July 2021 updates

Monthly updates

July 2021

PROJECTS:
– Site works proceeding for Wapping conversion
– Finalising tender process for New Cross’s retrofit and extension
– Submitted extension and loft for a locally Listed Building for planning consideration

WEBSITE:
– Open Studios Programme drafted

OFFICE:
– New team pictures shooting

June 2021 updates

Monthly updates

June 2021

PROJECTS:
– Site works proceeding for Wapping conversion
– Received approval for a 5 flats development in Bromley
– Received approval for Bromley Common’s double storey extension
– Submitted 2 driveway applications, in Richmond and in Lambeth
– Submitted loft conversion for an edwardian house in conservation area in Brent

WEBSITE:
– Updated Services and Team page, introduced Careers page (work in progress).

OFFICE:
– Tholos Architects have acquired the prestigious status of RIBA Chartered Practice,
in addition to the founders being Chartered members of the RIBA and ARB.
– We welcome Eliza to our team.

Working on houses with history

Something happened earlier this month that inspired the writing of this blog post.

Tholos Architects have been appointed to work on a XIX century house, with quite a unique layout and the status of locally listed, given the very early use of a specific facade technique.

Once our team went to survey the house, the owner told us the story of how it was designed by a famous Architect in the early stage of his career, back in 1870’s.

The house over time has been altered and manipulated, but with respect for its character and exquisite attention to details.

So we found ourselves dealing with a very characterful property designed by a respectable colleague and we immediately understood that the right approach for the project was a respectful conservation of the existing, recalling the design principles in the new parts we are to propose (work in progress!).

We immediately decided to investigate the history and the works of the original designer to find inspiration and ideas to pay him the right tribute.

The findings have not been very encouraging since his most famous work seems to have been destroyed and other information was scattered and mostly biographical. But it prepared the ground for a wider question.

What is the history of my house?

Many homeowners may ask themselves this question, given the high number of heritage properties around the UK.

 
There are several ways to find information on a property, when it was built, who has occupied it before.
 
You can find archive material, old pictures, antique maps or consult the census, to understand the years the house was built, who lived in it and what they were doing for a living.
 
But the hardest thing to understand is how the building changed over time.

Is my house original?

A house carries the signs of the change of times.

Today it is weird to imagine that before the 19th century the bedroom was anything but private, and often multiple strangers shared beds in inns, or lodging. (read more on the social history of beds here)

Nowadays it would be considered inappropriate what before was normal.

The culture changed and so did the houses.

While the bed is only one of the possible drastic examples of how differently we live from our ancestors, houses have been gradually transformed from owner to owner to meet the new occupier’s needs. This is reflected in extensions, alterations and changes of layouts, conversion of spaces, additions and subdivisions.

This is where our job gets a twist.

In planning terms, a lot of what you can do to alter your house often refers to the conditions of the “original house”, which is defined in the Town and Country Planning General Permitted Development Order (aka GPDO) as the house as it was originally built OR as it stood on 1 July 1948.

According to this perspective, this date marks a deep furrow and all the alterations to the houses built before 1948 become part of the “original” house.

We know that all the readers who own a house with some history may not like this.
To cheer you up, remember there are different ways of protecting the heritage value of a property.

House detectives

Practicing the profession, we happen to work with houses way older than 1940’s but it is not always clear when the alterations have been made, and often it is important to understand the timeline of such alterations to a property.

As a practical example, we had a client who wanted to renovate a flat, being part of a detached house with some very dysfunctional layout:

– the main bedroom was taking the light from an internal glass panel, not a window, opening into a corridor,

– the corridor was running along the side wall of the house and having all the actual windows opening on it, limiting the natural light delivered to the rest of the house.

– The kitchen room was raised from the entrance level and had a very tall cill, deeper than 1 m, before the short and wide window placed in a very high position.

– The original basement cellar was altered to be used as main bathroom of the flat.

– The main bedroom had a small en-suite, consisting of a resulting space built under the stairs which, sited out of the flat, are leading to the first floor; it hosted barely a loo and a micro sink and the internal height was very limited.

– To make things more exciting the house was extended to the rear 2 times and once to the front, causing several discontinuities.

What the client knew was only that the previous owner was a builder and made the alterations by himself.

So we had to dig into the history of the house to understand why it was such a maze, with 4 levels of flooring, 11 changes of ceiling and an undefined number of hidden beams, in order to propose a reasonable scheme to meet all the project requirements.

