Ask The Architect – Can you help us resolve two design and construction issues?


A question sent in to Ask The Architect last week shows the importance of good design at every stage of the project.

The owner of a large Victorian terrace in a conservation area, is converting the building back to a house after it has been used as a block of flats.  They have used an architectural technician to produce a set of drawings for building regulations and asked me to help them with the removal of an existing wall to create an open plan kitchen/dining room and a the installation of a new external staircase to the basement. 

The engineer has designed brick piers to support the new opening but they are wider than the existing wall and the owner is concerned about the appearance of the opening in a period house and the potential loss of original features.

My suggestion was to discuss this in more detail with the engineer and see if there was any way of making the supports narrower.  As a last resort the whole wall could be made wider and the features could be replaced to retain the character of the room.

I also noted that the opening was too high for its width making it look awkward in the room, as it is important to look at the scale and proportions of a new opening in its context.  The plan showed a central island under the opening and I felt that the kitchen layout might be improved if this island unit was replaced with a run of kitchen units linked to the rest of the work top with an opening above.  This would increase the useable kitchen space and still provide the open plan feel for the room.

The property owner was concerned that appearance of the new basement staircase was not appropriate to the house and that the hand rail and balustrades stuck out like a sore thumb!

My response was to look at combining the existing front door staircase with the new basement access or just turn the new staircase through 90 degrees as both of these options could reduce the amount of protection required and make the new stairs feel more like part of the existing house.  The use of glass instead of metal for the balustrades would also help the staircase become less of an issue.

These problems show how important it is not to let the technical and legal processes of planning and building regulations applications override the design intent and poorly affect the end result.

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7 responses to “Ask The Architect – Can you help us resolve two design and construction issues?

  1. Interesting. Who’s designed the kitchen?

    • Thanks for your comment.

      The owner used an Architectural Technician to draw the plans. I don’t know how much they discussed the layout of the kitchen between them.

  2. My advice would be for this person to go to an interior designer and/or a good bespoke kitchen design company, who can work with their technician.

    An interior designer would be trained to make the interior space work with the technician and engineer’s ideas. A bespoke kitchen design company should work with the whole space affected by the kitchen and not just the kitchen itself (unlike “designers” for cheaper, off the shelf kitchen ranges, who are not really designers at all but sales people who’ve been given minimal training and only understand the products they are selling as opposed to the entire interior space effected by the kitchen). If this person is considering a high street fitted kitchen, they would, in this particular case, still be better off asking an interior designer to help with the kitchen planning issues, in order to avoid spending a lot of money now and being disappointed with the layout later.

    • I think you are right.

      I understand that the owners are doing most of the work themselves so a bit of on site advice can come in useful when dealing with tricky conflicts between regulations and design.

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  4. You’re right, it’s the combination of architecture, structural and interior design that makes for a project’s success – would there also be planning issues relating to the ballustrade etc?

    • Mark
      Thanks for the comment. Planning issues were not discussed. Howevere, any planning issues relating to the ballustrades would apply to either option and I would hope that the planners would be keen to protect the character of the property whilst allowing development.

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