Re-modelling of Woburn Sands Cottage Interior

Whilst some clients have a design idea visualised in their heads from day one of how they would like to extend or alter their properties; equally there are other clients who contact us to ask for our help. They are often unsure what they require and need us to come up with potential design concepts to make their homes work better and more efficiently for them. This was the situation with our lovely clients in Woburn Sands; who contacted us on recommendation from a number of past clients, to discuss re-modelling and enlarging their two-bedroom cottage.

After an initial discussion, they took time out to go away and firm up exactly what they were trying to achieve from the design process. This allowed them to then come back to us with a clearer idea of what they needed. Having made the decision to go ahead; they thereby engaged us to generate some ideas for them of how to make their space work best within their budget.

Although it obviously helps when clients are clear about what they are trying to achieve, it is not unusual for us to help them clarify in their own minds exactly what they are trying to achieve from the design process. While our clients had clarified what their needs were and had developed some ideas of their own, they acknowledged that they had no prior experience in extending or modernising a house. They therefore, needed an architectural design company to challenge their assumptions of what could actually work.

One clear problem they identified to us from the start was that the layout upstairs needed to be altered. They needed to be able to access all the rooms from the hallway instead of the current layout of having to go through one room to another.  In addition, they also wanted to add a third bedroom with natural daylight and install a new family sized bathroom. On the ground floor they craved a more open plan layout with kitchen and family space that linked the downstairs space with the garden.

A very steep staircase needed some consideration; as to whether it could be either altered or relocated. We looked at the option of a loft conversion or two or three different layouts to achieve the third bedroom. A strong winner soon emerged which involved altering the ground floor layout to achieve the open plan layout they desired. This meant a first-floor extension would sit neatly over the top. Whilst a loft conversion would have been possible, it would not have worked out as financially economical.

When it came to the staircase re-design, we tried a few scenarios and again a strong contender soon emerged. Whilst there were a couple of issues during the building work; we were happy to help and advise the builder, as even experienced builders sometimes like a second opinion. Sadly, this is not always the case as not all builders are happy to declare their uncertainty over some aspects.  This is a shame and we as a consultancy try to encourage builders to talk to us about any aspects that they are unsure of.  It is always beneficial to foster a team spirit and both sides can learn from discussions on-site and use it for future reference. In this case it involved the correct choice of roof tile for a modified roof pitch.

Following the building work, our clients are very happy to have moved in and have provided us with some photographs of their new home which we are always grateful for. We wish them well in their new extended, enlarged and improved home and look forward to visiting in the near future to see this great space for ourselves.

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Spotlight on the Team – Ina Cicu

Ina Cicu – Design Technologist

Ina joined the Building Tectonics Architectural Practice team almost five years ago as a Design Technologist. Having an Interior Design degree background, she was always fascinated by buildings and architecture. However, it wasn’t until she started to work at Building Tectonics that she discovered the back stage of this wonderful creative process.

Due to her colleagues’ patience and professionalism, she has learned to redesign client’s houses; to undertake the technical part of projects such as Building Regulation drawings and how to deal with the planning applications.  Ina’s favourite part of the job is to design people houses, to create new space and to bring life to them.

Three things that inspire Ina:

Nature – this is the most amazing ‘architect’ as everything is perfect – shapes, colours, sounds, etc.

Travelling – this is one of my passions as travelling from place to place you can discover the different architectural styles influenced by culture, geographical area and time. You also meet new people who share with you their amazing life stories and visions.

Successful and intelligent people – these are the ones who inspire me the most – both in my personal and work life.

What is your favourite example of Architectural Design?
My favourite architect is Antoni Gaudi and his work transcended mainstream Modernisme, culminating in an organic style inspired by natural forms. One of my favourites is his masterpiece Casa Batllo (pictured above) as like everything Gaudí designed, it is only identifiable as Modernisme or Art Nouveau in the broadest sense.

