Connect Your Home to Your Outside Space with a Garden Room

Garden Rooms are often thought of as being a separate cabin style building down the end of your garden; which you would typically use as an office, craft room, a spare bedroom or as a separate summer only additional living space.

However, did you know that a Garden Room can also refer to a fixed structure that is part of your house? This can be from designing a new structure to extend your existing living space, or by altering a conservatory into a more usable room that connects your living space to your garden as a conservatory does; but with the benefit of being able to use it all year around not just in the warmer months.

Whilst conservatories have their uses and in the summer are great spaces to relax in and make the most of the sunshine streaming in; they can become too hot at the height of summer as the heat becomes trapped inside and they are difficult to cool down. At the other end of the temperature scale; come the winter, they then become too cold so people end up shutting them off from the rest of the house and using them as storage; as they are simply too cold to even open the door to let alone use the space. This is a shame as it is often a good-sized space that is not being fully utilised and thereby restricts your overall living space during the winter months.

However, there are a number of options available to make this space more useable from swapping the glass/polycarbonate roof to an insulated tiled roof to help maintain a consistent temperature; through to swapping the structure for a more permanent structure that can be put to full use throughout the year.
Additionally; many clients are now asking for a garden room to be added to their house when they have no existing structure there in the first place. They love the idea of having a room that they can relax in and enjoy the garden views from whatever the time of year; making the most of the summer or winter sunshine but with it still being part of their house rather than separate.

Whichever route you are considering, replacing a conservatory with a permanent structure that can be used all year round will not only add value to your home but will make it more attractive to sellers should you decide to move later down the line.

Here are some examples of Garden Rooms we have worked on for previous clients:

Garden Room – Milton Keynes
Our client wanted a garden room which could be used all year round without costing a fortune in heating bills. Therefore, we produced a light airy room that connected with the garden and the rest of the house and also advised on the reshaping of the garden and rebuilding of a garden wall to create an adjacent outdoor sunspace. They were very happy with the finished outcome and said “The project was delivered on time to a high spec, Building Tectonics engaged with us throughout the process ensuring that any changes were managed and we would highly recommend them”.

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Conservatory Conversion – Milton Keynes
When Tony, our company director, brought his house it included a conservatory so one of the main upgrades he made was to put a ‘proper’ roof on it. This required getting builders to form a foundation outside the conservatory, construct the necessary steel-work, remove the old plastic roof and replace it with a new traditional roof. The glass sides and floor were left as they were but it had a super insulated roof installed. Although the conservatory was already there; Planning and Building Regulation approvals will often still be necessary for this type of work.

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House Remodel – Bedfordshire
Our client had bought a very tired 1960’s house which they thought needed remodelling. The house had a very un-inspiring appearance, an outdated internal arrangement, very poor insulation and lacked connection with the garden. An architect had produced some plans but the client thought these were unsuitable and so we were asked to perform our magic and remodel the house and make it a home fit for the future. We are pleased to say that everyone has been delighted with the results.

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If you have an existing conservatory or outbuilding that you would like to make better use of and to connect it with the garden for all-round year use; or would simply like some ideas for how a new garden room structure could be added to the back of your house; please do get in touch to see how Building Tectonics can help.

How Clerestory Windows Can Bring Light to the Darkest Home

If you need to bring more light into your home without losing valuable wall-space, Clerestory windows could be the answer to your prayers. Although mainly seen in the commercial sector or in contemporary/smart houses and apartments, these little gems are windows at high level (above your eye line). They are often used by architects and designers producing individual homes for self-builders but despite this, many aspiring self-builders do not actually know what they are.

The term ‘Clerestory’ was originally applied to the wall containing the windows above the nave (that’s the middle bit often incorrectly called the Aisle) – so believe it or not, the Bride and Groom do not actually come down the aisle, they come down the nave! The windows created light and airiness in our magnificent cathedrals, which is exactly what the architects were trying to achieve; and as the building technology developed to create bigger and bigger openings in the structure, the amount of opaque glass got larger and more impressive.

