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.

The Fenny Kitchen Restaurant

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

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

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

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

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

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The type of work we’re getting.

We’ve had some interesting work in the office within the last few months, including remodelling houses in some of the more prestigious areas and designing a restaurant in Central Milton Keynes. Some of which are in a conservation area, and some are listed buildings. In the case of these, in addition to planning permission, you also need to get listed building consent which adds another level of burocracy, paperwork and detailing.

If you have a property which is listed or in a conservation area that you’d like to alter in some way, you will be required to give a lot more information to the local planning authority, including a detailed specification of the materials you’re going to use. In a conservation area, the planning authority will be mainly concerned about the outside appearance and will be eager to maintain the local genre. With listed buildings, the emphasis is sometimes as much about the inside as with the outside.

It’s not always about the appearance of the listed building, but sometimes it is the historical value that it has. Some of the concrete pillboxes from wartime are now listed, and these were not made to look pretty in the slightest. They were purely practical, reinforced walls with small holes from which to shoot from and for this historical value a few of them have been protected.

Conservation areas influence the way in which the local planning authority deal with planning applications which may affect the area in some way. Permitted development rights in these areas are also restricted, that means that you need a planning application for certain types of work you usually wouldn’t need consent for

The restaurant is an interesting project we have on at the moment, as most of our work comes from residential projects. It’ll be an African style buffet themed place to eat, so we’ve been trying to come up with interesting design ideas for both the interior and the exterior of the building, trying to give it a modern look with an African influence to it.

Written by Jade Turney – Building Tectonics Ltd.

Listed buildings…What are you talking about?


We have written about listed buildings before, and so I thought it was about time we explained what they actually are, in case you do not already know.

Listed buildings in the UK are buildings which have been placed on the Statutory List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic interest, there are just over 500,000 buildings in the UK to which this applies.

A listed building cannot be demolished, extended or altered  without getting special permissions given by the local planning authority. Only certain churches are exempt from this, but in any case the church organisation will operate its own permissions procedure. The particular permission which is required for a Listed Building is Listed Building Consent, and is in addition to Planning Permission and Building Regulation Approval that will probably be needed too. Usually Listed Building Consent is given (or refused) by a Historic Building Department, and this is more often than not, part of the Planning Department within a councils organizational structure. However,  it is not uncommon for the Planning Department to give an approval but the Historic Building Department to refuse (or visa versa).

This list is made up of buildings which are from the 1700’s or beforehand and are still near their original state ,or have been altered over the years in a way that is thought to be exceptional or instructive, take, for example Bedford Castle which got its first mention in 1138 (that doesn’t mean that it did not exist before 1138, it may well have for all we know, that’s just when it was first mentioned in writing).  It is not only buildings which are included in this list though, bridges, monuments and statues can also be included. Any post 1945 buildings have to be of exceptional interest to the nation to be listed. The Milton Keynes shopping centre is an example of a modern listed building, this is because its exceptional nature (love it or hate it, you have to admit it is unusual) and some wartime “pill boxes” would you believe have also been listed, in their case because it is excepted that as time goes by, they will be lost or altered and so some should be conserved for future generations to see.

There are three grades of listed building, and they are as follows:

  1. Grade 1 – Grade 1 listed buildings are buildings of exceptional interest, sometimes they’re considered to be internationally interesting. Only around 2.5% of listed buildings are grade 1.
  2. Grade 2* (note the star) – These buildings are particularly important buildings of more than special interest. Around 5.5% of listed buildings are listed as grade 2*.
  3. Grade 2 – These are nationally import and of special interest, around 92% of listed buildings are grade 2, this is the most likely grade for residential buildings.

I hope this brief explanation has helped you to understand a little about listed buildings and when you hear architects and planners use this term you will, hopefully,have a better idea as to what they’re talking about.

Jade Turney – Building Tectonics Blogging Guru.

17th century listed building extention

Listed building and planning consent were gained by architects before Building Tectonics were commissioned to design and detail the next extension proposal on this particular project. Adapting an old technology and building method so that modern standards of construction can be equalled requires special care, especially since we have very exacting standards of thermal insulation to achieve. A specialist company was engaged by the client to further detail and construct the timber frame.

Another complication in this project was this; the new basement was to be formed below the timber frame structure, which of course had to comply with modern standards. Marrying up the modern with the very old in terms of building, but also the method is always a little challenging. We have worked on listed buildings before, so our general philosophy is to try to understand the existing structure and where possible work with it rather than changing it too much.

WAT bestframe

WAT DSC01289

Written by Tony Keller – Building Tectonics Ltd.