Working with DGA, a Perspective from our Clients Deborah and Lloyd

Monday, February 24, 2020

After enjoying an international lifestyle for many years, it was time for Deborah and Lloyd to settle down in London with their two children. Their minds were set on buying a completed home, but their hearts had other plans…

Richmond period architects

What’s the story behind your house?

Lloyd: Three years ago, we moved back to our house in Teddington after 10 years of living abroad. We were all very keen to live in Richmond, an area we had fallen in love with after living there briefly in between our stretches in Australia and the US.

Deborah: It would be ideal for our children to be able to get to school and well-connected enough for us to be able to make the most of the theatres and restaurants in London once they moved out. We had a long term vision of our lives there.

Lloyd: We looked at lots and lots of houses. After being gazumped on one and having sales pulled out from under us on a couple more, we eventually found this house which was going up for blind auction as part of the estate sale. It all happened quite quickly!

Deborah: We really hadn’t planned to do a renovation, but this house was extremely run down after more than 50 years under the prior owner. It had been divided up into three bedsits and a separate apartment and it didn’t look like anyone but the owner had lived there for a long time.

Other than that, it was a beautiful house. It had gorgeous bones but was in need of some TLC.

The house as it appeared when it was up for sale. Despite the jumble of anachronistic, ad-hoc alterations, the original beauty still managed to shine through.

It sounds like you came across the ideal candidate for restoration.

Deborah: We did! It was exactly what we wanted but we could have never afforded it had it already been completed and put up for sale.

Lloyd: We’ve done three houses before: a new build in Cape Town, a renovation in Barnes and another in Teddington. So – even though we hadn’t planned to do another – we weren’t at all intimidated by the idea of having to do it all again.

Deborah: This house just captured our hearts, so we dived into another project and have not regretted it since.

Why did you choose Dyer Grimes Architecture?

Lloyd: I had project managed our last development myself, which wasn’t an experience I wanted to repeat as I had to juggle work and the project for around nine months.

Deborah: We were working on a tight budget at the time, so we couldn’t afford the full architect’s approach. Lloyd’s dad is a builder and he came down and lived with us throughout the project to help. It was a huge amount of work and a real family project.

Doing something like that 15 years ago was exciting, but for this project we didn’t have the time or capacity to get sucked in so deeply. As we couldn’t be involved day to day, it was very important that we found an architect we could trust.

Lloyd: DGA were one of the two firms I approached to chat with and when I met John he just inspired confidence. He understood right away what we wanted to achieve and we really liked what we saw of their previous designs.

Overall, the practice exuded an atmosphere of organisation that made me very confident that we’d have a great experience with them. It was clear from their prior projects that restorations in Richmond was their area of expertise.

Deborah: The team at DGA really inspired confidence in their project management and that they would deliver what they promised.

“You need a strong alignment between client and architect… And DGA are exceptional at that partnership, they really are… We’re never left standing on the sidelines, we’ve been able to jump right in.”

What were your objectives for the design?

Lloyd: First was to try and generate as much space as possible. We had just moved from a large house in the US and we really liked that feeling of volume. A lot of space would allow the kids to enjoy all their activities, have friends over, without feeling that they’re in the way.

Deborah: In terms of the aesthetic, we wanted to restore the house back to how it was when it was built in 1880 but on top of a modernised core. Electrics, plumbing and home technology would be brand new but all the interior and exterior details would be strictly Victorian.

Lloyd: We love the character of period houses but they don’t always function how we want them to.

Have there been any challenges turning that design into a reality?

Deborah: Yes! The interior walls were like a cartoon where you try and hammer in a nail and the whole thing collapses. Stripping them back revealed flimsy lath and plaster walls which were not sound.

We ended up having to take down all the interior walls and put them back up again in brick, which we weren’t expecting at all.

Luckily, because we adored the original style of the house and wanted to preserve it, there were no objections from the planners despite the house being in a conservation area and a Building of Townscape Merit.

DGA had a brilliant way of working with the planners. They took them on the journey and knew when to draw the line in terms of what they would and would not find acceptable.

How are you two feeling now that work has started on the house?

Deborah: Very excited but a bit scared because they’ve had to take the house back a long way in order to move forward. The whole interior had been scooped out and we have only recently got back to where we started. Despite that, it’s just so exiting.

Lloyd: It is, and it’s lovely seeing how they’re progressing with stabilising the house. The work they are doing right now is going to make it nice and firm and stable for the next hundred years. This is likely the first time the house has enjoyed a top-to-bottom refurbishment since it was originally built.

Deborah: They recently acid-washed the front of the house to reveal the original brickwork. We were so worried that it had been painted over to mask that the bricks were in poor condition but, as they peeled back the layers, these gorgeous Victorian red bricks began to shine through.

It was a lovely moment that reassured us that our work is going to return this slightly faded lady to being absolutely beautiful again.

Tearing off the old extensions provided an immediate sense of relief, allowing the building to breathe for the first time in decades. Click here to see more on site photos.

Do you have any advice for someone who is considering a similar project?

Lloyd: Do a lot of research up front so that you can go in with a very clear brief for the architect. You can then check back on regular intervals to make sure that we’re sticking to that or, if we’re not, we’ve made a conscious decision to diverge.

Deborah: Details, details, details – and then a bit more detail. Especially in a period house, you have to consider everything: do these door hinges suit the handles? What is the right architrave or skirting board? How much do we want to restore the cornicing?

Painting with a broad brush will result in something that looks like a crass copy of a period home rather than one that is authentic. If you only ask your architect to choose a Victorian sink, for example, they could easily go ahead and pick one that you don’t like.

Finally, have a strong partnership with your architect. You need a strong alignment between client and architect which you keep on track throughout the whole project.

And DGA are exceptional at that partnership, they really are. They are very good at following up meetings with minutes and notes to make sure that nothing is left open to interpretation. We’re never left standing on the sidelines, we’ve been able to jump right in.

Lloyd: Thanks to our partnership with DGA, we can be fearless. Slightly reckless, even!

Deborah and Lloyd found a diamond in the rough, but some homes are a lost cause. If you want to know the difference before you buy a property, click here for our new pre-purchase service.