The other example of Architectural design which inspires me is Tianjin Binhai Library, in Tianjin, China. It was designed by a Rotterdam-based architectural firm along with the Tianjin Urban Planning and Design Institute, a group of local architects. Due to its tight construction schedule by the local government, the project went from preliminary drawings to its doors opening within three years in October 2017.

A Day in the Life of an Architectural Practice

Have you ever wondered what it is like to work in an Architectural Practice for the day and envisaged all the dreaming and designing that goes on? Well now is your chance as we get inside the head of our Chief Designer, Tony Keller to find out what a normal day entails for him and the Building Tectonics team from start to finish.

Tony says “A normal day at Building Tectonics encompasses a number of different tasks but generally starts with a team briefing (accompanied by a cup of tea) to run through which stage we are at with each of our client jobs; to make sure everyone is up to speed and we know where our focus is for the day.

We make sure that any emails, telephone or Facebook messages that have come in overnight are responded to immediately; as we always try to reply within 24 hours where possible. If it is a new enquiry, I will ring the customer to find out more about them and what they are looking to achieve; and we arrange a time to meet them to see how we can help with their project.

Depending on what stage we are at with a particular job, one of the team may go out to a client’s house to get the accurate measurements of their home and also to measure their land boundaries.  It is vital these measurements are correct; as they are entered into our online system and used to draw up the existing plans, elevations and sections that will eventually be submitted to the Council Planning Department and thereafter the client’s builders. These measurements also start the process of drawing up the client design options and from time to time we also use them to produce 3D models for certain projects.

As a team we need to familiarise ourselves with Permitted Development Guidance, Planning Policies and Building Regulations for specific projects and a member of the team will fill in the Planning Application forms and deal with the queries from Planning Officers and third parties.  Detailed Building Regulations drawings will need to be drawn up and the site evaluated to look for any potential hindrances such as sewers, trees, flood risk areas, radon prevalence etc.  As part of this we will purchase and download Ordnance Survey mapping data for Planning Applications and other uses along with Drainage & Water Enquiry maps.

There is obviously a great deal of administration involved for the Building Tectonics team on a daily basis; as we respond to multiple emails and phone calls every day, scan all our client documentation onto our computer system and file all paper copies of projects as part of our audit trail. This then acts as our own Project Management tool to see where a particular project is at any time; and we conduct quarterly job reviews where we check the current status of every live project to make sure nothing gets missed at any stage.

With us being a hectic office, we need to make sure we don’t ever run out of any office stationary including printer ink, plotter rolls and paper as these are essentials for our office to run like clockwork (along with cups of tea!!).

It is very important that all of the team are up to date with the latest developments in the industry and any new changes to legislation, so we all attend regular CPD Seminars (Continued Professional Development) both during and outside of work hours and keep up-to-date on relevant industry news.

There is a great deal of research involved in design projects relating to anything from Planning, Building Regulations, construction problems, product information, Party Walls, Sewer build-overs to just general questions that we get on a daily basis from our clients.

Marketing is essential to all businesses to thrive and we try to regularly blog and share content that is of interest both to our current clients and potential new clients to update them on the industry and jobs we are currently working on.

Working in an Architectural practice, no single day is the same; but I really love working for myself.  I enjoy the variety of work it brings, the opportunities to meet new people and work with other professionals but most importantly seeing the happy faces of our clients when a job is finished. I always meet face-to-face to go through design drawings with my clients; as this is essential to ensure everything is covered to avoid any hiccups at a later stage of the project.  I thrive on being busy but obviously could not do it without the support of my committed team”.

Spotlight on the Team – Mantas Mackonis

Mantas Mackonis – Architectural Surveyor

Mantas started working at Building Tectonics straight after he finished Sixth Form nearly 3 years ago. After working in retail for a short period, but not knowing what he wanted to do career wise, he was put in touch with Tony who gave him the opportunity to work with him and the team.

