It’s hardly surprising that one of the mantras I have followed with major building projects of this sort is ‘don’t rush in’. The planning, design detailing and budgeting process has been such that we have, in effect, spent the best part of three years before breaking ground. In many ways, the time we’ve spent agreeing schemes with designers, only to find that builders consider them to be undeliverable for our budget, has been time well spent.
We have spent more than we would have liked on design fees, too – I stopped counting at £10,000 – but we have taken the view that this will be our family home for the next decade or two, and so a bit of investment now to get it right is worth it in the long run.
We used three designers for our scheme. Initially we used Pete Tonks, who regular readers of this magazine will be familiar with. He is a hugely talented and creative designer. We talk the same language in design terms – we like the same architects – and I’ve not been in one of Pete’s homes without a sharp feeling of envy. We talked budgets at that early stage and while many of the conceptual elements that he came up with have ended up in our plans today, we struggled to find a builder locally who could realise it for the money we had.
We then used local RIBA architect Aaron Chetwynd to bring these concepts to life and add some additional design flavour. Again, however, we found ourselves struggling to marry the concept of the scheme with the budget (which we’d put at around £130,000).
Talking to one of the builders who had advised us along the way, we found that what we really needed was some practical, cold-truth design advice and so turned to an experienced local architectural designer, Jon Grew. Jon had a great reputation among the builders we met for the quality of his drawings and eye for construction detail — and, best of all, his ability to value engineer a building scheme to get maximum benefit with minimum outlay. He challenged us on why we were wedded to certain design ideas and helped us to concentrate on the critical things.
These were, and remain, a bigger kitchen space, a better layout, a more impressive exterior, energy improvements, the rebuild of our son’s dormer bedroom, and a more impressive master bedroom arrangement. Working with Jon, we managed to capture the essence of Pete’s original concepts and rationalise them into a buildable reality that would mix architectural space and flair with a practical improvement in the way the house works for us as a family. And because Jon is such a master of the costs, we ended up finding a couple of builders who could work to our budget.
Could we have approached it more effectively? Of course. We could have been more focused with designers at an earlier stage and not have been so carried away with details that we weren’t even sure could be built.
The house was already 270m2, which is a perfectly respectable size. The extended space will add another 40m2 or so to this, but the real improvement will be both in terms of flow and arrangement of rooms, and the makeover element of the project. The quicker we could have realised this, the better — it took us a long time to get there, but here’s hoping it will be worth it.