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Quality Materials

Category: Conversion Design Advice December 24th, 2008 by mbc

What we now consider as high quality, high cost choices for building with, traditional materials such as limestone, sandstone, slate, hard woods, steel, dressed stone and hand-made bricks; were once standard. These materials are what contribute to those elusive but seductive and often valuable features of buildings often referred to as period charm or character.

Any building built before World War Two (and many built after) is likely to contain such materials. These will be from the days before mass transportation and the desire to move dense heavy materials over vast distances to be used at locations where similar materials exist, but cost a little more to extract, process or prepare.

Whilst current building practices necessitate the need for modern materials in a renovation project, it is important to respect an aged structure and the materials from which it was originally constructed. Use modern where necessary, use traditional were possible but only where fusing the two can be done in a harmonious and sympathetic manner.

The glass-half-full approach to this is to take the opportunity to work with materials that just don’t fit into modern buildings – 4 inch thick flags or oak window frames are a waste of time, a waste of money and a poor design decision when placed in a 1980’s house – in a renovation of an old building, in context, they can shine…

I’m sorry, but uPVC and dressed stone just don’t work in harmony for me!

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Management and Control

Category: Conversion Design Advice October 2nd, 2008 by mbc

I’ve given my opinion and explained the pragmatic approach to project management (some might call it a lack of management) that I employ. I’ve also described some of the tools that I use … Google documents & Basecamp … and some of the questions to answer when deciding ‘how to manage your project‘.

Progressing with this I’d like to suggest to any would-be renovator to not over-manage or over-control your project. A successful renovation project requires skilled and talented people to be engaged and translate their talents into tangible parts of your renovation. With all the will in the world, there will be elements to your plan or your plan that are not optimal and that these individuals are better equipped and are better able to decide upon or specify. So let them do so … listen, take advice, get an feel for costs and time-scales, then make a decision.

Don’t try to make all your decisions up-front and don’t try to be the sole decision maker. There’s no way that on your own you’re going to get it all correct all the time, but with help and advice you’ll get more correct, more of the time.

From a management and control perspective this means that you’re going to need to leave some decisions until later, to allow aspects of your plan to evolve over-time. Start off with a plan by all means, just don’t expect it to be followed exhaustively, or feel bad when reality diverges away from it.

Follow the path to your goal and expect to make a few diversions along the way.

…and don’t forget to buy a good notebook…

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Clean Lines

Category: Conversion Design Advice August 21st, 2008 by mbc

When I started out writing this blog (now over two years ago) I intended to both share my experiences and to provide advice to other people considering following a similar path. The advice has been a bit slow coming, but now as things are progressing I thought I’d start to share. Not so much hard and fast rules but my personal musings and accumulated wisdom.

new clean lines
new clean lines

Any old building will have a set of angles, curves and contours all unique and peculiar to it. Straight clean lines are unlikely to have been the norm when it was built (unless your building is a pristine example of Victoriana), instead an organic, contextually rich approach to construction is likely to have been prevalent.

When renovating a building with modern materials, building techniques, fixtures and fittings, we introduce precise, clean lines often in stark contrast to what has already been done. This is an opportunity to add layers of interest and character to your renovation if handled sympathetically. It is also an opportunity to respect and acknowledge the heritage and traditions that have gone before.

If sympathy is not shown, if new clean lines are forced in and stand alone rather than working with the building then the contrast will not be a harmonious and detract from rather than enhance the overall outcome.

mock tudor - concrete and softwood
mock tudor – concrete and softwood
(know where this is?)

Off course we can avoid this contrast, we can reject anything contemporary and seek out rustic or distressed materials and attempt to incorporate them in an original manner. But to me, that is missing the point. I prefer to be able to see the development of a building, recognise its different eras and see its history. The imposition of a historic look on a modern project too easily leads to the folly of artificial, non-structural beams or mock Tudor concrete and softwood concoctions.

If fresh, clean, modern lines can be made to work with the original more organic lines, then you’ll be heading toward a great renovation.