Originally Tony hired him to try and teach him how to measure a house; as whilst everyone in the office can use the software to draw, no one could actually measure a house apart from Tony. Therefore, this was an area that the team needed additional help with.

His role at Building Tectonics is as an Architectural Surveyor so he basically goes out to the clients houses and obtains all the required measurements, then comes back to the office and draws all the measurements on the system ready for the team to work on potentials schemes.

Three things that inspire Mantas:

The End Goal – The biggest thing that keeps me going is the end goal; as in this industry things can get tough but when you think about the future and how much of a difference you can make on people’s lives, that’s what really motivates me.

Happiness – I love that look on someone’s face when they are smiling, their eyes are bright and their body language is open and jovial – that full-on happiness is inspiring to see. It’s infectious and it’s awesome.

Dreams – Everyone should have dreams that they work towards in their life. Seeing people go after their dreams is inspiring, and it makes me work harder to achieve mine.

What is your favourite example of Architectural Design?
My favourite building in the world is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai; purely as it is the world’s tallest building. It’s mind-blowing to think about how tall it actually is, and this magnificent centrepiece of Downtown Dubai stands at 828.9 metres high. The task of creating the world’s tallest man-made structure was awarded to the Chicago office of American architectural and engineering firm Skidmore, Owings and Merril LLP. It’s crazy to think what the future holds and if there will ever be a taller building…

Adding Energy Efficiency to Your Home Construction or Remodelling Plan

The repair, maintenance and improvement market for UK housing is about 25 billion per year according to the Construction Products Association (CPA) economic forecasts. In fact, most homeowners are seeking energy efficient improvements as part of a larger home remodelling project according to CPA. There are a number of things you can do to enhance energy efficiency in your home during construction or remodelling.

Double glazed windows and loft and wall insulation
Put in double glazed windows to keep your home warmer, quieter and safer. You can also enhance the warmth and quiet by adding loft and wall insulation, which is much cheaper than replacing all your old windows with double glazed windows. Loft insulation is meant to stop heat from escaping through the roof while wall insulation prevents heat loss through walls. If you have solid walls, external wall insulation could be the best choice for retaining heat in your home. However, if your walls have a cavity, this can be filled up with insulation material to stop heat from conducting through the walls. Insulating your home can save you money on your fuel bills, and improves the energy efficiency rating of your home.

Energy saving appliances
Electrical appliances have made things like piles of dirty dishes very rare in most homes, and although they cost money to run there are tumble dryers, dishwashers, fridges, washing machines, ovens and other appliances that are incredibly energy efficient. For example, the Miele TMG840 WP heat pump dryer uses hot air to suck out moisture from clothes. The machine also switches off when its sensors detect that the clothes have dried.

Saving energy with the light bulb
Another way to enhance energy efficiency in your home is by installing LED light bulbs. Investing in the latest expensive LED light bulb could save you up to £240 each year according to an article in The Telegraph. You can also install smart LED lighting in your home to add to your list of control options instead of being restricted to on and off. For instance, the Lifx light bulb is compatible with the three main voice assistants, which means that you can control it with your voice. These lights also have apps that you can download on your phone and use to control the lights.

Energy saving appliances and light bulbs are reasonable options if you are renting or cannot afford extensive home remodelling projects at the moment. However, if you are constructing a new home, you can start making your home energy efficient from the moment the foundation is being laid.

New Year, New Home (Without Having To Move)

It’s that time of year when all you see online are countless blogs talking about New Year, New You and how to get the body of your dreams whilst improving your health. Whilst we obviously aren’t going down that route; as we are architects and not fitness experts, we do instead want to simply say the words ‘New Home’…

To most people when you say the words ‘New Home’ they automatically think of upping sticks and moving house to get their dream home; but you don’t need to take such a drastic step to achieve a new home.

Many houses even if they were only built in the last 20-30 years can quickly start to look tired and in need of an update; let alone the houses built in the decades prior to this. However, what many people don’t realise is that the solution is often sitting right under their nose in their current home, which with a little love and care and a change in its interior layout or exterior look could indeed become their dream home for a lot less than the cost and hassle of moving home.