Long story short, while the plot was occupied already in 1896, the original house was likely to have been re-built or intensively renovated in the 1940’s, following some extension attempts (front, rear, porch, terraces, roof) in the early 80’s which eventually happened, culminating in the conversion in flats in the late 1980’s, after almost a century, which gifted us with the glorious intricated condition we have found it in.

After this research and an accurate site survey, we finally had the clear picture to understand what-happened-where and what to expect during the construction stages.

Can my house be more functional?

A house is an organism, with systems and functions.
Some are obvious and some are concealed.

Many houses (and buildings in general) can be dysfunctional if they have not been designed accurately with the “user experience” in mind (yes, architects used these words before the internet).

This makes pretty much the difference between good, average and bad design.

To say it with Steve Jobs, design is not how it looks, is how it works.

But the needs of the users and the experience they deserve, they evolve with the times and so do the technologies that are integrated in a building as an organism.

Hence here we are, a bit detectives, a bit physicians, considering all the aspects of a building to make sure it is healed from ageing and revamped to give the best for the years to come.

Your house can be more functional, but there is one caveat: working on an old house can be delicate and have limitations. Sometimes we must let go and acknowledge if what we want is beyond reach.

This is why often homebuyers contact us for an opinion on what they would like to get from the house they are about to buy.

 

Do you have a dysfunctional house? Is your family changing habits? Are you buying a house with potential but you are not sure what it could be?

You can contact us and book a free consultation to talk about it.

It’s as simple as clicking on this link and book your call back at your convenience.

Elementary, my dear Watson.

May 2021 updates

Monthly updates

May 2021

PROJECTS:
– Site works started for Wapping conversion
– Technical design completed for New Cross Gate’s project
– Submitted planning application for Shooters Hill and Bromley Common projects
– Started designing home improvements for a listed cottage in west Bromley

April 2021 updates

Monthly updates

April 2021

PROJECTS:
– West Acton project completed
– Tendering completed for Wapping conversion
– Technical design started for New Cross Gate and Kidbrook projects
– Started planning negotiation for the terrace in Westminster
– Started to design a major renovation in Shooters’ Hill and in Bromley Common

OFFICE:
– New display / bookcase

COVID-19:
– Resumed normal operations

Do architects respect construction budget?

A renovation, or home improvements project, is an investment that you should plan carefully and budget for realistically, with due consideration about what you really want to achieve and in which way this investment will pay you back.

Hint: it is not always money.

Why are residential projects always overbudget?

The renovation, improvement or new construction of a private residence is renowned to be the most difficult project category for an Architect.
 
What gives this category such a reputation is the emotional involvement of the client, who is contemporarily owner, stakeholder, project manager, final user.
And often unexperienced about construction.
 
When the lack of experience meets the keeping of spreadsheets, most homeowners find themselves trapped in a dilemma:
“we spent this much of the budget so far, there is this little left, how can I use the remaining budget in a smart way?
Should we get nice finishes and go over budget OR stick to the budget and settle for lesser quality materials?”
 
Truth is, finishing materials are there to stay.
It is more convenient to stretch the budget a bit and get good finishes, rather than save now and regret it later, adding other costs in the future.
 
In most of the cases, extra project expenditures are generated by last minute project variations during the construction and choices of more expensive finishes or furnishings.
These are the result of emotional decisions of the client.
 
In some unfortunate but not-so-rare cases, old houses just reveal some surprise: rotten joists, sudden leaks, unexpected sewers.
These can cause costly extra work and delays, hardly foreseeable.
 
For these reasons it is very easy for an un-supervised project to go over budget.

What do Architects have to do with construction budget?

On appointing an Architect, the client must specify the reasons for doing the project and the constraints in a briefing, which will be the Architect’s duty to satisfy.

The availability of funds is also a constraint, so it is important to specify what is the target budget for the project, while keeping a contingency available in case of surprises.

The Architect has the role to collect this information and develop a design in line with the briefing and considering the budget available.

Can a design be more expensive than my budget?

Some Architects are used to work on multi-million projects and are masters in adding the wow factor. When working on simpler projects, they may be carried away a bit.

If their design is way beyond the budget, it will require to be downsized or simplified, until reaching the point where you can stretch you budget to.

But good architecture doesn’t have to cost the earth.

When we develop a design, we keep your budget in mind.
During the process we can advice where the money should go to have the best result and get the best value for your money.

How do the Architect know if the project is actually going to be within the budget?

