Working with architects

I am getting the distinct impression that I am irritating the architect. Now I come to think about it, I think I have probably been irritating both of them (as there are two – Mark and Stuart) for quite some time. It isn’t much of an insight as my other half has been telling me this for sometime. I am just choosing to acknowledge now!

I am not doing it on purpose, you understand. It is just happening that way – it seems to be happening without me even really trying too hard – a sort of natural by product of the interaction between us.

What I am finding frustrating is that I can’t work out why this is happening! Irritating other people is all part of life (it has certainly been a large part of mine!). It is a natural consequence of opposing views or different styles of getting things done. But in this instance, I think we are all pretty much aligned in what we are trying to achieve, so the source of the irritation must be a difference in approach.

As I think about this further (as well as running the risk of sounding too corporate), it occurs to me that we have never defined the roles and responsibilities between the parties.

While much of what an architect does is very clear – producing designs for planning permission, sorting out building regulations – there are a number of other activities that aren’t quite so black and white. I think it is these activities that are the source of irritation.

For example, who decides on the internal wall colours? who chooses the type of windows? or the window supplier? who selects the type of central heating? or where the control unit goes? Some of the answers are simple. Some more complex as they can only be answered by working together. For example, the type of central heating will be impacted by level of insulation (U values), type of wall/ceiling construction, or how the services run throughout the building. And we haven’t even talked about personal preferences.

So if we take the lack of clarity over roles and responsbilities, then add in a certain amount of confusion (on my behalf around the process) and the occasional curved ball (“Well, I didn’t expect to find that under the floor!”), it is no wonder there is irritation.

Existing elevations

Here are the architect’s drawings of the elevations of the existing property.  I think they have done a great job, but there again I am always a sucker for these sort of engineering drawings!  You can zoom in by clicking on the images.

My hand drawings are elsewhere on the blog, so these just go to show how bad my drawings really are!  I didn’t want to publish any of this material until after we had completed on the purchase – it seemed to be tempting fate otherwise.

Front elevation

Rear elevation

Left hand end
Left hand end

Right hand end
Right hand end

Plans of the property today

We have made some progress over the past couple of weeks.

The topographic survey was conducted a couple of weeks ago and we now the results.  It is a very accurate plan of the cottages, the outbuildings and the surrounding ground.  The surveyors installed a number of anchor points and then measured everything from these.  The end result is a very large plan of the property and the surrounding areas.

We also had a comprehensive internal survey completed.  From this, we now have an accurate layout of all the rooms, windows and even wall thicknesses.  This will be used as the basis for the plans for the new renovation.  The plans of the current building will also include the front and side elevations. 

I have both of these plans printed out on large sheets of paper, but I don’t have these electronically at the moment.  More when I have more information electronically.

Update: I now have electronic versions of the material and have uploaded them to other posts on the blog.  You will find the existing floorplans here, the topographic survey here, and the elevations here.

The farm today

Here’s some photographs of the property as it is today.  It is organised as a small attached cottage, a larger cottage and an unconverted barn.  All on a 2 acre plot of land.

From the road.  The odd shaped building to the right of the picture is a coal hole.  This odd shaped part of the building seems to be fairly original as it appears on even the oldest of the maps that we have found. Take a close look at the 1788 map, particularly where the property adjoins the road. The porch is for the small attached cottage.

From the back of the property.  This is the view from the back of the top field.  The unconverted barn is at this end of the property.  It has clearly been rebuilt in recent years, but is still unconverted.  The lower photograph is the rear of the property, but this time from the bottom field looking up.  The odd shaped appendage is the back of the coal hole seen above.

The unconverted barn.  This has a sloping roof and has two floor levels inside.  The lower floor level is the same level as the ground floor in the adjacent property.

Well, I am glad we shared our ideas first!

Because if we hadn’t, I think the architect would just have thought we had copied his!

We visited one of their latest projects – a renovation project that is currently up for sale.  There were so many similarities with what we want to do, it was spooky.  The bright modern interior inside a period shell, the open planning living that flows from room to room, the master bedroom that is separate from the guest bedrooms etc.

You can see the property here including interior photos and floor plans.

The property is around 2,200 sq ft so probably slightly smaller than our intended renovation.  This fact alone has us wondering about whether the overall size of our renovation is too big.  But it is still early days.

In the afternoon, we had a look at another property.  Different location. New build, rather than renovation and a lot bigger. You can see more of this property here.  Not really our sort of thing, but interesting from a design point of view, if nothing else.

First meeting with the architect

I have never employed an architect before, so this is going to be a bit of a voyage of discovery.  However, as with everything these days, a quick search on Google reveals some likely candidates.

Just looking at the architects websites, you are see that some architects specialise either in new build or major on commercial projects.  Probably none of these are going to be appropriate to the renovation of a 18th century farmhouse!  We might be wrong in doing our initial selection this way, but it does underline how important getting your website is if you are an architect!

We came across one architecture practice that we liked.  We had also heard good things about them locally.  They are also based not far away which also helps.  ONE17DESIGN ( are based in Armitage Bridge about 5 miles away from the new house.

We met with Mark Lee from ONE17DESIGN on a rather wet Friday morning and took him through our ideas. We were due to meet at the property, but the rain was torrential.  From the ideas that we had pulled together – overlays on top of bitmaps from Google Earth – Mark seemed to understand what we were looking for.  After chatting for an hour, the raining had subsided enough for us to venture out and walk around the property.  This seemed to confirm Mark’s suspicions that what we want to do (including changing the position of the access road) was all very doable.

Mark suggested that we had a look at a couple of properties that he had just finished working on…..we arranged to view them the following day.

The way we live now

One of the things that has struck me when we were househunting is how much our lifestyles have changed over the years and how much this impacts the houses that we build.

You only need to look at large formal Georgian homes to realise that (while they are gorgeous properties) that they really don’t reflect the way we live today. Too big.  Too formal.  Drafty and expensive to heat. This ultimately affects the market for the property and it’s value – the market in our part of the UK already has it’s fair share on £1M properties that have been on the market for over 12 months and are struggling to find new owners.  On a number of occasions, I just got the feeling that the people trying to sell the protperties were trapped in their own homes.

So when I read that the RIBA had commissioned a report from MORI (yes, the survey folks) on looking at the way we live today and what that means for the homes that we should be building and buying, I was intrigued. 

You will find the report here: if you want to read it in full.  You can download it for free.

The major things (and there were a lot of minor ones too) that I took away from the report were:

  • Large open living spaces with high ceilings and large windows with natural light are seen as being very desirable;
  • Space for private time away from other members of the household and dedicated space for a home office was seen as being desirable.
  • Private outdoor space for socialising and for childsafe playspace;
  • Storage is seen as very important: both for short term storage (where do you put the vacuum cleaner or the recycling bin?) as well as long term storage (where do you store Grandad’s war medals or the family photo albums?). If you are going for open plan living, make sure that there is enough storage space to be able to put things away otherwise it will look messy;
  • Dedicated space for domestic tasks such as washing and drying clothes was seens as being important.

Surprisingly, a lot of the design ideas that we have for the new property ae consistent with the findings in the report.  Strange, because I thought we were unique!