With the cost of homes still rising and more people struggling to either get on the housing ladder or make the next step up to their dream home, more people than ever are looking at what they can do with their current house to make it work better and more efficiently for them. Everywhere you look scaffolding appears to be popping up; as lofts are converted and extensions are being added to make more space for ever growing families.

An alternative option though; either on its own or alongside an extension or loft conversion is simply to change the existing layout of your home to make the space work better for you. Many houses over the years as they have changed ownership have had extensions added without any real thought for what is really needed and how the house would flow. This ranges from kitchens with extensions added on to make a kitchen/breakfast room or a utility room; through to houses with conservatories and sun rooms just stuck on. Some houses often end up with a big dark corridor going down the middle of the house with countless rooms going off it which leaves all the rooms disconnected from each other.

If a previous homeowner ended up with elderly relatives living with them at some stage, they may have even changed a downstairs room into a bedroom ending up with a layout that just does not flow. Another scenario is houses that have previously been rental properties; meaning many of the general communal areas were changed to bedrooms with extra extensions and bathrooms resulting in a house that just does not work for an average family.

The upstairs of a house can often be no better as often when a 2-storey extension has been built, it can mean space has been taken off one of the existing bedrooms for a corridor to access the new bedroom; or even worse you access the new bedroom through one of the existing bedrooms which is a nightmare scenario.

Whilst people envisage changing the layout of their house to be a massive upheaval it is often not as difficult as they think and can provide them with a house that meets their needs; rather than moving again and still not finding their ideal house or layout. It is essential in the first instance to speak to an architect to get some possible ideas for what could work and to help identify areas such as load bearing walls before you go any further.

If it’s the exterior of your house that is making you want to move, this is also easily rectified by updating it from a tired and dated exterior to give it a modern ‘wow factor’ look that not only makes it look like a brand-new house but also adds value to your property.

With over 30 years’ experience of re-designing, altering and extending houses across Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire; Building Tectonics endeavour to exceed the aspirations and desires of our clients, and do this by generating innovative and intelligent ideas that often achieve much more than the original brief. Our Chief Designer, Tony has extensive knowledge of what works design and build wise and often finds solutions to issues that builders may have with a client’s design thereby, finding a compromise that both parties are happy with.

If you are thinking now is the time to evaluate your home to see if you can improve it; please contact us to arrange a time to meet with you and conduct a feasibility study to find out what your initials needs are. From there we will come up with some initial schemes to make your home layout work more efficiently for you and your family.

Building Tectonics always aims to leave you with a house that is designed for a modern family lifestyle and even if your requirements are just a simple home extension or a loft /garage conversion, you too could benefit from our expertise and experience.

Spotlight on the Team – Josh Lockwood

Josh Lockwood – Design Technologist

Josh originally started with Building Tectonics 6 years ago on a week’s work experience; and after being made a job offer, he never left. However, as he had only just started his Sixth Form study, it was a tough decision as he was doing well at school but unsure what he wanted to do for a job. He realised the work experience suited his skill set, accepted the offer and has never looked back. After joining, he decided to attend college once a week to continue his education and achieved the grades needed to enrol at university. He is now in his 5th out of 6 years at university (due to being part-time), and will become qualified in 2020.

Having started off drawing surveys onto the computer by reading the measurements taken from Tony’s survey notes, it wasn’t long before Josh was trying his hand at producing schemes and submitting Planning Applications. As our Design Technologist, he prepares the Building Regulations drawings and has constant communication with our clients along with dealing with party wall issues, sewer build-overs and occasionally working on 3D models to help clients visualise proposals and buy into an idea.

Three things that inspire Josh:

Making a difference in people’s lives – I take great joy and pleasure out of helping people get what they want and achieve their goals and by designing extensions, I am fulfilling that passion. One day I hope to take it to the next level and design bigger and grander buildings or ideally, should my career prospects take me down the right path, work on redeveloping towns and cities to make a difference to whole communities.

