the world of architects, designs, planning and budgets

I knew we wanted an architect to help design the extension and the new layout in the old part of the house, rather than someone who would simply produce the drawings for planning purposes based on my ideas. There are things I know I want to include in the old or new parts, but I don’t have a solution for some of the tricky bits, and I really wouldn’t know where to start with resolving the height difference between the front and back of the house or how to work out where to put the door to the bathroom for maximum space. etc. Just goes to show, you can watch years of house design/build shows and still not magically become an architect ;)

I erroneously assumed that if I contacted five architects I’d get two responses, the same way that things work with your average trade. So over a period of two weeks there was an architect visiting or calling more days than not. I’d already got a shortlist. It went from what looked like people who mostly worked on modest extensions but with a vision beyond the usual through to the big agency types with more than a handful of prestigious commercial designs on their website but who also take on small domestic renovations. I was careful to look at their conservation experience, as I want to look after the old house as well as building something new.

After having three architects come to the house (the others conducted the initial stages by phone and email) it was really hard to choose between them. One was a conservation architect who was branching out and had set up his own studio with a colleague. I felt he would want to leave the original house mostly untouched and make the new part do all the work – house the stairs, the new heating whatever that was etc. He seemed a little precious of the old part of the house. The other thing he wasn’t convincing on was the requirement to have a neat, symmetrical façade. The other half of the house (it’s a semi, so the house we’re attached to) has the extension stepped back a few inches and the roofline is lower too so that it looks obvious where the new part of the house is. While I understand the reasons for this in historical buildings it seems a bit daft for a little worker’s cottage. It’s hardly of great architectural importance. Plus there are others in the lane with a continuous front, so that precedent has been set.

Next architect I’d chosen for their balance of conservation work plus shiny new extensions. The architect himself was lovely and gave me lots of ideas and suggestions. I had another look at their website and the material he left and I did wonder if they were a bit safe, but was equally reassured by the size and scale of their portfolio.

Finally the ones I didn’t think we could afford. They do gorgeous work, the very opposite of safe, pushing technical and design boundaries. The architect who visited scared me a little by his obvious pleasure at the size of the plot, as if, money permitting, he’d triple the size of the house (we’re looking at double). But later I realised that he knows we’re on a modest budget so he’s looking at something else, not just the potential for expansion. I’ve decided it’s probably that we’re less likely to get planning objections or perhaps that we’ll be able to have as many windows as we want as we won’t be overlooking the neighbours.

After about ten days of umming and aahing we finally decided to go with the ones we originally didn’t think we could afford. They turned out not to be the most expensive out of the five, but it’s a relatively small part of the overall budget anyway. And we both believe they will bring so much to the design and make the effort and expense of the undertaking worthwhile. I’m now both scared and excited.