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Extending a small family home with simple techniques and impressive results

This project is the perfect example of a house that really has become a home.

Jill and James McDowell came to us wanting to give their property in Earl Richards a contemporary revamp. Having been in the family for years, they were not prepared to part ways with their wonderful house, but realised it was time for it to be modernised and opened up to make best use of space and the garden- especially with grandchildren now scurrying around.

They wanted to extend the kitchen and link the dining area to the garden, opening up the inside and creating more space and light. As the property was relatively small, we were able to use fairly simple and low-cost techniques to meet these needs in an innovative and attractive way.

“It was great, as we could apply ideas usually used on larger projects and adapt them to this smaller design” said Kirsty Curnow-Bayley, a Living Space Architect who worked on the project.  “We used simple techniques to create really interesting spaces”.


Below you can see the finished work: seamless access to the garden, great views and a pleasant, bright kitchen space within. Jill and James were delighted with the results.


Feeling the chill? How we went about insulating a heritage home

One thing about beautiful, historic houses is that they can often be really, really cold.

As Brits, we are no strangers to wacking on the fire and arming ourselves with fluffy socks and a hot water bottle, but what happens when this simply isn’t enough?


When our client came to us with a brief to create a sustainable and well-insulated home in Broadhembury, we stepped up to the challenge.

They were concerned that it wouldn’t be possible to insulate the existing solid cob and stone walls, which were a large part of the property’s character and charm.

The property wasn’t listed so there was a bit of flexibility on altering the existing fabric, and with our experience of improving the energy performance of existing buildings and working with listed and historic properties, we were well placed to be able to advise.

This time however we wanted to take things a step further. How could we integrate technology usually used when designing new low energy homes on a historic solid wall building?


The emphasis was on creating a living breathing house with natural materials to improve the indoor air quality and create a natural, healthy home.

We suggested bringing on board Ann-Marie Fallon, a certified Passivhaus designer, to model the existing house using PHPP software. This is a time consuming business and involves the input of a lot of data to model the way the house performs now and how it would change following adaptations such as the addition of insulation.

This enabled us to investigate how we could insulate the property and best improve on its energy performance through the type of insulation, its position (internal or external) and thickness. The software also helped us check that no condensation would occur, which is a common concern when insulating solid walls.

The existing walls were a real challenge being constructed of a mixture cob at low level and solid stone at first floor. There was a lack of existing data available for the thermal capacity of cob, and Anne-Marie had to approach the BRE to find information to create her model.  This was then used to predict how the house would behave with added insulation and calculate the potential energy savings.  Using this data we calculated the optimum thickness of insulation to give our client the best energy saving at the most economical price, without compromising the historic fabric.


Our client was also keen to use triple glazing, and we agreed that it did offer worthy benefits for this project, although came at a higher price. We decided to use triple glazing on the north facing link corridor and high performance double glazing throughout the rest of the house. Drafts in older houses are one of the biggest issues for improving energy efficiency, so replacing the windows made a significant difference to the performance of the house.

For the walls, breathable wood fibre insulation was used internally on the first floor where there was a mixture of cob and stone.  This had to be extended along the internal partition walls to prevent thermal bridging and condensation.  Part of the existing house was built in the 1970’s and had a cavity wall construction.  Here we used the wood fibre insulation externally.

The existing cement render was removed from all walls to enable them to breathe and lime render with small pieces of insulating cork used as the external finish to the older parts of the house, with a more standard lime render in other areas. Additionally, a new heating system was installed throughout powered by a wood pellet boiler and new underfloor heating laid in the new extension.

The design of the extension used an oak frame supplied by Carpenter Oak, which was wrapped in an airtight membrane and rendered in lime externally.  This gave a stunning interior space for the kitchen dining room and beautiful spaces where the ‘old meets new’ in the north facing corridor.


So if anyone tells you that an old house can’t be made warm and cosy, while retaining its historical charm and sustainable vision then send them our way!

Could Garden Cities be the solution to the UK Housing Crisis?

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Does the UK’s Housing Crisis ever seem to slow?

The UK’s shortage of affordable, decent homes continues to persist and with the pressing need to accommodate refugees escaping persecution from abroad, finding solutions to this problem couldn’t be more crucial.


Planners after World War Two faced a considerable feat. They were tasked with finding a solution to deal with accommodation shortage caused by bomb damage, returning service personnel and the resulting baby boom. Their solution? Garden Cities.

Seven Garden Cities were build, based on the concept proposed by Sir Ebenezer Howard in the early 20th century. They were seen to be an opportunity for maximising economies of scale in a sustainable development by creating social housing with zero carbon design, a sustainable transport network and local work and food sourcing. Milton Keynes, one of those cities built after WW2 now attracts over 16,000 net in-commuters and is a successful economic hub in the South East.


Now, there’s no doubt that this was years ago, but how feasible are Garden Cities in the 21st century?

Creating a healthier, safer community with all the amenities at your finger tips does seem appealing. Here are the some benefits of the garden suburb ideal:


Garden cities can replace ageing housing stock with energy-efficient buildings, green spaces and car-free zones.

