All posts by Greenway Associates

How to choose an architect to bring your vision to life

The beauty of building design is that no two architects see things exactly the same way. Variety and creativity are the elements that make buildings interesting and beautiful – but this can also be the cause of confusion when it comes to choosing an architect to improve your home.

How can you be confident of ending up with a development that’s designed to suit your tastes, not your theirs? And what about all the practical factors, like budget, planning permission, building control and project management?

Choosing an architect is a major undertaking but you can approach that decision with confidence by doing your homework and following these tips.

Do your research
Before you approach any architect, draw up a shortlist of suitable local candidates. Ask around for recommendations. Don’t be afraid to knock on doors of houses with developments you like and ask for their architect’s details. Look at websites to get a feel for the company and view their portfolio. Think about the job you want the architect to do. Do you have a blank page and a need for creative inspiration? Do you have a design in mind but need the details and execution taken care of? Do you have a planning problem that needs working out? Different architects will be stronger on some of these aspects than others, so make your choice accordingly. With a few hours’ research you should be able to shortlist three architects whose style you like.

Write a brief
Taking the time to write down what you really want from your building project will help you to clarify your vision, as well as helping prospective architects to understand exactly what you’re hoping for. While you may have a clear vision of how you want the project to turn out, an experienced architect will also look at how your use of it might develop in future and, therefore, what else needs to be considered to allow for future developments.

Your brief should include:

  • An overall ideal vision of what you want the building to achieve
  • How you plan to use it
  • Any current issues that you want the building to solve
  • Your budget
  • Your design preferences
  • Practical considerations (eg will you be living there during the work?)
  • Planning permission sought or obtained yet?

Put all this down in a document and give it to each architect on your shortlist for their comments. This will enable you to make a direct comparison in their responses.

Choose an architect who understands you
Choose an architect who understands you

 

Make contact and meet face to face
Your initial contact will most likely be over the phone, but you will only really get an accurate impression by inviting them to visit the site. Some architects will charge for the initial visit and if you’re really keen to use them you may decide it’s worthwhile. However, plenty of architects provide their initial consultation free of charge with no obligation. Remember, they’re trying to sell their services to you and this is their chance to do that.

An architect who holds back their ideas in the initial visit is really giving you nothing to go on. You want to come away from the consultation confident that the architect understands what you want, is a good listener but also has ideas to offer and is not afraid to challenge your decisions. You need to feel comfortable that you can work harmoniously with them and that they have the creativity and reliability you require.

Ask the right questions
Don’t be afraid to grill prospective architects to make sure you’re left in no doubt about the service they will provide. Questions you should ask include:

  • Will they be doing the work or will they pass it to a junior?
  • What is their fee structure?
  • What experience and success rate do they have with local Planning and Building Control?
  • What do they offer in terms of engaging the necessary trades?

Ask for evidence
An experienced architect will be able to give you a good idea of their creative ability during the initial consultation but the real proof lies in seeing their work. Ask them to show you examples that are similar to what you’re asking for, either in photographs or, better still, in the flesh.

Ask for references and follow them up, either by phone or email or, better still, with a visit to see the work. Ask the referee about their experience of working with the architect in question. Were they reliable? Did they stick to the schedule and complete the project on time? Did they keep to the agreed budget?

Get it in writing
Once you’ve settled on your choice of architect, they will send you a contract or proposal, together with a ‘Conditions of Appointment’ or ‘Small Project Services Schedule’ document. This should include:

  • A description of the project as agreed
  • Budget estimates
  • Project schedule
  • Details of fees and the payment schedule
  • Details of expenses and other sundry costs
  • Party Wall Act requirements (if applicable)
  • Their services with regard to planning permission (if required) and building regs
  • Details of their professional indemnity insurance

Check this document through and don’t be afraid to question them on any aspects of it before signing.

This might seem like a lot of work to put in to engaging a single service but the role of your architect is crucial and the outcome of making a bad choice can be costly, time-consuming and destructive. By putting the work in up front, you can enjoy the process of working with an architect who understands your thinking, inspires you with their ideas, helps the whole project to run smoothly and cost-effectively… and most important of all, delivers a beautiful addition to your home that brings you joy forever.

Looking for a creative, reliable architectural designer?

Call Greenway Associates today on 01737 652737

Going up! Three steps to loft conversion heaven

There are many good practical reasons for converting your loft. For example, a loft conversion allows you to extend your living space without eating into your garden; you can carry out many loft conversions without the need for planning permission; and the average loft conversion adds between 10% and 20% to the value of your house.

