The impact of COVID has had a profound impact on our needs and desires for our home space. While we love our children dearly, I’m seeing many parents hoping not to see them for a week or two! Separate rooms for adults and children is top of the agenda, as are home offices – not one but two, allowing privacy and confidentiality for adults on zoom calls. This change of circumstances has brought a boom in house sales, and extensions.
Berkshire based architect Philip Wadge talked about the current requirements and design trends he’s seeing in response to changing household needs.
What requests are you now receiving post lockdown?
Contemporary, open plan living spaces
First and foremost, expanding the reception space a house currently has to offer. Open plan kitchen/dining/lounge areas with bi-fold doors and/or large windows are now seen as essential, especially where this creates an additional reception room by turning a functional kitchen into a family living space. This then means the existing living room becomes an ‘evening’ room while the kitchen is a ‘day room’. It also allows adults to have their own space of an evening while the children stay in the day room with their own space and TV.
Along with this, additional bedrooms above the extended day room are very popular, as it makes the most of the extension, meets the needs of growing families and of course adds value. If space can’t be added upstairs for planning reasons, there is often scope on the ground floor for a bedroom/guest room/multiple-use space.
We’ve had a lot of enquiries about home offices – above garages, on to the back or side of the house or in the garden. Even in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty you can put a sizeable detached building in the garden utilizing permitted development rights, where available, to avoid the need for a planning application.
What value can architects add to the planning approval process?
Knowledge of local planning rules & regulations
A good architect will have a strong relationship with the local planning authority and will know what has an increased chance of being approved, with a fall back option in case a compromise is required. Planning law can be restrictive at times, but has considerate design at heart; it’s often a matter of working with the system to gain the best results.
Rules and regulations change, so current knowledge is critical. For example, in some Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty the restriction on extending a house beyond 50% has been removed, however it must still be in keeping with the property style and be ‘subservient to the house’.
Impact on neighbours
Key factors include overshadowing, overlooking, overbearing and visibility from the street, all factors that impact neighbours. We see surprisingly few complaints from neighbours as we will always plan for a considerate design, which will in any case help with planning permission. It’s best to talk to them first to explain what you plan to do. And remember, neighbours can only object on grounds that are planning related, which should be addressed during the design stage.
Top Tip: Talk to neighbours first, before the consultation sign goes up, to explain what you plan to do.
How do you translate a home owner’s vision to reality?
Clients often have ideas and examples of what they like and hope to achieve. We use this to steer an initial investigation into the project before meeting to discuss in more detail, along with building and site factors to fine-tune the brief.
We use that brief to find solutions that work with the house. We have a broad vision that includes wants, needs, desires and practical limitations. As problem solvers, we find limitation factors can often produce the best designs.
Once planning approval is secured, we can commission great builders to translate the design into reality, and who are capable of solving problems that may occur once started on site.
The key is a whole team who work well together, are enthusiastic, able and experienced.
At what stage should a homeowner approach an architect?
As soon as you feel you know what you would like to achieve. It’s best to consult an architect before the planning stage, as we have an eye for practicality as well as design. An understanding of engineering is critical for elements such as head heights, light and accessibility. For example rooms can be combined with a supporting beam, but if the combined rooms are large, the beam required can be so low it won’t work. The initial design phase is the most important and can make the most difference to a project, before pursuing the required permissions and full details.
Budget is critical
It’s important to know what funding is available for the project for us to clarify what can be achieved within budget, and if this is going to achieve the desired outcome.
Initial designs can be ‘ballpark’ costed by builders, but it won’t be until the detailed building regulations plans have been completed that quotes will be confirmed, and there should always be a reasonable contingency. Equally, it sometimes makes more sense to move house rather than extending and we don’t shy away from addressing that.
Architects have great building contacts, some of whom don’t advertise. We work with excellent builders who understand the vision, have the right experience and can implement a design to a high standard, working with the home owners to provide the desired finish. Most of our builders often work on one project at a time, so the project can be finished quickly with minimal disruption.
About Philip Wadge
We stand in our client’s shoes to make sure they can achieve the outcome they want with a straightforward, honest appraisal. This means combining our passion for architecture with our knowledge of surveying and engineering to address the critical elements of floorplan, flow, light, structural integrity and planning.
Customer service is at the heart of everything we do, so we simplify rather than overcomplicate the process with a collaborative, sympathetic approach to help our clients achieve their desired outcome.