2020 – What a year!

Far from the doom and gloom that March predicted, 2020 has been real success – here’s how things panned out for me…

(more than) A few wins:

  • I focused on working with clients from concept right through to completion to ensure they get the best outcomes with the least hassle.
  • I blogged regularly on all sorts of topics from Mistakes to Avoid to Lighting and Storage.
  • I started a Facebook group to help people get clued up before you begin.
  • I gained nine 5* Google Reviews.
  • I developed a collaborative approach with structural engineers Michael Aubrey Partnership to bring structural input to the early stages of design. As well as enabling clients to reduce overall project fees by avoiding duplication of effort.
  • I worked with business coach Gemma Gilbert and soaked up her brilliance to get all of the other stuff done.
  • I ran a 100km in October and raised £650 for Breast Cancer Now.

A few challenges:

  • I took on a little too much work, everyone being at home all the time sent enquiries sky rocketing! Fortunately, I was able to work with others to help me deliver it all.
  • I didn’t implement my new CAD software, the task seemed mammoth and I didn’t break it down into small enough chunks.
  • The COVID restrictions meant I wasn’t able to visit previously completed projects as much as I’d hoped to, so the case studies remain outstanding.

What did I learn?

  • That most things are possible if you put your mind to it.
  • That content marketing is actually just about sharing value and connecting with people.
  • That virtual meetings can actually be quite productive and save on travel time!
  • That systems are key to efficiency and I wouldn’t be without Dubsado.
  • That I need a little bit of human support too, and am pleased to be working with Admin Lab helping me keep on top of it all.
  • That maintaining good relationships with contractors is just about picking up the phone.
  • That sending chocolate brownies to clients in the post when they’re having a rough time is always a winner!

What does 2021 hold?

For me 2021 is about changing focus with my project work and bringing energy retrofit to the table alongside extension projects. I want to help people make their homes greener. I’ll be completing the AECB’s Carbonlite Retrofit Course to develop my knowledge in this area and will be seeking clients who are keen to embrace a sustainable design agenda.

I’ll be implementing the new software I’ve been avoiding, by taking it in bite size chunks, and look forward to seeing the benefits it will bring.

Most importantly? I’ll help my clients get their dream homes built.

On reflection

It was far from the easiest year, with our kids home for what seemed like eternity, but somehow all that stuff got done. I’m excited to embark on 2021, but far from wishing 2020 away on reflection it’s been quite a success.

Where’s the Fish Tank?

“Where’s the fish tank?” I asked. It was one of the things I remembered from the old dining room. I suddenly realised that we hadn’t planned a spot for it in the new extension. Sadly, (although somewhat to my relief) the fish had not survived the building work. I felt somehow thankful that they did not need a space for the tank, but also guilt at my relief! I made a mental note to add ‘fish tank’ to my project checklist, it would be there along with cat flap, and the myriad of other things that need to be considered. I would not want to forget the fish tank again.

Not to downplay the loss of a pet(s), but the sadness was quickly replaced with a sense of pride from visiting the finished home (and envy – I wanted to move in!). I entered into the new extension on a sunny Monday morning after the school run – it was bright, spacious, beautifully furnished by my client – with great eye for detail.

Catalyst: A Bigger Bedroom

When I met my clients back in 2018, the original brief had been to create a larger third bedroom for their son – to extend above the existing dining room extension. Their 1960’s home had good sized rooms, albeit the third bedroom being on the smaller side. Once the process began, the realisation dawned that if you’re going to do building work, you’ll probably only want to do it once. With that, the scope expanded to extend the ground floor and renovate the kitchen as well, they wanted a space to entertain especially for family at Christmas.

Before it all began

Journey: Some Twists and Turns

With a revised brief for a larger project we set off on a journey which had its twists and turns. A hundred year old oak tree in the front garden and the house having been previously underpinned due to subsidence added some complexity to an otherwise straightforward project; the structural engineer designed for piled foundations. The need for a specialist piling contractor alongside a general builder made for additional coordination.

Result: A Space to Entertain

Obstacles overcome, the outcome is lovely, a space for the family to enjoy and to entertain. The only downside being that COVID has limited their potential for visitors, but this will no doubt be a great entertaining space when the time comes.

The ‘slide and fold’ doors across the width of the space, adding elegance with their slim frames. The internal bi-fold doors between lounge and dining bring flexibility for open plan or closed off living. The roof lights enhance the dining space, bringing light from above. Upstairs, in the two-storey part of the extension, the enlarged third bedroom had been commandeered as the master, with a walk through dressing area adding some glamour.