This will result in cleaner air and lower greenhouse gas emissions.

They can contribute to enhanced mental health

A 17-year study by the University of Exeter found that households living in greener urban environments are likely to have lower levels of mental stress and higher levels of well-being.

This would save the government money…

Sue Holden from the Woodland Trust predicts that the health benefits from access to green spaces could shave £2.1bn off the NHS healthcare bill every year.

They have investment potential

Government schemes- such as the Help-to-Buy and Right-to-Buy- recognise the difficulty young adults and families have getting onto the housing ladder. It is that generation that is most likely to move into an up and coming community, with work and leisure nearby. Garden cities are an opportunity to create new housing for the young and close to employment, it can be a very attractive investment for many.

There is garden space

The space available in the Garden City model allows new houses to benefit from more garden space for each and every unit. The appeal of your own garden and amenity space shouldn’t be underestimated. Not to mention that the shared landscape of the site would be an overall improvement.


Sherford in Plymouth and Cranbrook in Devon are two local examples of Garden Cities. Whilst they are currently small, both have the potential to attract and develop a vibrant community if the houses are sufficiently well laid out and create a new sense of place and in these fantastic locations.

Garden Cities take time to establish and it is not an overnight solution, but rather than allowing ad hoc urban sprawl, they could continue to provide a sustainable and successful answer and create a functional new village or town in a beautiful environment for future generations to come.

Inspiration from abroad: examples of the Spanish approach to homes for the elderly

When thinking of creative new ideas and designs, we often draw on inspiration from abroad.


This year, we have been fortunate enough to be joined by architect Rocio Oteros from Spain. His interest in housing for later living has offered us unique insight into how this issue is approached in Spain and how it compares to ideas in the UK.

As a firm that is constantly changing and developing, all creative ideas are of value and can spark further ideas and be used as inspiration.

Rocio shared with us three examples from Spain, that show creative use of space and innovative design to enhance the lives of the elderly in their living spaces.


Housing for the Elderly. Seville.

The building was located in a central district of Seville and its architecture was carefully and profoundly detailed. The project worked like a small city where functionality and domesticity merged into a fresh environment. The building was designed to encourage social interaction and integration of a diverse range of people. It had a three-storey building, with plenty of common areas and flexible spaces where residents could dine or socialise together. Common units- like the canteen, medical practices and offices- were located on the ground floor and connected to the outside space that hugged the shape of the building and worked well as a meeting place. The dwellings were located on the first and second floors and articulated along corridors which opened out into communal rooms and outside spaces. This allowed the residents to have spontaneous meetings and areas to socialise.


Later living hounsing in Intxaurrondo. Donosti – San Sebastian.

This project in San Sebastian was located on a site with a sloping topography which made it a challenging project in terms of accessibility. However, this meant that the creativity and innovation involved was even more complex, unique and interesting, making this design particularly special. The proposal consisted of three volumes attached to the boundary of the site. This provided a solution for the slope and created a fantastic open courtyard that worked like a shared plaza. The architects intended to maximise the interaction between the users in this space. The location of the buildings allowed daylight to penetrate the central space and move into the dwellings. Light entered by the windows and terraces creating natural feel and a relaxed and peaceful atmosphere. The tree towers had the same shape although vary in orientation and number of storeys. The apartments were articulated by the circulation core, which was positioned towards the interior of the plaza by the entrances to the buildings. The housing typology was quite basic and simple, adapted to the needs of the elderly. The interior of the dwellings were organised around a central block formed by the kitchen and the bathroom. The living spaces had great views- either facing the open spaces in the heart of the complex or the green area that surrounded the buildings.

 

Santa Caterina Market Housing. Barcelona.

This extremely original intervention in an historic area in Barcelona was based on the restoration of the Santa Caterina’s Market, and housing units for the elderly were inserted as part of the project. The build was no small feat- 59 houses were created make up of two main developments and a sculptural ensemble. This design created an open interior space which connected with the market and was at the heart of the city centre. The idea was to provide homes for older people who love living in the city centre but relied on safe and adaptable spaces. The standard floor layout had a main corridor that arranged the dwellings to maximise sunlight hours. Despite the standard floor layout, the number of apartments on each floor was different to create terraces and common spaces, where residents could spend time together.

The houses were apartments of one or two bedrooms, very simply organised. Every single house consisted of a personal entrance, a bathroom, a living-dining-kitchen, a bedroom and a terrace so activity in the city centre could be overlooked and enjoyed. The main spaces were also always oriented towards outside.

Published in Real Homes Magazine

Our beautiful house extension and refurbishment project in Grey Wings, Cornwall has been featured in the ‘Design Guide’ for Real Homes Magazine under ‘Sustainable Style’.

This was a wonderful project to be part of, and we worked with obsessive detail to make the property the best it could possibly be.

The result was a highly sustainable and innovative design, embraced the stunning views and location of the property in a contemporary, stylistic manner.

To read more about the design, and see more pictures of this impressive extension, click here.

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