Common residential projects have similar costs per square metre.

Besides few variables which could bring extra costs in, we can generally assess if a budget is reasonable and healthy for a scope since the early stages.

After developing a special concept design, we engage with contractors for initial estimates that would confirm the ballpark costing.

If it doesn’t work, we get back to the drawing board and review the options with the client.

But only once a project is fully specified and contractors are invited to bid, we can know the starting point for the construction cost.

Once construction starts, it is important to avoid variations and hope there will be no surprises hidden in the house.

During the entire process we work with our clients to help them make informed decisions on how to use their budget wisely for the finishing materials and decorations.

 Overall we do our best to stay on top of the expenses, so that you could  use your money where it really matters to you.
 
If you are planning your project, it’s important to have an experienced professional at your side to advice on all the aspects of the process.
 
You can contact us for an initial free consultation to talk about your plans.

It’s as simple as clicking on this link and book your call back at your convenience.

February 2021 updates

Monthly updates

February 2021

PROJECTS:
– Received approval for the rear extension in Hackney
– Received approval for the wrap around extension in New Cross Gate
– Site works ongoing at the West Acton project and Bickley Villa
– Prepared concept design to convert a roof into a terrace in Westminster

OFFICE:
– Expanded suppliers’ database and received new samples

COVID-19:
– National lockdown

January 2021 updates

Monthly updates

January 2021

PROJECTS:
– Received approval for two projects in Greenwich
– Started site works of West Acton project
– Construction ongoing at the villa in Bickley
– Started to design a conversion in Plumstead
– Started technical design for Wapping’s project

OFFICE:
– Expanded suppliers’ database and received new samples

COVID-19:
– National lockdown

What is a self build?

When an individual or an association of individuals build their own house (or houses), this can be considered a self build.

Self build is a way to own your home as in opposite to buying it from a commercial developer, which is the majority of the cases in the UK.

Embarking on a journey to self build your home can give great satisfaction and you can claim unexpected benefits at the end of the process.

What experience do I need to do a self build?

If you want to be a self builder, you don’t need to do the works yourself or be an expert of construction.

While many self builders want to be somehow involved in the physical process, often in the finishing stages of painting and floor-fitting (helps to save on the cost of workmanship), you can hire people to do the works for you.

Self-build is a project strategy where a private individual, not a company or a public entity, is developing their own house and taking project decisions, usually with the support of an architect or consultant, or directly working with one or more contractors.

Self build projects still require to comply with planning and building regulations, so better have an expert at your side for advice. Time is money.

Why are there so little self build projects?

As they say: no pain, no gain.

You will need to find a plot of land, present a project for approval to the planning authority, have sufficient financial resources – savings, a mortgage, or equity in your existing home – to support the entire operation, arrange the temporary accommodation where you and your family will stay while the works go ahead, ensure access to services is provided to the site – unless you want to be living off-grid, but the construction works may require water and power, somehow.

Self build is stressful, definitely more that browsing real estate websites.

What are the benefits of self building?

Some of the best reasons to undertake a self build projects are extremely practical, and include:

  • have a very bespoke house, tailored for your family and lifestyle
  • save up to 30% on the market value
  • future-proof your home, include all the technology and features, or allow for them to be installed in the future.
  • have easily 25% profit on the investment (or more)
  • claim back VAT on almost all building materials
  • pay reduced VAT rate to contractors

Additional VAT benefits could apply if you are converting an existing building to live in it.

Tempting, isn’t it?

I want to a kit home. Is it self build even if it is a prefab?

Off site construction is an excellent approach if the budget is not too stretched or if the site is located in a difficult context – limited access, adverse weather.

Yet it provides very high-quality results being the components factory made and inspected carefully during the process.

Alternatively, we are specialised in low tech and use of natural materials.

Either way, it could still be considered self build with all the associated benefits.

Here you can find further information on self building:
Homebuilding & Renovating
Gov.UK
Self Build Portal

If you are thinking of self building, you should already contact us to talk about your project.

We currently offer a free consultation service and we are pretty sure you will like it.

It’s as simple as clicking on get in touch and we will help you take the right steps.

December 2020 updates

Monthly updates

December 2020

PROJECTS:
– Submitted the application for a small rear extension in Hackney
– Received approval for the project in Wapping
– Construction ongoing at the villa in Bickley

OFFICE:
– new screens in!

COVID-19:
– From lockdown to tier 3 4.
Meetings in-person reduced to minimum cancelled.