Kat and Dom Interview, Part One: A Project in Peril

Friday, January 22, 2016

Software engineer Kat and graphic designer Dom bought a period house that was beautiful on the outside but internally a mix of odd and unusable spaces. They wanted it to be ready for their first child, but found themselves overwhelmed by the scale of the work. Disheartened, they got in touch with us to give the project a much needed kick start.

Now that they’re settled in to their new home, we caught up with the happy family to talk about about their experiences of the project and find out how contemporary, open plan living compares to their old terraced house in Ealing.

What was it about the house that grabbed your attention?

Dom: I saw it by myself when we were looking and loved it from the street. It was very different on the inside than it is now: a maze of little rooms and quite good fun, kind of crazy. I knew it would be a huge money sink and a nightmare to get right but for some reason I just fell it love with it despite the myriad problems.

Kat: It had quite a homely feel already.

Dom: A lot of character to it.

Kat: We tried to maintain a few of the quirky elements in some respects, or recreate that character. Things like walking through wardrobes into hidden rooms. As Dom said, it was this series of little rooms, so from the front you saw this big house but when you walked in straight away you were faced with a wall. It had a beautiful garden but the only way to get to it was through a small door in the kitchen.

Dom: The short answer is that it was a heart purchase and not a head purchase.

Why did you choose to work with DGA for your renovation?

Dom: We initially started trying to do the work ourselves with contractors, then we employed another architect who struggled to get to grips with the project. By that stage, we had lost a lot of confidence. We’d had the house for a year and nothing happened to it, it just looked like a mountain of a project that was just getting worse and worse.

Kat: Overwhelming.

Dom: We started to look at more architects and liked DGA’s portfolio. John understood the project very quickly, literally within half an hour he had doodled the basic layout on the back on an envelope. He was very good at listening and got us back on track, calmed us down and told us what needed to be done to get what we wanted.

Kat: There was so much we hadn’t realised about the project. We were just thinking about opening up the back of the house, but we hadn’t thought of the impact this would have on the rest of it. Staircases would have to be removed and the entire configuration of the space would have to change. John made us think of the house as a whole instead of just changing the bit we wanted.

Dom: It was nice talking to John because he said he made similar mistakes renovating his own home! He got where we were coming from and helped us form a vision for the home that would guide us going forward.

What was the biggest different between trying to DIY the project and working with a professional architect?

Dom: Simplification. When you DIY a project you’re hampered by your understanding of what can be done. With good architects and good contractors, anything can be achieved really, which takes the pressure off you trying to figure out how to do something. You can go back to saying, “What do you want? Space, light, access, open plan?” You don’t have to worry about how that’s achieved because that’s what they deal with.

Kat: They’re aware of things we wouldn’t have even had an inkling about. Even if we had done another project before, we wouldn’t have the knowledge of the technical aspects that they would. Though we have backgrounds in design, we stupidly didn’t take the approach that you design first and then start work – we were working before we had a design. Having the design in place from the start sped the project along, within three months we had planning approval already.

Dom: We got excited again like we were when we first got the house. We had lost that excitement at one stage, so it was a surprise to get that back and have fun again.

Did the planning department allow you to be more ambitious or less ambitious than you expected?

Dom: We had very little problems with anything we wanted to do. The main architectural change to the house was taking the back off and adding a very modern extension of glass and metal – a kind of juxtaposition between the old and new. But because the front was largely unchanged, if the extension wasn’t to people’s tastes it didn’t really matter because they can’t see it.

Kat: That’s the other good thing about using professionals: from a planning point of view, they knew the area, they knew the council, they knew what things would get through and what wouldn’t. We wouldn’t have had a clue about that.

Click here to read part two.