Do you need more space or just different space?

When it comes to creating your dream home, it’s often assumed you’ll extend to achieve that, yet there are so many different avenues you could go down to turn your everyday house into a fab family home.

You might be surprised to hear this, but extending isn’t always the answer. If your house is quite large, or has already been extended, you might have some redundant rooms or spaces, so adding more space isn’t a magic bullet. In fact, assuming you’ve decided to stay put and not move house, your existing property might have everything you need.

Instead of adding new rooms, you could remodel your layout and create larger spaces with structural alterations. 

Or perhaps reconfiguring the layout by swapping the use of some spaces will unlock the functionality you desire. 

But with so many options to consider, how do you figure out what’s right for you and your home?

The importance of briefing

I believe the key to getting it right is not to rush it. Take your time and start by defining the problem, not the solution. This sounds like common sense, but it is so easy to jump straight into solution mode. 

Consider how you use your home, what you like about it, and crucially what’s not working for you at the moment. Take the opportunity to fix those things that bug you, as well as including all those things you want in your dream home. 

Once you have a clear idea of your brief, the right solution will be a lot easier to figure out. When it’s your own home you can get stuck ruminating over the same old solutions and it often takes an outsider to help you unlock what’s most important to you before you can move things forward. 

Along with talking with your family to consider what your needs are, an architect could help by asking some probing questions that you might not have considered before. They will also be very likely to have encountered similar problems with previous clients, so they’ll be able to suggest innovative solutions based on their experience. 

The pitfalls of extending your home

Whilst it’s lovely and in some ways easier to build an extension, the last thing I want is for clients to spend all their time in the new extension and leave the rest of their home unoccupied!

That’s why it’s so important to consider all of the options available, and be sure that you’re making the right choice for you and your home. 

Houses that are already extended are likely to become very dark in the middle if you make them even larger. Take care to avoid simply moving your living areas into a new zone, leaving the middle of the house gloomy and redundant. 

So, if you’ve decided against extending, what else could you do instead?

Be resourceful with the space that you have

Instead of adding an extension, can you reconfigure your existing home to work harder for you and your family? If so, there are so many added benefits to renovating rather than extending.

Whilst renovation can be just as costly as extending, alterations usually require less material so this can be a sustainable choice if you’re concerned about minimising your impact on the environment. Maintaining the same building footprint also has the benefit of avoiding any loss of garden space. 

However, there’s a lot to consider with renovation, so taking the time to come up with a holistic plan for your whole home will always give you the best outcome by far. If you skip this step, you risk having to rework the same areas five or ten years down the line, undoing work and wasting money.

It’s easy to get stuck in the analysis paralysis state, where you don’t know what to do, so you don’t do anything. This is another part of the project where working with an architect is a great way to keep things moving in the right direction. 

Clients often come to me uncertain of how to move forward with homes that are lived (albeit languishing), in a slight state of disrepair. As an architect and problem solver, I love to take the time over this initial briefing to ensure I understand how you live. That way, I can help you to decide if you need more space or just different space.

Finding the solution that’s right for your home

For many renovation projects that I work on, the client will come to me with ideas of what they want, sometimes they even have a solution. I like to challenge that thinking to make sure we’re getting to the nub of the problem, so that I know they’re going to be really happy with the end result. 

Consider this: Do you actually all sit down to breakfast together? Do you have hobbies with large equipment that clutters the hall? Where do you sit to put your shoes on? 

We all have a tendency to think that everyone lives in a similar way to ourselves, but I’ve seen how the same type of house can be occupied in many different ways. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to creating your dream home so doing what someone else did might not be right for you. 

Instead, taking the time to create a comprehensive plan that considers all of your needs and bugbears means you’ll always end up with a home that you love. 

Choose your next steps with confidence

If you’d like to feel more confident with your renovation, take a look at my toolkit which includes resources to help develop your project brief right, and to help keep your project on track as it progresses.

It’s called From Brief to Budget to Build, and contains some of the super useful stuff I use with my clients in a handy resource bundle. 

In there you’ll find workbook style questions to help you delve into your motivations, priorities and aspirations for your project, a budget planner that considers the costs likely to be involved in your project, and a template to capture the fixtures and finishes details for accurate pricing, and much more. 

Click here to find out more. 

10 Common Mistakes Families make when Extending their Homes and How to Avoid them

As I started to write this I thought I’d struggle to come up with ten, but it was frighteningly easy to identify where things can go wrong if you let them…

1. Considering an extension in isolation

I’m a firm believer in the importance of your whole home working together, that the layout and flow through the spaces allows for your family to live without inconvenience. As someone who lives with their fridge in the garage (what were the previous owners thinking!) I can tell you that designing to overcome the functionality issues is always a priority over fancy finishes. Fear not – relocating the fridge is high on my agenda for my own renovation!

2. Stretching your budget too thin

Don’t be over ambitious, if you want to get to the end and still be able to furnish your home then set a budget and work within it. Remember you will have other costs on top of the build – professional fees, applications etc so budget some of your cash for that too.