The main aim was to impress and show off to other cities just how technologically advanced they were, but there is no doubt we are still impressed, even today, by so called curtain glazing or perhaps a well-placed little window that just manages by its position and orientation to allow some light to infiltrate into the otherwise darkest vestige of a house.

As house designers, it is this type of clerestory window that we are interested in because that little chink of light can be so effective in contemporary interior design. It can be unexpected, it can cast shadows picking up the sculptural nature of the structure and it can carry inside the mood of the day thus connecting you with the early morning sun, the turbulent sky or the hues of the setting sun.

From a practical standpoint, clerestory lighting can be useful to avoid overlooking in compact cities and it is the height of a window that determines how far light will penetrate into an otherwise gloomy room. Even with ordinary eye level windows, the width of the window will determine the light intensity in the room near the window; but if you want the light to penetrate then it is the height of the window that is important. There is also something to be said for orientating the clerestory window northwards because north light is more consistent and does not cause glare one minute requiring the blinds to be drawn and dinginess the next, making it necessary to turn the light on.

The other advantage in using north light is that solar gain and over-heating will not be a problem. Beware of using too much glass inclined to the south facing sky because of overheating, as you will not need such a big glass area anyway because the light, they will allow in is much more effective than the equivalent window area. Lastly you may wish to avoid roof lights in bedrooms unless you are a very sound sleeper as hail hitting glass is very noisy and can be quite scary.

Another useful feature of a clerestory window is when your self-build or new extension is often overlooked on one side by an ugly wall or other feature belonging to the adjoining house that is very close to you. Therefore, it will provide light at a high level but the narrow size of the window will mean that the ugly feature can hardly be seen.

Clerestory windows are also useful on single storey houses when there is a projection outside the building in the form of a corridor; which is used to get from the front to the rear of a long, thin single storey house. A clerestory window therefore, can help counter the effect of the corridor by reducing the amount of light that enters the house.

When it comes to first floors on houses, you will often find a clerestory window tucked under the roof at the head of a staircase, as many architects feel that staircases often end up depending on artificial light and therefore, if they are properly lit, they can become much more of a feature. Additionally; many architects like to tuck an upstairs clerestory window under the eaves; as you have no external wall structure above that has to be supported by the window frame.

High level windows if fitted with the means to open can be a real joy to allow stale air out of a living space as drafts can be avoided and, as heat rises, a natural flow of air will circulate upwards, pulling cool and fresh air in from outside, that’s if the space is designed with this in mind of course.

If you would like more information on how clerestory windows could work in your current home or proposed self-build home, please do contact Building Tectonics as we will be only too pleased to advise you.

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How to Spring Clean Your Home to Bring it Back to Life

Spring is in the air; the clocks go forward at the end of this month; and we are all dreaming of longer sunny days and hoping that the winter we never had doesn’t suddenly appear with a vengeance.

When the sun comes out; our thoughts normally turn to starting to tidy up the garden, planting bulbs and cutting the grass for the first time since the Autumn. But what about the house?

Having an untidy house is very distracting and the constant need to tidy can get in the way of you being productive – therefore, a great big declutter and spring clean could be the answer! This is your chance to prepare your home ready for those long lazy summer days; when you don’t want to be wasting time on cleaning but instead be enjoying quality time with family and friends.

It’s also a great opportunity to learn to love your house again, to get it looking its best and make the most of your space to decide if it still works for you or you need to improve it in some way. This could be from adding additional space in the form of a conservatory, extension or loft conversion, re-jigging your existing space to make it work more efficiently for you; or even making the decision to move to a new house. Spring and Summer are prime moving times and this is when the housing market springs into action, so now is the time to get your home looking great should you decide to put it on the market (and it also means less clutter to move).

But where do you even start? This is often the hardest part as you look at your house in despair and have absolutely no idea where to even begin tackling it…

Tackle it room-by-room
To stop you getting overwhelmed, try approaching your house room-by-room as this is the most effective way to clean your home. Draw up room checklists; so, you can focus on the parts of your home that have been neglected all winter.

