We have been in our home for 3 years, every single day of which I have been waiting for the time that we can get the ball rolling on the process of extending and renovating our home. That time has come and I am so excited!
It’s going to be a pretty big project and I’ll be sharing the design dilemmas and decisions, the triumphs and the tears (hopefully not too many of the latter!). I’m under no illusion that renovations can be stressful so I may need a little pep talk from you now and again to cheer me along. 🙂
Our home currently has 4 bedrooms, 1 family bathroom and 1 WC. During the 1980s, a small extension was built across the back of the house and the loft was converted. The estate agent’s layouts below will explain better.
Current layout as per the estate agent’s drawings:
The garage is actually attached to the neighbours’ house and we plan to detach from them by building a side extension that’s narrower than the garage. We want to open up the back of the house on the ground floor to create an open plan kitchen-living-dining space and have a utility room and WC in the side extension. We’d also like to create another bedroom by partly extending the first floor, and add an ensuite in the loft room. I’ve (very roughly) drawn over the estate agent’s drawings in red to illustrate our plan, but I’ve not included the loft here as I’m not sure what to do with it.
We’re also looking at possibly redesigning the staircases because the first staircase has a head height issue and the loft staircase has very poor access at the top.
Our budget for this isn’t big, so we’ll have to be careful and clever with how to make it stretch as much as possible. There are no friends and relations who we can borrow from, as we often see on TV programmes about renovations where people are suddenly able to borrow an extra £100k. The budget is the budget for us. It’ll be an interesting journey, I’m sure!
CHOOSING AN ARCHITECT
The first step was to find an architect or building designer that I’d be happy to work with and who I felt would work well with me. I don’t think my project is overly complicated and I already had some strong ideas (seeing as I’ve been thinking about it for 3 years!), so at this point I didn’t really have a preference between an architect or a building designer/architectural technologist, as long as they had experience in residential extensions and renovations. Having said that, I was interested to see what differences, fees and otherwise, I’d find between them.
I turned to Google, Houzz and the council’s planning portal, and shortlisted some architects and building designers based on the information I found on their websites, pricing information, reviews and social media accounts. I cleared a couple of weeks in my diary and started calling to make appointments.
Call 1 (building designer): I introduced myself and the project, and the curt reply was, “I am not taking on any more projects this year.” Well, ok, good day sir.
Call 2 (architect): Had a lovely chat and sounded genuinely interested in the project but said he could not take on any new work until at least June. Kept his number in case I hadn’t found anyone else I liked by then.
Call 3 (building designer): No answer. Left voicemail. Didn’t call back.
This was not quite going how I’d imagined but thankfully, I had better luck with the next few calls and booked some appointments.
Person 4 (the first appointment I had) was found via Google where the listing had said ‘Architect in Nottingham’, and on the phone I’d asked to meet with an architect, so I assumed I was going to be meeting with an actual architect. (Can you guess where this is going? It’s a bit of a story…)
He was jovial at the start, but when I mentioned not wanting a supporting column to break up the open plan space, there was a lot of teeth sucking and uncertainty, and he decided to call his structural engineer contact to ask him (who said it’d be fine). When we talked about adding a bedroom on the first floor, he couldn’t figure out how to do this till I showed him my sketch again. Finally, we talked about the loft and there was a lot of doom and gloom about how much it would cost to do what we were thinking. (Fair enough, it’s good to know at this stage whether we can afford all this.) Again, he needed to call someone else to talk about what could be done. He put this lady on speaker so I could hear the (unnecessarily long) conversation and to me it sounded as if she had just woken up 😂, it was kind of amusing. My feeling at this point was that while it was great that he had all these contacts he could call at any time, I really expected an architect to be more knowledgeable.
Eventually we got talking about his fees. He did some calculations on his phone while muttering “I don’t come cheap, but you get what you pay for,” and reeled off a few figures which I wrote down. Then he took a photo of the figures I’d just written so he “wouldn’t forget”. Someone please tell me I’m not the only one who finds this strange! At this point, the meeting had gone on well over 2 hours and it was nearly time for me to collect my little boy from his morning at preschool. I wasn’t feeling at all positive about him or the project by this point and he probably picked up on this because he went on to emphasise that he is always honest about his thoughts on a project whereas another person may say anything just to win the business. He also went on about how useful his contacts were, because if any problems arose, there was always someone he could call. Trying my best to hide my irritation, and with 5 minutes left to get to my son’s school, I explained that I had to go out so we’d have to wrap this up, at which point he started talking about having a look at the back of the house from the garden….. FFS.