“The house is finished and we love it!” That’s the feedback I love to hear. And whilst the end result is very much the point of hiring an architect, it’s good to have positive feedback on the journey to get there as well:

Carly was sympathetic to our needs, very organised, has great communication skills and went above and beyond when working with contractors. She made the whole process as seamless as possible and we stayed on budget throughout. We are extremely pleased with the service she provided and are really pleased with our 2-storey extension.

Building Work completed early 2020 by Duncan Crawford.

Products and Suppliers: Kitchen – Howdens, Worktop – Rocktops, Kitchen Flooring – Amtico, Pendant Lights – Koltrane Lighting , Bedroom Flooring – Quick Step LVT, Rooflights – Velux, Slide and Fold Doors – Sunseeker Doors, Internal Bi-fold Doors – Todd Doors.

How do the kids feel about extending your home?

Change can be challenging, especially with kids, here’s why involving your kids can be an important step when undertaking an extension project. I sought some expert advice on how best to approach things…

Excitement

It’s exciting isn’t it? Planning an extension project. You’re going to change the way you live, overcome those awkward parts of your home, improve functionality, create more together space and bring harmony to family life… well that’s the plan!

How do the kids feel about it? Have you asked them? Maybe they’re excited too or possibly a little bit worried. Getting a new bedroom sounds like fun doesn’t it, but have any of you thought about the disruption you’ll go through before the flat pack furniture building begins?

There are hundreds of decisions required to build your new home and whilst you might want to involve the children with some of them, you’re likely to overwhelm them if you use them as a sounding board for every last fixture and fitting.

Disruption

Children, on the whole are pretty adaptable but if you don’t help them through it then you might find the build phase more stressful than you’re expecting. Working around less space and a temporary kitchen is an obstacle, but can be overcome. Living together in just half of your rooms whilst the others are knocked about is only fun for a little while. Everything takes time.

Dust gets everywhere. You can tape things up as much as you like, but it will be settling for months afterwards, so there’s no escaping it. Construction is also very noisy and if you’re going to be around during the daytime you might find this quite the distraction. Perhaps moving out is an option, but there might be a cost with that. If you are planning to “live on a building site”, it’s important that you understand the risks and that you communicate with your builder’s team to ensure that you are able to keep the children safe.

Strategy

Starting right from the outset before the build commences, how can you manage this changing time with the kids? What can you do to help them feel excited whilst at the same time building resilience to cope with an unusual situation? I spoke to Sarah Billingham of Confident Kids, a specialist teacher who had this advice:

“Whenever there is going to be a big change for children, we tend to jump into telling them all of the things that will be different. Instead, start by telling them what will be the same so that they have some sense of familiarity. Slowly introduce them to the things which will be different so that they have the opportunity to process each aspect without becoming overwhelmed. One of my favourite ways to explore the topic of change is to share stories together on the topic of the change ahead (in this case- building houses!). This helps children to get a sense of what to expect and the equipment they might see. Children can explore and talk about the change in a non-threatening way. “

Is Open Plan always the answer?

It’s the first thing people say to me – “we want it to be more open plan” – but what is open plan living and will it suit your family?

Things open plan is: sociable, connected, illusion of more space; with the potential for it to be light and bright if done well.

Things open plan isn’t: private, quiet, clutter free, suited to all uses (don’t try clarinet practice / TV / homework simultaneously)

In a response to a recent survey on using your home during the lockdown one person noted “I’ve learned that open plan living is great, but can still feel claustrophobic when you’re in the same space all. day. long. We’re v lucky to have separate space to enjoy when we need some quiet time”. That latter point is the key – keep a separate space. Go part open plan and retain a separate room, or use internal dividers so that there is flexibility to close it off. Create a “snug” (posh word for a usually smaller second living room) – maybe it can double as home office or occasional guest room. A place to escape the little kids… a place for the bigger kids to escape you!

If you’re still up for open plan – perhaps broken plan is worth considering, this Houzz article looks at how dividers and level changes can be used to great effect. We used these principles to reformat a 1960’s home in Caversham with great success.

There are obvious practicalities with getting your house to become open plan – removing walls and inserting steel work; maybe you’ll need to retain a small section of wall here or there. I’m pretty sure with enough engineering the structural engineers could make your home practically float…but there’s a difference between what is possible and what is reasonable… because you have got a budget right? There are actually a fair amount of pros to keeping some walls: for storage, furniture, radiators if you’re not going for underfloor heating.

Lighting, acoustics and fire regulations also need careful consideration, to ensure that your home is both comfortable and safe. Open plan can be brilliant, but think carefully about how you and your family want to live before you commit to it.