Organise and clear the clutter
Now is a great opportunity to organise your belongings and get rid of clutter you don’t need; to make the cleaning process a lot easier. Start by sorting your belongings into three categories -rubbish, give it away/sell it or put it away. But don’t throw it all away as many of your old belongings will still have a good sale value; so you could either use a selling site like Shpock, Facebook or eBay or have a garage or car boot sale.

Don’t throw away old bed linen and towels; as you can either donate them to homeless shelters or refuges or to animal homes to help those in need. Alternatively, keep items like old sheets for protecting furniture and carpets/floors when you need to redecorate.

Get cleaning!
Once you have worked through all your clutter you can begin cleaning; so ensure you have all the products and tools you need like bin bags, dusters, sponges, hoover, mop and bucket and multi-purpose cleaning products. Avoid buying countless different cleaning products as you are better off with one good all-purpose cleaner and microfiber cloths – otherwise you will have yet more clutter. Remember to work in well-ventilated rooms when using any cleaning chemicals and wear protective clothing if needed; especially when it comes to the dreaded oven!

Get the whole family involved
If the state of your house is freaking you out; get the whole family involved as that will make it quicker and even the most unwilling helper can make a big difference to the task in hand. Put on some music or offer a family reward as an incentive to get the work done.

Tackle the seasonal jobs
There are some jobs that only need doing seasonally but don’t always get done at the end of the summer e.g. outdoor chores like cleaning BBQ’s, patios, and even windows; but if you tackle them now you will be ready when the summer comes.

Try to establish new cleaning habits
To make spring cleaning easier the next time around; it helps to establish new on-going cleaning habits; as simple 15-minute clean-up routines and decluttering every few days can make it a lot easier to keep your home clean and tidy all year long.

We hope this has helped you get ready to attack the decluttering and spring-cleaning and learn to love your home again. Happy Spring-cleaning!

Remodelling 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 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 improving 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, allowing 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 and 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 to allow all the rooms to be accessed off the hallway instead of currently 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 and 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; meaning 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; which is a shame and we as a consultancy try to encourage builders to talk to us about any aspects, 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, which in this case 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 – 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.

Extension in Walnut Tree

If we were manufacturers, our main product would be creating versatile spaces for families to enjoy spending time together. For most of us, the kitchen is like the heart of the house, it’s where we spend a lot of time together with guests or family, therefore, kitchen design is essential.  Nearly everyone wants the type of ground floor area shown in the project below; unfortunately, even newly built houses, often do not fulfil this desire and this where BTL comes in. With projects like this for structural reasons, central columns are often needed to support the rooms above which can spoil the open-plan aesthetic but there are ways to work around it although avoiding it can come at a cost in terms of the size of a dropped beam, disruption to the first floor and in some cases, relocation of soil/vent pipes.

As for the kitchen design, the location of the hob, oven and sink should be fixed early on (see our blog about kitchen design) because otherwise the choices may be restricted; such as whether you require a recirculation type of cooker hood instead of the more effective ducted type. This process is called design and we take it very seriously.

Written by Tony Keller, Building Tectonics Ltd.

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“Redesign” your home

The nature of the work that architectural companies like Building Tectonics are asked to do has changed.
Once upon a time, we would be asked to design an extension, prepare drawings for a loft conversion, alter the facade of a house, or more occasionally, change the interior layout. Sometimes there would be a joint focus on changing the layout of the property at the same time as extending, but this was only a small portion of our work.

The type of work we’re being asked to do has fundamentally changed, and most of of it is now not only thinking about how to enlarge a clients house, but also re-organising the space in a major way. We don’t think that any of the phrases popularly used to describe what we do are adequate in getting across this process; and so we like to describe it as “redesigning”.

In my opinion, words such as modernising, renovating, refurbishing and even extending don’t quite cut it, an extension may be a part of the project but I don’t think it’s descriptive enough for even simplest of projects. It’s not a good idea to add another room, or enlarge an existing room without considering the effect this work will have on the space you already have. Quite often, we find that this will leave the existing room as a dark unused corridor into the new space; this is why some thought should always be given to the changed dynamics of the existing house as a whole. We think about these aspects every time potential clients come to us with an idea for their “new extension”, that’s why we prefer the all-encompassing term “redesign”.

Written by Tony Keller, Building Tectonics.