Nigel Mitchell had lived in his house for the best part of 15 years before really deciding what to do with it. Which is not to say he is a prevaricator, rather that it took him perhaps seven years or so to work out that the house could be a lot better, and another eight or so to find the right solution.
“It had been built in 1985 and it was attractive in many ways,” begins Nigel. “For starters, its location [on an exclusive road in Sion Hill, overlooking Bath and close enough to walk into town] was great, and the gardens were large. The site is sloping, and the original designers had taken this into account by placing the living space on the upper (entrance) level to enjoy those views, with the bedrooms downstairs. But architecturally it was quite modest, and more importantly it didn’t make the most of what it had. The views as they were, were disrupted by ill-placed windows, meaning you had to literally duck down to see the view. Only the bedrooms and a small utility room opened up onto the garden, which felt smaller than it should because of the positioning of the house. It needed fresh ideas.”
Initially Nigel, who has two grown-up children, commissioned an architect to come up with a scheme to demolish the whole place and start again, with an exciting contemporary concrete and glass design in its place.
“We gained planning approval but I began to sense that the costs were becoming a bit excessive for us, and we decided to hold off and reassess what would make more sense,” says Nigel. “After a while I held an architectural competition, paying a modest fee to three architects to pitch their ideas for the site. The brief was relatively simple — I wanted something that was low energy, contemporary in style, addressed the problems of the existing house and could be achieved for a budget that would be realistic for the area.”
James Grayley of Dow Jones Architects, who Nigel chose, explains their scheme. “It really was the simplest answer, but was also the most radical solution. In reality we were quite brutal with the structure. We increased window heights and changed window positions to take into account the views; we remodelled the internal spaces, in particular removing ceilings and loft space where possible to give a greater feeling of space; we also replaced an internal garage with a new kitchen area, which opens up onto the patio to the rear and features an impressive lightwell thanks to a change in the roof shape. We also designed a new garage and studio building for Nigel and, most obviously of all, reclad the whole house.”
Given the exacting nature of the contemporary specification and the importance of getting the design realised successfully on site, Nigel retained Dow Jones Architects to supervise the project and also paid a quantity surveyor 2% of the total to keep an eye on costs and source cost-effective materials (Nigel reckons he more than made his fee back in savings).
This is undoubtedly a top-end renovation that had design at its core — but given the new value of the house (£1.85m or so) well worth it. Inside, the reworking and opening up has really transformed the space. The remarkable lightwell in the new kitchen is an undoubted highlight, all cleverly designed asymmetry to ensure the morning light hits perfectly. “There’s definitely a greater sense of volume, and the big windows frame the views of the city splendidly,”?smiles Nigel. “It has been well worth waiting for.”