But a loft is also a fabulous space with ready-made architectural interest, which can be transformed with some skill and imagination into a stunning room or suite of rooms. Bedrooms, bathrooms, offices, living rooms, playrooms and even kitchens – you can create them all in your loft with spectacular effect by considering the following three steps in your plans.

loft conversion bedroom
Unveil the secrets in your attic

 

1 Height and light
The most obvious dimension a loft conversion adds to your home is elevation. When you first look out of your new loft windows, the sense of height is thrilling. So make the most of this new perspective by giving careful thought to your windows.

Options include skylights like Velux, which lie flush with the slope of the roof, dormers, which require some change to the roof line to create added headroom and a vertical window, and floor-to-ceiling structural glass walls, which could be sliding doors opening onto a balcony. Each offers its own pros and cons, in terms of light, view, privacy and ventilation, so consider these aspects when choosing your windows.

Loft conversion bedroom
Glass sliding doors make the most of the view

 

If there is a beautiful view from your top storey, fit dormers or glass walls to make the most of it. If privacy is important, skylights will give you an uplifting sense of space and light without giving the neighbours a cinematic view of your private life. You might even prefer the cosy, attic feeling that a couple of skylights will give. It all depends on your position and plans for the interior space.

Natural textures
Brick, wood and glass complement one another

 

2 Shapes and textures
Whereas most rooms in a house are effectively cuboid, with rectangular walls and horizontal ceilings, once you get up into the loft you start to see triangles. Sloping ceilings, chimney breasts and wooden roof beams create new space considerations and a whole different character to the rest of the house.

This is where your design imagination comes in. Pick out interesting wall shapes in a contrasting colour or patterned wallpaper. Make the most of those low corners by fitting funky shelving and storage solutions. And plan your furniture to work with the space. Put wardrobes where the head height allows, tuck beds under sloping ceilings, let chairs see the light by the windows.

Loft conversion mezzanine
Where height permits, a mezzanine level is an impressive addition

 

Lofts offer the chance to work with lovely natural textures too. Those wooden beams never lose their rustic charm; bare brickwork contrasts beautifully with wood and painted plaster; and glass adds a sharp, modern texture that just happens to look great with the more historic wood and brick. Complement these textures with your choice of fabrics, carpet, upholstery etc and highlight the main features with well-designed lighting for a breathtaking overall impact.

loft conversion bathroom
Bathrooms make excellent use of loft space

 

3 Bathing in luxury
Loft conversions lend themselves perfectly to bathrooms and shower rooms. Even in the tightest loft space there is usually enough headroom for a shower and a bath and toilet make excellent use of the lower space under a sloping roof. Where space is more generous you can create a spectacular bathroom with a view, so you can soak in the tub while gazing at the stars or looking out at the hills.

Flush, wet room-style floors allow you to make more of limited head height and skylights allow plenty of daylight where you need it, eg over the sink, while maintaining the privacy you need.

loft conversion
Make a feature of the triangles in your loft

 

Because of its unique architectural features, a loft space can be transformed into the most eye-catching room in your house. The key is to plan it all out in advance and discuss your vision with your architect, to make sure the structure can accommodate your concepts. They will also help you to realise the space you have available, both through drawings and digital renderings, which will really help you to create something heavenly in the space up above.

 

Dreaming of a luxury loft conversion?

Call Greenway Associates today on 01737 652737

Bringing a 17th century cottage into the 20th century

Case study: 17th century thatched cottage in Cambridgeshire

The olde worlde architecture of rural England is one of the country’s unique charms but times and technology have changed since Charles II was on the throne and living in these quaint old properties can often be impractical.

This 17thcentury thatched cottage had just been bought by our client when he approached the Greenway Associates stand at the Grand Designs Live show. He wanted to renovate the place, bringing it up to 21stcentury standards without losing its rustic charm. It’s the kind of project every architect relishes and I was delighted to convince him that Greenway Associates was the right firm for the job.

Outer View Sims Project
17th century meets 20th and 21st centuries

 

Rest Room Sims Project
The brand new master bedroom

 

New extension

The 17thcentury portion of the cottage was a single-storey, thatched building, which had been added to in the 1980s with a two-storey, L-shaped extension. As well as renovating the cottage throughout, the brief included adding a double-storey extension, turning the L into a T, with a master bedroom upstairs looking out over agricultural land.

The new extension was designed to blend in with the 1980s section of the cottage, featuring a leaded dormer window to match the three existing dormers, leaded ground floor casement windows to do the same and carefully matched roof tiles to give a consistent look across the whole unthatched section.

The master bedroom was given a new en-suite bathroom and a large double dormer opening onto a small balcony overlooking the meadow and letting light flood in.

