Undertaking a full home renovation project in 2 phases

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We met Nick & Vicky, the owners of the architecture studio Holloway and Holloway Architects, back in 2020 when they’d just finished their rear and side extension on the ground floor. Since then, the family and house have gotten bigger with little Theo and a brand new loft extension, built so that they could have more space for their growing family as well as a quiet place to work during the day. We revisited them to learn how to divide an extensive renovation project into several phases and what it is like to design a loft extension.

You’ve just finished remodelling your home. Congratulations! Tell us what was the timeline from buying the house to now?

Well, it’s been quite the journey! We bought the house over four years ago. We bought it as a project, so we knew that it was going to be something that would take a number of years to complete.

The house needed a lot of work from the start. I have a photo, taken at 9 am the morning after we moved in: my wife has a sledgehammer in her hand and is knocking a wall down. I quit work shortly after we moved in and I spent the next few months working on the house, mostly getting the first floor fit for us to live in, but also fixing the kitchen and other areas.

We basically took the first floor back to brick work and joists. We fitted new plumbing and electrics, installed a new bathroom, new floors, and so on. I managed to get a new kitchen from free-cycle which so we could replace ours, which wasn’t really in a working state.

Once that was done, we had a home that we could live in and work from. It was then that we started our practice, Holloway and Holloway.

As we got busier with work, we started to get a bit more hands-off with the actual building work and allow people who were more qualified than I was to help us, so we could focus on the design work.

The next stage was the side and rear extension which we did a couple of years later, finishing in early 2021. The idea being that we would have a nice entertaining space for us to spend time in with friends and family before we had children!

A couple of weeks after we finished, Covid hit, and that dream didn’t become a reality. It was amazing to have a really lovely space for us to spend in lockdown though.

The loft conversion was timed with us wanting to start a family. When Vicky got pregnant, we started more serious arrangements to start this final stage of the works. It was finished (or mostly finished at least) the same week that our son was born, so we did manage to come home to a quiet house.

Why did you choose to convert your loft?

We needed to build the loft conversion to move our office space to the top of the house so that we had somewhere quiet to work. But regardless of our working situation, a loft conversion is a great way to maximise the space in your home and if you add the right windows, maximise on daylight as well. Converting a loft space or adding a dormer extension is generally the most cost-effective way to add space to your home, especially in tight urban settings. For us, we were able to add two bedrooms and a bathroom to our home, which is vital for our growing family. Now we have a great sized family home, where otherwise we would likely have had to move in the future to get extra space as our family grows.

And what are the most important things to keep in mind when designing a loft conversion?

We’ve designed and built lots of loft extensions as architects, so it was really interesting for us to try and take out what we thought were the most important lessons from the experiences we have had and put them all into our own project.

Firstly, it is worth noting that our council will override planning policy in some circumstances in favour of good design, so by using high quality materials - in our case the dark metal cladding - we were able to get permission for a larger extension than would have been allowable otherwise. So, though the cladding material was more expensive, we gained more space, and hence more saleable floor area.

The next was insulation. This was a gamble for us, as we know the theory about its benefits, but when you are having to balance costs on your building project it seems an easy place to save money.

Building regulations require a certain level of insulation, but you can go far beyond this; more insulation means that your home will take on less heat in the summer, keeping it cooler, and will let out less heat in winter, keeping it warmer. We decided to go well above the basic requirements, and we have found that our loft is a much more comfortable space throughout the year than that of our neighbours, which we know gets uncomfortably hot in summer, to the extent that they struggle to work in the loft in mid-summer. Having a comfortable and quiet place to work year-round was a priority for us.

The last lesson would be good ventilation. Though the additional insulation helps keep temperatures steady, when temperatures soar in the UK, it can still get very hot in your loft. This is compounded by the fact that all the warm air in your home will rise up to the top of the house. Adding an openable roof window over the stairs is an incredible tool for thermally controlling your entire home. Opening it acts as a chimney, letting all of the hot air out of the roof and pulling new fresh cooler air in at low level, creating a really nice breeze in the home. The added benefit is that you also get loads of natural light over the stairs, which trickles down all the way to the ground floor.

You’ve chosen VELUX roof windows, and curved glass rooflights. Why?

There is method to the madness. Over the stairs, we wanted to have a roof window that was sized to evenly fit the shape of the room, with an even offset from all the walls, so for that we needed the bespoke sizing of a flat rooflight. For the bedroom, we wanted to have some light come in from above, and although it would have been visually amazing to have a large rooflight here, we felt the VELUX Curved Glass roof window was more appropriate, as it had integrated blinds that would easily make the window blackout at the touch of a button.

The VELUX roof windows were necessary to get light in from the front façade of the property via the pitched roof. These were the only way we could get light into the bathroom, and for our office, it enabled the room to be dual aspect, which gives constant direct daylight and also fantastic ventilation.

Since the pandemic, we’ve all been spending more time at home leading to new routines in our houses. What impact do the rooflights and roof windows have on your everyday life at home?

To be honest, we worked from home pre-pandemic, and so we spent a lot of time in our home even before the lockdowns came along and working practices began to change. We are firm believers that you need to make your home work for you rather than be set up for others and that really came to the forefront over the pandemic to a lot of our client’s minds, as they were suddenly not hosting people as much, or at all, and they had less space in the wider world they were able to visit. So, they started to think more about how their home could meet all of their needs. In practice, this could be as simple as putting a sofa-bed into the spare room instead of a fixed bed that limits the space and is only used infrequently. This then allows you to turn the rest of the space into an arts and crafts room, or a cinema room for family movie nights. It's about trying to get the most use out of the space that you have. That is how we feel about our loft conversion: now we get the most out of that space.

As far as the rooflights go, I’ve already mentioned the practical benefits of ventilation and natural light, but in many ways, I suppose the biggest impact they have is how they change spaces to be lighter, brighter, and more modern. They make you feel like you’re living in some sort of architectural magazine, and it is a lovely feeling that doesn’t really dampen over time.

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