Thursday, 11 April 2013

House extensions… Beware...

House extensions… Beware... An extension to your existing house may seem like an easier option than building an entirely purpose built dwelling elsewhere, but it is in fact, only less in terms of size…!

Granted, extending your home, if designed by a suitably experienced Architect can,
  • Add precious additional internal space…
  • Dramatically change the internal layout, and as a direct result lifestyle also; updating it for the 21st century…
  • Allow you to personalise your home to make it feel truly 'yours'…
  •  Bring in the presence of the outside world and garden spaces so that nature becomes part of your daily living…
  • Allow loads of light and fresh air into dark and shadowy spaces...

However like all pros, there are cons also- and one must be equally aware of these pitfalls.  As a chartered Architect with several years of experience in this type of project, I consider extensions to be complex projects, and much more challenging that designing some new complete one-off houses...

Some issues that needs consideration are-
  • A common failing of extensions is that while the extension itself attracts light from large new windows, and skylights, the existing house can be light starved and gloomy. Generally, light from windows reduces after 4 metres and extensions are usually this deep or more. This problem can be exacerbated with extensions that go across the full width of the house and garden, and unfortunately often difficult to resolve retrospectively.
  • Extensions will undoubtedly change the patterns of movement from within- you might end up gaining new space with the extension, but losing practical space inside the existing (remember lack of 'sun-light' can also create 'dead' areas with limited usability).  A new extension may establish a new sitting area, making the existing one redundant, leaving you with a room without a clear function or use. Can the existing sitting area be improved, and the extension area reduced...? Can the existing sitting room become an office, bedroom etc.
  • Modern building regulations mean that the new extension must be built to a much higher standard in terms of conservation of energy. This should ideally, improve the energy efficiency of the house as a whole. However, two things generally tend to work against this. For one, aspiring to have well sun-lit spaces inevitably means more glazing, which if not considered scientifically, can be a drain. This can be mitigated to some extent with triple glazing, and southerly exposures, but a careful balance has to be stuck between the amount of glass and what makes sense in terms of heat loss. The other related problem is that people often decide to upgrade their existing house at the same time of extending, by adding insulation, replacing existing windows, replacing their boiler (which usually is a requirement anyway) etc. More often than not, experience has taught me that once the full cost of the works become apparent, the first things cut from the project are these thermal upgrades to the existing, leaving clients with the same old cold house, a dazzling new extension, and overall similar, if not greater energy bills.
  • Less scientific, but an issue of subjectivity, is whether the extension will suit the surrounding house and garden visually and practically. A large extension might give you the space requirements internally, but it may appear a chunky eyesore that does not fit in with the existing. The extension should not necessarily mimic the design of the existing house, the problem is usually one of proportion and harmony- the idea to create something that marries in well to the existing, with the right proportions and sympathy for what it is joined too. Another issue to do with suitability is to make sure the extension will suit you and possible future purchasers. It is very important that all ideas are exhausted before construction begins, and preferably before planning / building control applications. A last word about the garden- often, the aim of the new extension is to bring the house in closer contact with the garden and outdoor spaces. The danger is that if the garden space is limited to begin with, the extension can then overwhelm and occupies the better part of it. (This can have a negative impact on the value). In some cases, it is better to think about a smaller extension and thus keep the proportions between the open space and the new build in harmony.
  • Each house and site is unique. There will always be site septic issues to deal with when looking at an extension project and this is usually where those complexities happen.
    • Ideally, you do not want to fall out with your neighbours. Construction work going on nearby can make neighbours understandably apprehensive. I usually recommend that neighbours be approached early on in the feasibility stages of the project, and certainly once a basic design has been reached- especially if the project will require planning permission. The approach will always depend on what sort of neighbour you have and your own instincts.
    • Drains can cause huge problems, and as a matter of course, it is always advisable to understand the existing network of drains before commencing any works. The local authority can help in such instance, but sometimes, their information can be out of date and not beyond completely wrong. Permission has to be granted from the local authorities before you can begin works if the works are near combined sewers serving other properties other than your own. Other drains require minimum distances from new foundations, so this is an issue to come to grips with early on.
    • Foundations / Boundaries- establishing the boundaries of your curtilage sounds straightforward enough, but the older the house, the trickier this can become. Partitions such as hedges or walls can lay entirely on your side of the boundary, your neighbours, or is it jointly on both plots...? It is advisable to establish this early in the design process, because if your designs hinges on removing a wall which later turns out not to be in your ownership partially or in its entirety, the whole project can be derailed. Another issue regarding walls is their foundations- it is all too common for a neighbouring extension to have their foundations that actually extend on your side of the boundary line. Likewise, you want to avoid this sort of construction yourself which will usually require a 'special' foundation design.
    • Large glazed extensions looking out over the remaining garden can have a number of consequences. Firstly, you will now be seeing a lot more of the garden that may require further monies spent on it, to create a much more visually pleasing space.  This can include anything from re-siting or hiding the ever-increasing number of rubbish bins, to putting in new paths, flowering beds and shrubs to provide a colourful and interesting landscape. Secondly, if you have a young family, are keen gardeners, or enjoy the odd outdoor entertainment, bear in mind that if there is direct access from the extension to the outdoor space, you do not want to have muddy boots walking across your floor- consider an area where boots can be changed and hands washed before coming into the extension.   