Bathroom Sims Project
New en suite for the master bedroom

 

Space, light and warmth

The existing part of the cottage was transformed by knocking out an internal wall and moving the staircase, creating a sense of space and flow, which was accentuated by the addition of beautiful wooden flooring. The centerpiece was a new, oak staircase, rising in the middle of the space and catching the eye without obstructing the flow.

Sims Project wooden Step
Solid oak feature staircase

 

The renovation included upgrading the building’s thermal performance to comply with modern standards. There was no insulation in any part of the house and the place was very cold in winter. Modern grade insulation was added to the timber-framed walls of the 17thcentury structure, as well as the blockwork walls of the 1980s extension, and roof insulation was added to bring the building’s thermal performance up to a very high standard, well above the requirements of Building Control.

Underfloor heating was installed throughout, including upstairs in the master bedroom, ensuring that the cottage will be as cosy to live in as it looks from the outside.

Kitchen Sims Portfolio
From this…

 

kitchen Sims Project Portfolio
…to this

 

Respect for the environment

It will be eco-friendly too, with very little heat loss, electricity supplied by solar panels and the underfloor heating fed by an air-source heat pump, installed in the new utility room downstairs in the extension.

The addition of a bedroom and bathroom also meant a new septic tank was required, as the building is too remote to be connected to the main sewers. The new tank, filters waste water and recycles it clean enough to drink!

badroom Sims Project
And from this…

 

drawing hall sims project
…to this

 

Just as importantly, the house had to maintain its appearance in keeping with the rural environment. Fortunately it was not listed, nor in a conservation area, but it needed a design sympathetic to its surroundings and its historic past.

The finished article is a stunning five-bedroom house, with three bathrooms, a spacious, open-plan kitchen and a cosy living room. The property meets the owner’s desire for an historic English cottage brought into the 21stcentury for increased comfort, space, light and energy efficiency.

Sims Project Full home View
The new extension (far left) blends perfectly with the 1980s section and complements the original 17th century thatched cottage

 

Looking to modernise without losing the character of your home?

Call Greenway Associates on 01737 652737

Planning an extension? Why it pays to keep the neighbours onside

When you embark on a building project to extend your property, you want to plan the entire job to run as smoothly as possible in order to keep costs and disruption to a minimum. In this respect, one of the most important aspects of preparing the groundwork is a charm offensive designed to bring the neighbours onside and keep them there.

Planning an extension

There are several good reasons for this, some technical, some just plain neighbourly. It will help to avoid objections to your planning application; your builders may need access to your neighbour’s property; and it’s important for long-term relations with those who live around you.

Think neighbours first

The first part of a planning permission appraisal focuses on neighbourliness – how will your building affect your neighbours? Will it block their view? Will it block out their light? Will it affect the value of their property? Are there any conservation issues?

As soon as you make the decision to extend your property, the first thing you should do is go and tell your neighbours. Explain to them what you’re planning to do and listen to their response. They may well have concerns and they might even have some suggestions that you want to consider. This collaborative, transparent approach is far more likely to elicit a favourable response than springing the news on them via the local Planning department.

planning permission with neighbours support

When your architect has prepared drawings, take them round to show your neighbours. If you can get a 3D rendering of the plan this will make it much easier for your neighbours to see what you’re intending to build and how it will impact on them. The purpose is to avoid hitting them with any nasty surprises.

Complying with the Party Wall Act

The Party Wall Act 1996 covers any building work that may affect someone else’s property, even if it doesn’t involve an actual party wall. Under the Act, you have a legal obligation to notify your immediate neighbours – anyone whose property abuts onto yours.

The Act also stipulates that any technical digging (egfor foundations or a basement) within six metres of a neighbour’s property requires their consent in writing and an agreement on the timing of the works. A minimum of two months’ notice is required.

The Act works in your favour too, by giving your builders the right to access from the neighbour’s property.

What if the neighbours object?

There are no guarantees that your neighbours won’t object to your plans, despite your charm offensive, but an objection doesn’t mean planning permission will be rejected. The Planning department will be obliged to investigate any objections that arise from your neighbours but ultimately they will base their decision on Planning Policy. As long as your plans are compliant – and your architect should make sure they are – you will be granted planning permission.

planning permission extension and loft conversion

Similarly, if a neighbour refuses to grant your builders access to their property, a party wall surveyor will come and decide on the matter and your neighbour will be obliged to comply with their decision.

If you approach the project with neighbourliness in mind from the beginning, the likelihood of falling out with your neighbours over such issues will be greatly reduced and within a few months you will have a beautiful extension to your home, which you can invite your neighbours to come and enjoy with you.

Time to extend your home? Call Greenway Associates today on 01737 652737