May: The Architect

After weeks of deliberation we made the decision to appoint an architect. Faced with a house refurbishment on a budget, it had taken time to weigh up the pros, cons, and costs of working with or without an architect. In the end, it was clear that an architect would add considerable value.

On a sunny morning I headed over to the house to meet Lucy, an architectural technician. The appointment had been made with the warning that it was going to last three hours. Lucy’s job was to measure the property accurately in order to draw detailed scale drawings.

Three hours and one week later, the drawings arrived. Up to this point, we had been working with a marketing floor plan provided by the estate agent. It was useful for selling the house, but useless for assessing structural changes. The new plans made a world of difference.

The next stage was a meeting with Bill, the architect. For over an hour we discussed the options available, our aspirations and the property’s limitations. Of course, anything is possible if you have the budget. We don’t.

My husband was keen to see what ideas the architect might present. By contrast, I had some clear views about how we were likely to live in the space, the things we would need and the best layout for our lifestyle. It was not easy to hold back and allow Bill to generate concepts, but it was worthwhile.

Well, that’s what I thought until the drawings of the proposed new layout arrived. We were very disappointed. It was impossible to imagine living in the proposed new space. We began to fear that we had made a mistake in appointing them.

2015 07 16 First Ground Floor Plan
The first draft of the new ground floor layout was based on the least cost option. It was not what we had envisaged. It was, however, a useful starting point and important to consider all the options available.

At the next meeting, Bill explained that the proposed layout was simply the lowest cost option. It involved creating a doorway opening in the existing wall to allow access from the kitchen to the dining room. Additionally, the proposal was to swap the rooms around (click here to see the current layout). The new kitchen would be moved to the old dining room and the existing kitchen would become the new dining room. Finally, the doorway to the existing dining room would be used as a doorway for a new storage cupboard.

Bill went on to explain the other options available to us. Our second option was to remove the wall, insert a steel beam across the back line of the property and a new supporting steel pillar. The final option was to insert a steel box frame – a beam across the top, a beam embedded in the floor and two steel pillars at either end.  This would give us a clear open pillar-free space. It was also the most expensive option.

The choice facing us was cost verses usability.  The first option just did not appeal. We could not imagine living in such a clumsy space.  The last option was costly. If we made substantial savings in other areas, we could pull the money together.  But was that really necessary?

The middle option seemed to us the best solution. I don’t mind pillars. They can be interesting architectural features and useful for dividing up open spaces.

We also liked the idea of swapping the rooms around.  This configuration retains the sight-line from the front door through the property into the garden. It also means that that guests walk into the dining room rather than the kitchen. A more aesthetically appealing layout when thinking about entertaining.

By moving the kitchen, we actually end up with a bigger kitchen, an informal dining area, a formal dining area and a living space.  Fitting all of this into the existing room configuration was a lot tighter.

Importantly, the overall ‘flow’ through the space was substantially better.  Understanding how people move around a property is vital to getting the design right.

2015 07 16 Final Ground Floorplan

Our meeting concluded with the promise of revised drawings to reflect our decisions. These arrived a few days later. Our concerns about the architect had been alleviated and we were happy with the new layout.

Now, we need to appoint a structural engineer to assess the design and confirm the amount of steel that will be needed. This will then lead to a more accurate estimate of costs. We also need a detailed kitchen plan to make sure the space will work.


Feature image: Sadly, this is not our home! One day perhaps.  Image from

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