Over the last few months the hot topic of conversation at dinner has been our listed home, Mabel’s Farmhouse, specifically what we would like to do to her in terms of design and what the priorities for our brief should be. There are all the pragmatic issues, such as installing working electrics, heating and underpinning work, but there are some more fun decisions to be made too.

What should the look and feel of the house be? How can we make sure the things we liked about the house originally are preserved? What should the layout be, and do we need to add or remove any spaces? How can we create a safe and practical access to the loft rooms? How long do we plan on living in the house?


Lydia and Lawrence are coming up with design ideas for the interior spaces of Mabel’s Farmhouse, including the master bedroom.

The answers to these questions essentially form a brief, and this is normally what an architect discusses at the first meeting with a client. It is good for these discussions to focus on what you are trying to achieve rather than specific solutions — you are getting most value out of the architect if they propose solutions to the problems rather than draw up the solution you have in mind. This allows the architect the creative space to suggest options that you might never have thought of and to test against what you had in mind.

Every day we work on projects for other people; nonetheless we still need to ask ourselves the key questions we would put to our clients. One analogy is to see the design process as a long conversation which evolves and changes in intensity throughout. It is important to set out your goals and aspirations at the start because these are the things that carry you through the dark times and ensure you remain focused.

Construction is a long and expensive process, involving many different skilled people, but it remains the responsibility of the homeowner to ensure that their goals for the project are achieved. The rest of the team can help you deliver the brief – the architect can draw and visualise it, the contractors can build it – but ultimately the decision making is all down to you.

So to our brief: we feel Mabel’s is big enough to meet our needs both in the short and long term, therefore an extension is not required. Downstairs we feel the accommodation is a good size but a boot room/laundry/pantry and WC would increase the practicality of the house. Upstairs we are happy with a single family bathroom, as long as it is a good size and functional, although we may like to have a freestanding bath in the master bedroom. We do, however, need to explore a more practical way of accessing the upper storey and increase daylight in the centre of the plan.

Our solution, subject to planning permission and listed building consent, is to incorporate the existing Victorian lean-to into the kitchen. By sub-dividing it we can create a cloakroom/laundry/bootroom as well as a walk-in pantry. This will allow the kitchen to retain the character we love, while creating a practical living space. Upstairs we want to introduce a new lightweight staircase and skylights to allow light to flood down to the entrance hall. Now to submit our application.

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