LOCAL ARCHITECT OPENS UP ABOUT HOME EXTENSIONS
How long have you been in the area?
I was born just up the road in Queen Charlotte’s Hospital on Goldhawk Road, and have worked at CPA on Askew Road for 16 years.
What are your favourite haunts?
I tend to go to the cafes on our doorstep, Louche and Cake Me Baby; their coffee has a nice kick. I like to have lunch at Bridge The Gap or SomTam, the Thai restaurant on Askew. And (fashion and gift boutique) J W Beeton looks like a classy new arrival.
Why did you become an architect?
As a kid I loved Lego. It wasn’t like now when kids have enough Lego to build their own house out of Lego. Then I remember seeing a BBC book, a career guide that listed what an architect does and I thought, that looks interesting. My mum worked in a drawing office and they had an engineer’s drawing machine that covered a whole wall. It was amazing.
Where did you train?
I worked for Michael Manser, the former RIBA President, an old-school professional who taught me the value of professionalism.
Is architecture still the same?
Back then, the architect was king of the jungle. Things have changed since then with the move to Design and Build. Design and Build places the priority on controlling time and cost i.e. you tell the builder how much you have to spend, when you need it and roughly what you want but the builder is in control of the detailed specification of what you get. Traditional construction with an architect places priority on quality and cost i.e. you spend time with the architect specifying exactly what you want and the builder gives you a fixed price. This process however takes a bit longer in preparation. If you do choose Design & Build, and they tell you that an architect will draw up the plans, check their architect really is one. We are all on register with the Architects’ Registration Board.
I checked a local D&B builder the other week – very sleek website and site boards. His ‘architect’ was a technician. Nothing wrong with being a technician, but if someone starts off with a lie, then... Not a good start. Architect is a protected title and it is actually a criminal offence to impersonate one. Beware of builders wearing black polo necks!
I don't believe in telling people what they should like.
Can hiring an architect save money?
The secret is in the brief. People often start by saying they want to move a wall to make a space. I ask them what they want to do with the space. One client asked us to design a new porch for the dog to sleep in. He had a budget of £20k. Then he mentioned that one day he’d need a home office. My colleague Warren suggested he combine both and put the £20k into a garden office, space for him and the dog. If people tell you what they’re trying to achieve, we can help them rearrange the space. You don’t always have to extend but, then again, a lot of people are extending to invest in their homes. They’re getting little from their savings and while mortgages are cheap...
So many local houses are being extended these days, up and down. Are people extending too far?
I always advise people to speak to local agents to get a before and after valuation.
What does it cost to hire an architect?
We charge lump sum fees rather than percentages but a useful guide is 10-15% for a full service for design, planning and project management, including construction drawings. We also do a partial service, just the design and planning for about 5%.
How much does a loft conversion cost?
Assuming standard bathroom fittings, from £50-60k including VAT and all professional fees, including the architect, engineer and building control officer.
What does a basement cost?
At least twice, probably three times a loft given that most basements are bigger. I’d budget from £150-200k. A basement is a major undertaking, especially around here. It’s not called Stamford Brook for nothing. Tributaries from the brook run all over the place, and in the nineteenth century the whole area was excavated, the brick pits to build Notting Hill, so you can’t be sure what’s under your house around here.
Do you advise against basement digs?
Not at all. If you can afford it. And as long as you get a builder who knows what he’s doing, you’ll be fine. Basements have come on a long way. Even if the water table is high you can get concrete that effectively dries underwater. People stay in their houses while basements are being dug these days. It sounds obvious but you need a good builder, a basement builder. A basement is a specialty in itself. Even good general builders will not undertake them. They get the specialists in.
How do you find a good builder?
Most builders are charm personified when you first meet them. Part of their job is being a salesman, but always be sure of a builder before you let them take your house apart. Go and see their previous work and speak to former clients to see if they were on time and on budget. That said, as an architect, I’d say you need someone to oversee them so you get what you want, not what the builder wants to give you.
Don’t Building Regulations ensure the builders follow an adequate standard?
It depends on the builder. If you haven’t got an architect I suggest going to the local authority building control so you have an impartial view.
Do you have a house style?
No. We respond to the client. It’s their home. We don’t use a template. Some people want the look of the moment and there’s nothing wrong with being inspired, but I don’t believe in telling people what they should like. One of our clients, when we first met them, we asked how they’d heard of us. It turned out we’d been recommended by a friend of theirs who said, look at their website; all their projects are different so they must be listening to people.
What are you working on at the moment?
The John Betts School extension on Ravenscourt Road. Two thirds of our work is residential but we like to do local community projects.
What’s your favorite local building?
Hammersmith Library on Shepherd’s Bush Road opposite the old fire station is beautifully proportioned with wonderful detailing.
How will we be living in fifty years?
We’ll have more gadgets, but what constitutes home will still be the same. Building in this country is a democratic process – you need the permission of your peers to build. You can’t just rip things down. It’s likely the historic proportions will be protected. We’re unlikely to be tearing down our Victorian terraces, hence all the extensions.
Working such long hours, how do you relax?
I find it easier to work in the evening, when it’s quiet, but when I find time to unwind, I love a pint down by the river or a nice meal or watching the rugby.
Thank you, Matt. It’s been a real pleasure to meet you.
See more of Matt’s work at www.cparchitects.com
Interviewed by Jo Reynolds Sept 2015