3. Rushing the design process

It’s really important that you invest the time in getting your brief and proposals right. Communication is important, if you don’t understand something mention it early on. Can’t visualise it? Ask for a 3d sketch. It’s easy for architects to forget that house plans can seem like a foreign language to the lay person. Imagine trying to read a set of instructions in Greek, you’d likely need a translator, and if the translation didn’t make any sense you’d ask for it to be rephrased. Don’t hurry on confused, seek clarity.

4. Trying to outwit the tenders to save money

If you get 3 or 4 quotes that are all within a few thousand quid, then whether you like it or not – that is likely the cost of doing the work. Proceeding with an anomalously low tender in order to make savings is usually a misguided decision. You may well find the difference creeping back into the project via “extras”, especially if you don’t heed point 6.

5. Opting for a contractor who can start right now

With a few exceptions which we’ll come onto, any contractor worth his salt will be booked up. There’s a reason for this, they’re busy because they come recommended and they’re good at what they do. The exception? Perhaps they’ve had a job fall through, but still be wary and as always seek references. Aligning your ideal timescale with a contractor’s availability is not an easy feat but being realistic with your expectation of how soon you’re going to be able to get cracking will help.

6. Opting to manage your own build to save money on professional services

Now, it doesn’t always end in tears if you go it alone but keeping your architect involved throughout the build will undoubtedly save you a lot of time and hassle. Especially when it comes to figuring out monies due, whether adequate progress is being made, if it’s being built correctly, and it will protect your investment in design, see point 7. In my experience the outcomes are nearly always improved and relationships less strained.

7. Being persuaded to make design changes during the build

I cannot say this loud enough – don’t make changes on site without fully considering the implications – you’ve invested time and love in the design process, don’t spoil it now! I once had a builder tell a client that the property wasn’t deserving of the sleek product we had specified. It was something we had researched in detail along with the client to really bring a wow factor, not gold plated (that option was written off, rightly so!) but it was special and not beyond affordable. Subsequently they convinced the client to select something cheaper and no doubt easier to procure or install. Stick to your guns – don’t sit back at the end looking at your clunky version of what could have been.

8. Starting on site before you have all of your approvals in place

Not just your Planning Permission but your Building Regulations approval too. It’s far easier to change things on paper than in real life. Ensure that the details (especially any that relate to regulations) are figured out before you start, otherwise you’ll risk the time delays and cost uplift of rectifying it when it’s eventually picked up by the Building Control Inspector. You might also need a Party Wall Award or a Build Over Agreement, among other things. Starting your build without your paperwork in place is a sure fire way to elevate the heart rate once you realise that your work could be stopped whilst you sort things out.

9. Thinking your home insurance will cover it

It’s important to establish who is insuring what – be that your existing building, contents, the “works” etc. Depending on your chosen Building Contract (don’t proceed without one), you might even need a Joint Names insurance policy. Check, and double check, with your insurers that between you and your builders everything is covered. Insurance is a complex matter so be sure to seek specialist advice. You’d not be the first to think it’ll all be ok – only to find yourself rushing around in a mad panic after a fire/flood has destroyed your building work – to discover no one can make a claim. These things do happen, don’t take the risk.

10. Doing your own decorating

Ok, I was scraping the barrel for a point 10. but there is some truth in this one too. Whilst you don’t need to be Caravaggio to wield a roller, you do need some proficiency if you want it to look any good. I’ve seen many a pristine plastered wall marred by badly applied paint running into blobby drips. In the grand scheme of things decorating isn’t costly, so leave it to someone who is actually good at it!

If you’re just beginning to think about an extension project why not join my facebook group Easy Project Planning for your Family Home Extension where you can find out more.

What can an architect do for me?

Getting you through all that regulatory stuff with some drawings is one thing but have you ever considered the real value of an architect?

Architects are trained problem solvers, and key to solving any problem is properly defining it in the first place. It’s your house and you live there so you’ll have spent a fair amount of time considering the potential solutions, how you might change it or extend it but have you really stopped and thought why? What’s driving this desire to make it different, make it bigger? That’s the starting point, define the problem.

I work with clients to establish their brief in as much detail as possible at the outset, do you actually need more space or just different space? Families want to be together, or sometimes apart. Maybe you simply want to keep an eye on the kids whilst you’re making the dinner? Sit and enjoy the garden if you can ever find five minutes peace? How will things differ in 5 or 10 years when the kids have grown up?

Your project proposals will evolve and develop from this, so getting your brief nailed is really important. Projects are most successful and enjoyable when it becomes a collaborative process not simply a set of options and choices. Bringing creative solutions to everyday problems is what architects are trained to do.

Understanding your life, your needs and aspirations is incredibly important – it’s personal. It means working with the right architect is key to project success. I’m an architect for everyday families who want to re-think their homes for a better way of living. Get in touch to see if I’d be a good fit for your project.