Self-Improvement – There is always room for improvement and every day alters the way in which I view the world and myself, even if only slightly. Learning from other people, past mistakes and precedents keeps pushing me to strive for more.

Invention and Innovation – I thoroughly enjoy seeing new ideas come to life whether that be in terms of Architecture, Technology, Science, Music, or Sport. I have the utmost respect for talented people as it baffles me how people can create or achieve such things as mere human beings. Seeing the progression of various concepts throughout the decades to see how ideas have evolved over time is satisfying.

What is your favourite example of Architectural Design?
There are lots of architectural marvels that I could list such as: Sagrada Familia in Barcelona (still under construction), Milan Cathedral, and for more modern examples, The Scalpel in London (recently completed) and Aldar HQ in Abu Dhabi.

However, the one that has stood out the most and been with me the longest has to be the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao which was designed by Frank Gehry. I’ve covered this in a previous University blog, but in essence, not only was the design controversially wonderful at the time, it has also sparked regeneration in Bilbao. In an age where grand Cathedrals are rarely built, and clusters of skyscrapers are the new way to identify cities, Frank Gehry had tried something different and ambitious which has paid off massively. It has proven hard to replicate such an iconic building elsewhere as the recipe for success isn’t quite right for other projects, whereas the Guggenheim was somewhat of a perfect storm.

Mixing the Bricks

You may have noticed tall brick walls can have bands of different shades of colour; this can be deliberate, a feature of the design specified by the architect, but it’s often a product of poor management. It’s becoming more common to see this “banding” in most new brick houses, it’s very rare to see this in old brickwork.One of the attractions of an old brick wall is the variation in the shades of brick as opposed to the somewhat clumsy but inadvertent banding in new buildings.

How can this be avoided? Care and attention of the bricklaying is the answer; not so long ago a bricklayer would have a labourer (or hod carrier) who would unpack and mix the different batches of bricks before carrying them up the scaffold on his hod. You seldom see a hod these days, because builders tend to use hoists to lift the bricks to the ‘upper lifts’ of the scaffolding. We’re all for the safety and efficiency when dispensing the hod carrier, but the loss of the old practice is very sad because it results in an unattractive banding, and patches of brickwork.

Brick banding happens because each batch of brickwork is different, this is because the clay coming out of the ground varies as they excavate down through the layers of clay. The firing process can also vary, causing the bricks to have a slightly different hue. If builders organise themselves and know how many bricks they need prior to brick delivery brick suppliers can mix them for you before delivering; if they don’t know the amount needed before ordering the bricks they could mix them themselves by taking some bricks from one batch and some from another.

Brick banding by design, this is an example of banding that was planned.

It would be a big improvement if more brickies would take further care over this aspect of building, and if clients are aware of this then they should insist on it as well. One word of warning; if you unpack and mix the bricks by hand, you’d need some protective eyewear because the brick dust is sharp and would therefore scratch the soft tissue of your eyeball very easily which would be incredibly painful.

One of the first and most important steps

At Building Tectonics we pride ourselves on producing detailed plans for the builder to use on site. The first and most crucial stage of any of our projects is getting an accurate set of plans depicting the existing building to take back to our office and work from. It’s impossible to get it 100% exact but we believe it’s so important to get it as correct as possible and so we can take between 2-3 hours on average measuring up a house, making sure we are as accurate as possible. Many other architectural companies employ an external surveyor to do this for them, but we believe that by doing it ourselves, it gives us more of an understanding of the building.

We’re always looking for ways to improve the way in which we work; to be more efficient and try to keep up with the latest trends. However, the way in which we survey has remained the same with good old pen and paper proving to be the most reliable option. Recently, we’ve been putting in the research looking into different CAD apps which could be used on a mobile device such as an iPad or Android tablet, some of these might help us to significantly reduce the time taken to measure up a property.