In conclusion, take as much care and time in preparation as you can with your local Architect when designing your extension, and be rewarded with extra space that is not only functional but actually adds style and value to your existing home.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Calling all Estate Agents.

Estate Agents- Why not team up with your local architect to help provide advice to your clients on the property they are selling…? Now more than ever, 'individual', 'physical' Estate Agents must show that they can offer a better, 'added value' service.

Why...? Well, many easy to pin point reasons can be attributed to the vagaries of the recession, but one more than most must make the 'physical' Estate Agent think... Yes, you may have guessed it- as Government plans to amend the Estate Agents Act and repeal the Property Misdescriptions Act, these changes will undoubtedly reduce the regulations for online businesses to start-up and offer cheaper services. These changes could open the door to the big retailers like Tesco and Marks & Spencer who are known to be keen to enter the estate agency sector. Indeed, it was tried before, but the legislation as it stood prevented them from doing so at a cost competitive rate.

By acknowledging the need to constantly evolve, but keep to the 'face-to-face' traditions that gave individual Estate Agents their good name, could give them the edge over this type of internet competition.

One way to evolve would be to team up with a local Architect. Like an Estate Agent, a local Architect has experience and knowledge of the property market and is best placed to know what properties are likely to sell and at what price.

By working together we should be able to substantiate why a property will sell, the kind of buyers that might be interested in it and how best to present and promote the property to that target market. Together we can give an objective, experienced opinion on any improvements that should make the property sell, from painting the gate to painting the front room magnolia. Together we can advise on how much these improvements costs- thereby giving the client an educated position. In other words, we can help maximise a given investment so that it adds value to the property in the best possible way.

Together we can prepare property description, take good photos, take measurement of the rooms, and together we can present this 'traditional' information in a very new innovative way.

So... Why not contact your local Architect and discuss the possibility of teaming up with them. Discuss with the Architect whether they can provide a 30-45 min free consultation at the property in question. The objective of the initial visit would be to make sure the client is fully informed and in the best possible position to make a decision and move forward. Together we can review all the options with the client and discuss the implications of each option.

Surely, this collective, holistic approach will add 'added valve' to the process.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Naming of Bee Architecture...

Naming Bee Architecture (Bee being short for better everyday environments) was a difficult decision. I started by making a list of what I wanted the name to stand for in the mind of the customer. I concluded that the name must serve its purpose first and foremost. I had to decide what I wanted my name to imply. Being an architectural business I wanted to show creativity- after all we are meant to be creative people. I just didn’t want to use my own personal name, "Wesley Farren Architects" like most other practices. (Solicitors are also big users of their own names). The name had to be unique for other reasons too. I did not want people confusing me with a business that already existed, especially if it's one with a poor reputation. It had to convey a benefit. It had to be descriptive- If you heard it you'd know right away what it is. The name had to sound good when it's said aloud. It had to be clear and concise, it had to be memorable; People has to say the name in conversation, on the phone, on the radio. It is on my letterhead, and on my website. It had to be grammatically correct. I still don't know if you spell Phones4"you" with a "u." This is so last decade. The name has to stand the test of time. I wanted a name that conveyed an action, an occurrence, or a state of being- a name that could be eventually used as a verb, or lends itself to the creation of my own "language." I wanted to avoid the negative; a name should make people enthusiastic and optimistic about working with me.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Being a Sole Practitioner requires certain skills...

Being a Sole Practitioner, no matter what profession or industry you find yourself in requires certain skills.

Here are some of those, after nearly five years of being a sole practitioner, I feel one requires- some are inevitably inter-linked;   

  • When you work for yourself, it is easy to put things off until tomorrow- always remember, “..Don’t put anything off for tomorrow if you can do it today…".
  • Make a point of keeping regular office hours.
  • Meet your deadlines and always remember what promises you have kept with your clients, and deliver. If you cannot deliver, explain at your earliest opportunity why not with a heavy heart.
  • First impressions do count, but remember they only open a door; your personality will keep that door open…!
  • Return your calls – promptly. In addition, make a note of what you have said; keep your word. People remember…!
Organizational Skills
  • Lack of organization can make you miss opportunities. Keep a place for everything and put everything in its place.
  • The commitment and enthusiasm you show to others will inspires others to commit to you.
Self-awareness and self-confidence
  • Arrogance and self-awareness do not go hand in hand… Know your strengths in your discipline and more importantly know your weaknesses. Always seek the correct professional advice on something you do not know.  
  • Adaptability, adaptability, adaptability…! Flexibility is always required. Listen to what the market needs, then offer it- quickly.
  • We more often than not care to admit that we like the known, the comfortable, and the predictable. However, being adaptable to change with a healthy dose of detachment, and curiosity will pay off.
  • You must have a continued steady belief and effort withstanding discouragement or difficulty. You will always have a bad day.
Good communication skills
  • Face-to-face communication always works best in difficult scenarios. Do not hide behind a phone call or an email. Remember that it is not only just about what is actually said or the language used - but how it is said and the non-verbal messages sent through tone of voice, facial expressions, gestures and body language. You will soon understand this if you have a degree of self-awareness.