No surprise he didn’t make the cut. Later that day as I thought about how the calls and his talk of having all these contacts had felt like a sales tactic, it suddenly occurred to me to check if he was an actual architect, so I looked up the Architects Register. FYI: only people on this register are legally entitled to use the name ‘architect’ in business or practice. He wasn’t on the register and I wasn’t surprised. I wish I’d checked before the meeting. First lesson learned.
When I was looking him up, I found his LinkedIn profile which was in fact a surprise because not only does he provide architectural services, he is also a clinical hypnotherapist who can help with weight loss, phobias and anxieties. Okaaaayyyy. One meeting with him had left me anxious and irritated, so I won’t be recommending his services – architectural or hypnosis. Time to draw a line under that one.
Person 5 (building designer) said he had a lot of experience working with councils in the East Midlands (he used to work for a council himself) and boasted a very high first-time pass rate for planning applications. His fees are also very affordable. When he arrived, the first thing he said was, “This won’t take long, I already know what you want to do.” Do you now, Mr Omniscient? As we walked around the house with me trying to explain our plan, he kept interrupting with stories of his previous work experiences. He was complimentary about how I’ve decorated my home and talked about his interest in interior design and joinery, and promised to send me photos of a workman’s bench he’d made that he was very proud of 🙄. I’m not sure he heard even half the things I was trying to say. When I mentioned some details I’d want to change during the building work, he said none of that wasn’t important for the planning application and brushed it off. He left after 10 minutes, saying he’d email me with his fees and the photos he’d mentioned. I also asked him to include some example drawings he’d done for previous projects. I was fully expecting the drawings to have personal information removed but it wasn’t! All names and addresses with house layouts were right there. SHOCKING.
I don’t care how cheap he is, he’s not getting my business if he doesn’t care about protecting his clients’ data and identities, let alone his complete disinterest in anything I had to say. His drawings looked very basic too. Another line drawn.
Person 6 (architect, definitely a real one this time): his website had his registration number which I confirmed on the Architects Register. He’d included useful information on his site about the stages of a build process, how to budget for building costs etc. His social media showed his projects as well as his love for nature. (I found this endearing. Anyone who takes beautiful photos of trees is alright by me. 🙂) Ok, all lovely and good on paper… aaaaaand happily it was all positive at the meeting. He patiently listened to everything I had to say, understood what we want to achieve, didn’t panic about having an open plan area without a supporting column, was knowledgeable and offered some ideas that I hadn’t thought of before (I’ve thought of a lot of ideas so this was great, this is why I needed an architect). He checked out the house from the inside and outside, and took lots of notes (which neither of the previous two had done). It was an informative, unhurried, thorough meeting that lasted about 45 minutes. Good feelings all round. He said he’d get back to me with his fee proposal and I asked him to also include example drawings. A few days later, he sent through an example planning drawing with all personal information removed, and his fee proposal was impressively laid out. There were explanations about each stage of the process including time scales and what to expect. I like detail, I’m a stickler for it, so I was very happy with his diligence and professionalism. His fees were slightly higher than Person 4’s, but there really was no comparison between them. I didn’t feel I needed to see anyone else; I’d found my architect.
For anyone wondering if it is worth hiring an architect for their project, I’d say that the extensive education and training that an architect undergoes is clearly evident and will very likely result in a better, more considered design for your home. This, I would hope, would create a solid foundation for a smoother build process, which would make all the difference to everyone’s sanity and pockets through the project. Just remember to check that your architect really is an architect. 😄
Have you extended and/or renovated your home? Do you have any advice for someone who is just embarking on this journey? If you’d like to follow my renovation, you can subscribe to this blog on Bloglovin’ and follow my updates on Instagram (#FirstSenseReno). I’ll appreciate your thoughts, ideas and opinions along the way!