This research has resulted in considering apps such as Roomscan Pro which gives you a variety of choices of how to draw out your floor plans. The first of which would be using the device as if it were a piece of paper, and your finger/stylus as if it were a pencil and drawing directly on the device. The second choice is using the camera, placing markers where each point of the room is and allowing the app to create the floor plans automatically from those. The final option is using GPS built into the device by holding it against a wall, taking that point and then moving it to another wall and letting it measure the distance between them. Of course, there are some cons to these methods of surveying; when using the camera method, if you move the camera the markers move out of place, making the plan inaccurate. Using the GPS based method relies on the mobile devices system being accurate to within a couple of centimetres, and I don’t quite think we’re at that point in the technology yet.

The second app we shortlisted was called Orthograph, this uses your freehand drawings to create tidied up plans which can then be edited for accuracy. You draw a rough version of the room, and the app will recognise this and change your rough sketch into a CAD drawing. You can then change individual wall thicknesses and lengths using measurements you’ve taken with a laser measuring tool; or you can use a bluetooth laser measuring tool and link it directly into the app to get each measurement as you go. This could save us both time whilst measuring, and some human error in putting the wrong numbers on the survey. The cons with this app occur when trying to link rooms and staircases. It allows you to create one room at a time, which can then make it difficult to relate them to others when drawing up the plans.

If we could find ways around these cons, the likes of these apps could be incredibly useful to us in saving time, and making us more environmentally friendly by drawing digitally, and then emailing the drawings to the team in office, therefore, saving paper. Until then, we’ll stick to pen and paper.

Kitchens and triangular thinking.

The ’work triangle’ is something that clients can often come across when thinking of designing their new kitchen. It seeks to describe the perfect relationship between the sink, cooker, and refrigerator.  It has always been said that this triangle should be quite compact to allow the cook to access all crucial parts of the kitchen without the need to walk far when preparing meals. Even though the basic idea still applies, it needs a few updates since our kitchens have become more complex, involving much more equipment; microwave, multiple ovens, and separate hob. Some even include a built-in coffee machine. Despite the dishwasher not having a part in food preparation, many of you will surely admit that often you find yourself looking for the one knife you need, and find it in the dishwasher, used to prepare a meal earlier that day. The conclusion we can often come to when thinking about these aspects is “I need a bigger kitchen”, but that could make it an impractical one in terms of how far you’d have to walk to get a meal prepared. Kitchen preparation space is often sacrificed for the sake of fitting everything into a smaller space, but when you’re cooking fresh meals enough space to prepare it in is paramount.

The layout of a kitchen can be described with one of the following terms; island, galley, bay or L shaped.
Galley kitchens are usually only on one side, sometimes two but this makes it much more compact as well as shorter.
Islands are very popular in many modern kitchens which is, in my opinion, due to the aesthetics of them rather than their practicality. They can work quite well, but only if you accept that one side will be for guests to look at; for presentation only as if you tried to store things on all sides, you’d get your daily cardio in by constantly running around it for the different utensils etc.
L shaped kitchen layouts can work out okay but can sometimes be too spread out.
Bay kitchens are, in my view, the best in terms of practicality, they’re also sometimes referred to as peninsula kitchens.

Here at Building Tectonics, when we design a kitchen we always show a kitchen layout, but by no means is that the permanent design; this is just to show that at least one suitable layout can be accommodated. The layout is often adopted by the client, even if it’s not accepted as the final kitchen design, at least we know a sensible kitchen configuration fit into the available space. I’ve been to a few houses where the architect hasn’t paid as much attention to detail and as a result, the cooker has ended up miles away from the rest of the kitchen. If you’re designing a kitchen space please don’t accept a space that doesn’t achieve the basic function of cooking. If the space isn’t working then call in a company like Building Tectonics to advise you on how you could alter or extend the space to get a more functional kitchen.