Along with requesting a list of requirements, if I sense it’s going to be helpful, I will also ask for a scrapbook of images that illicit the right feeling and this is useful but not foolproof. I would say to any such new clients, please give this some thought and I’ll try to help.

Written by Tony Keller – Building Tectonics.

A successful building project.

As I tell my clients, there are four simple rules for a successful building project.
Firstly, you need a good scheme and plan of work. It should be a thorough review of what is required, it needs to be realistic, achieve the essential goals and be robust.
Secondly, the chosen scheme needs to be adequately documented with good technical plans so that others can quote, understand and ultimately build.
Thirdly, you need to choose your suppliers and builders with care so you can be sure that they operate with integrity and the necessary skill.
Fourthly, and finally, you should not change the design once the building work has been commissioned.
In my opinion, if you follow these four rules your project will almost certainly be a success, and that means on time and to budget.
I will expand on the above four point over the next weeks weeks for those that may be interested.

Garage to kitchen/family room conversions.

I have spoken about garage conversions before, and that to losing the valuable storage space that a garage provides should not be undertaken lightly. However, we have had a speight of projects recently where the existing garage has been in exactly the right place to provide a kitchen and/or family room so that it connects up with the house to create a really great layout. In both cases we have been able to build a new garage to replace the old one. They were both large double garages and so they made great kitchen spaces. One project is completed and the other is still on site at the moment. The other clever thing to do with a garage that is to be converted is to open the roof so a really light and airy space can be created. Given the relatively low ceiling heights of rooms in the UK, the contrast in height makes for an amazing room, especially where skylights are installed.

Written by Tony Keller – Building Tectonics Ltd.

Project in Bletchley

Our clients wanted to replace a conservatory with a room that they could use all year round. The old timber conservatory was in need of replacement as it was rotten in places but rather than opt for a newer plastic conservatory (which would still have a limited life expectancy), they wanted to invest their money wisely by extending their house and create what we  would call a “garden room”. They believe, as we do, that this would be a longer lasting asset. They wanted to create a more integrated layout so that the “garden room” became a space to be used in conjunction with the kitchen and also formed the ‘hub’ of the house, connecting with the lounge and the garden. The exterior was intended to be simple, unostentatious and blend in with the existing building. The clients are delighted with the results as it gives them everything they required.

What makes us different.

An article on using social media has suggested that as a company, you should make it clear how you differ from the competition. So here goes:

When we start a project off we nearly always carry out a measured survey. Many of our competitors develop a scheme from a basic sketch of the building to be altered and then carry out a proper survey once a scheme was been agreed. We’ve considered working this way, but the danger is that if you base your scheme on erroneous information, the scheme may not be as build-able as supposed, thus leading to delays and additional design costs later on. Of course the cost of the survey has to be borne at some point, but with our way of working it’s at the very beginning of a project, and with the other way, it’s later. I can see why some clients prefer to defer this cost, especially if they worry that they’ll never achieve an acceptable scheme, but we can nearly always find a suitable scene for our clients. Our record shows that less that 2% fail to move forward because we could not achieve a suitable scheme, and all but one of these clients has returned to us with another building to look at. I’m pretty sure that one of the reasons for this is because we’re thorough, and that having accurate data at the outset means we can “design tight”, meaning we do not have to shy away from solutions that are highly spatially/structurally sensitive to what is there in respect of the existing building.We’ve certainly found solutions where others have failed, and this perhaps is one reason for this.

The downside of our policy is that we have to charge more for this initial phase of the work, and no doubt this will put some potential clients off. However, if you read the recent report that shows a great dissatisfaction and mistrust of architects to deliver their schemes to the client on time and budget because of a lack of technical rigour, I must stick to my policy of insisting thoroughness from day one.

Of course, we have our way of working and other successful practices have theirs and I do not wish to denigrate other ways of working. I will, however go on to explain where we differ from other architectural practices in future articles.

Tony Keller
Building Tectonics

Home improvements very much in vogue.

Planning applications have increased 46% over the last year or so (for so-called householder applications) compared to the same period in 2013. As these figures suggest, extending your home is once again a national pastime.

So what is motivating people to extend or improve their homes?

In most cases a need or desire will be driving the process, such as needing another bedroom or a larger kitchen, but in many instances it’s the desire for what has been coined ‘integrated living’. Strange as it may seem, the way people use space would appear to be almost fashion led and we are definitely going through a phase where people want to open up their living space to create a kitchen, family/lounge space all as one. People now see the kitchen as the hub of the home, which should have direct links to other social spaces. Living rooms have become smaller and cosier, a place to retire to later in the evening. Upstairs the pressure is on to create larger bedrooms with a large dressing space for the master bedroom. Interestingly for the first time we have seen some clients prepared to loose a room to create this effect but more often extending the house is the preference.

It would appear that the difficulty in finding a suitable larger house to move to is as much a problem as that of affordability. Although in many instances clients tell us that the cost of extending is much less than moving, once all the costs are taken into account. It is possible that householders are generally becoming more demanding, whilst house builders have not yet caught up in terms of design. If this is true, and I think it is, then extending and altering your house to fit your family’s requirements is more likely to give you what you want, rather than moving. Of course you will need to think about how desirable the house is to others when you come to sell it on, and this is where professional help can really assist.