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Autumn 2013

Right that’s the summer over with, now I can get on with some real work without the distractions of other things (like holidays and playing with children, all that enjoyable stuff that gets in the way of progress)… With few major jobs (painting, boxing in – nasty stuff!) left inside, mainly fiddly things that need […]

I’m having a moan on twitter…

A lovely Flemish barn conversion

I love the interior of this conversion and the great use of horizontal slats on this conversion. I retains the essential ‘barnyness’ of the building… flemish-barn-by-arend-groenewegen-architect

Coming soon, my barn conversion guide… Interesting earthship greenhouse project on Kickstarter

I really like this Kickstarter project >> The Farm of the Future: Earthship-Inspired Greenhouse This project is “Prototyping the First 100% Off-The-Grid, Affordable, Low-Maintenance Greenhouse using Earthship Principles and Aquaponics“. If any of those words meaning anything to you you’ll be interested in the project if not, pass it by… It’s already funded so I […]


Barns Gallery on Remodelista

There is a lovely gallery of barn related inspirational photographs available on Remodelista.

Barns – the Long House

Situated on the North Norfolk coast, this is a building to admire…

Barns – the Balancing Barn

A stunning piece of architecture, although not entirely to my taste…

New fast-track planning permission for the development of barns proposed

The Daily Mail reports on a new fast-track route through planning controls for the conversion of barns…

De-assembled, re-assembled, re-cycled barns

“A bit like a private sector, modernising, repurposing St Fagan’s…”


What is a shadow gap?

A shadow gap – a mysterious dark place between two plains…

Your barn conversion – "what you really wanted for yourself"

Thoughts on making YOUR barn conversion – "what you really wanted for yourself"

Building Regulations, Approved Documents Part D – Toxic substances

An overview of Building Regulations, Approved Documents Part D – Toxic substances

Building Regulations, Approved Documents – Part C Site preparation and resistance to contaminants and moisture

An overview of Building Regulations, Approved Documents – Part C Site preparation and resistance to contaminants and moisture

Building Regulations, Approved Documents – Part B Fire safety

An overview of Building Regulations, Approved Documents – Part B Fire safety


Your barn conversion – "what you really wanted for yourself"

Thoughts on making YOUR barn conversion – "what you really wanted for yourself"

The Stirling prize 2012 winner – the Sainsbury Laboratory

The 2012 Stirling prize was won by a outsider, the Sainsbury Laboratory…

The Stirling prize 2012

I think that this years Stirling prize has some exciting projects on the shortlist…

Our engineers … our architects – Le Corbusier

The efficient, shiny world of construction in 1923…

Design in Storage

When designing a layout it’s easy to forget to plan for storage…


Green Deal slow beginnings?

Oh dear! The green deal hasn’t got off to a very auspicious start… As reported in the Telegraph today since it was launched nearly a year ago just 12 homes have taken advantage of the Green Deal with a few hundred more in the pipeline. 71,210 households had been assessed for Green Deal measures such […]

The property roller coaster – planning reform to be rethought

Eric Pickles vague compromise on planning reform keeps the house happy (for now).

Energy policy, smoke screens, fracking, confusion and big bucks

There seems to be only one thing that is certain in the world of energy policy and that is that costs will rise annually above and beyond anything that inflation can currently throw at us. Beyond that, smoke screens & confusion seem to reign. Take the recent news for example… It’s reported today that the […]

Flanking manoeuvres and good design…

It seems that the government are undertaking flanking manoeuvres on the green belt…

Green Deal Launch

The Green deal launched in the UK on Monday of this week. Fanfares? fireworks? a deluge of marketing? … read more …

Plaid Cymru’s Green New Deal promise

The leader of Plaid Cymru has promised a “Green New Deal” to rejuvenate the Welsh economy and help maintain Wales’ position at the forefront of Green policies.

Permitted development extension limits to be doubled

The government is due to announce a temporary increase in the maximum depth of extensions that can be built under permitted development rules.

Lloyd Khan, making shelter simple.

I wanted to share an interview with Lloyd Khan that I recently found…

Just what is ‘sustainable development’?

Sustainable development – with the term now enshrined in planning law, what does it mean?

Sir Patrick Abercrombie – “It is a matter for serious thought…”

While reading up on the response of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) I came across this quote from Sir Patrick Abercrombie…