Tuesday, 27 January 2015

AZTECH ARCHITECTURE LTD - REVIEW

I have been talking about our plans to build an extension for a while now and finally November last year we got the ball rolling. My husband bravely left me in charge of our extension 'project' and I had been looking for good architects for some time before I found Aztech. Their positive reviews on My Builder Website convinced me to book them in for a survey and I am very glad that I did!

Just to give some background, our existing conservatory is not very well insulated and is leaking. In fact, we currently use it for storage and as a play room for our daughter. In the last three years we have lived here, we have been unable to really use it because it is in a such a bad way. The existing room is not built up to current building regulations and looks pretty horrible as well. We want to demolish it altogether and build a single-storey rear extension as part of the house. We did look at Anglian, who specialises in conservatories, but it is actually cheaper to build this room in brick (less glass involved). The main reason I wanted to build an extension though is because I prefer it in terms of appearance and function. It will hopefully open up the three spaces (dining room, kitchen and conservatory) and create one big entertaining area.

I had three other architects come over to do the survey before I decided to go ahead with Aztech. I wanted to hire someone who specialises in the building application process (hence will do all the paper work for me). The more accurate your drawings are, the more accurate the quote will be from your builder. I also wanted someone that could help me with a few minor concerns and questions that I had about the space (or more the limitations of it) and Aztech definitely delivered what they promised. Also, the fact that you can get an accurate online quote on their website helps because you know exactly how much you will paying before you hire them to do the job.



I had booked in Aztech for 11 AM and Pete and Vince arrived on time and spent two hours taking measurements and going through our plans. I was astonished how many measurement they took. Pretty much every inch of the house was taken into account. All the rooms downstairs and upstairs, garden, drainage and even the view from the street. There was not one question they couldn't answer or have a solution to. They seemed very knowledgeable and got straight to work.

Now, one of the biggest concerns for me was whether we should knock down an existing pillar which is load baring. Every architect I have spoken to in the past has advised me to do so as it is currently blocking the view to the kitchen. But, there are a few other things to consider which is why we decided to leave it as it is.

First of all, there is the cost factor (it's not massive, probably 2 K more to knock it down) but my husband was not too keen on cutting onto the existing structures of the house as this would have required a new beam. To be honest, if you have a good builder there is no problem doing so, but for aesthetics reasons I didn't want to get this removed. Currently it has a purpose and I like the way it divides the two spaces. Also symmetry is very important to me and I think it might look odd if we just have one side of the kitchen poking out. Not to mention, I'd rather spend the money towards a stylish door and the little details that often give the room the 'wow factor'.

Even though open-plan living has been very trendy in the UK for quite some time, more and more people are starting to move away from it. I had the pleasure of attending an event recently where Daniel Hopwood, famous interior designer and co-presenter of Great Interior Design Challenge, was speaking about current interior trends. He mentioned that many people are choosing against open-plan living these days and are going for closed floor plans instead (especially families). Because we are only removing the doors (not the pillars), if we were ever to sell the house, potential buyers could still very easily put in the doors with a relatively low cost which is a massive selling point.

Before I decided what kind of layout I wanted I did plenty of research online. My main source of inspiration was Rightmove. Have a look what people have done in your area. This will give you a much more realistic idea as the houses are probably built in very similar way. I have seen so many different floor plans of these three rooms and what we decided to go for appealed to me most. I actually like part of the kitchen hidden as this way when you are entertaining you can 'hide' the dished rather than trying to clean them up immediately. Think about what suits your life style. Think about how you will need to use the space and who will be using it.



Our new extension will be one multi functional room. During the day it will be a playroom for our daughter and in the evening it will be used as a sitting room or a 'chill-out area' as we like to call it. I have a very strong vision how I want this room to look and I explained that to Vince and Pete and they listened to me and advised me accordingly. It is important to me that there is a nice flow going through the house so that each room guides you to specific areas. I want these rooms to compliment each other and most importantly work to together in terms of the function.

I was also interested in finding out, how we can maximise the existing natural light in our home. Natural light is one of my favourite things about this house and I want to ensure that we are not compromising this by building an extension with a solid roof.  Our current roof is glass so we get plenty of light but will this change if we put in a sloping roof?? I did my research beforehand and decided that sloping roof was the way to go. First of all, it will invite more natural light into the room but secondly high ceilings often create an illusion of space. I wasn't sure what would be the best place for our velux window though. Initially, I though I would put it in the middle but Vince advised me that I should have it towards the dining room so that more light would fall into the dining room.

Vince and Pete use CAD to draw the plans but because all plans they submit need to be in paper form, we actually got them in 2D. This is the only part that I was slightly disappointed with. I wish they would have also provided them in 3D so I would have had a more realistic idea what it will look like. Of course if you really want this done you can download Google's software called Sketch Up which is free and learn how to use it yourself.

It took about 7 days to get our plans back after the survey and Vince and Pete were very patient with me and made all the changes I wanted. I had quite a few questions for them so after a few weeks I was finally happy with everything and they were submitted to the council on my behalf. I also liaised with my builder in case he had any questions about them but all parties seemed happy.

Below, you can see a snapshot of our current ground floor plan and then the proposed one which we are planning to build. The image quality is not great but I hope you get the idea.



We are planning to keep the size fairly similar but the new room will be slightly more narrow due to the new cavity wall that needs to be built so the room can be well insulated. We are removing the French doors between the conservatory and the dining room and will leave this open. The frame will be also removed and opening made good. We will remove both kitchen doors and we want to widen the opening that is leading up to the conservatory by app. 300 mm. We will also need a new lintel to support the wall above. There will be double doors fitted in the rear wall of the extension that will give us a nice view of the garden. The side wall on the left will also have a Upvc window which will hopefully bring even more light into the room. Also, the floor level in the extension will match the floor level in the dining room (currently this is not the case).

I can already see on the council website that our application has been received and is currently pending consideration. It can take 8-10 weeks for the council to handle the application but I don't see any reasons why it wouldn't be approved. Our neighbour did a similar job recently and their application got approved without any hiccups. In fact, we will be using the same builder who came highly recommended to us!

Few other things worth mentioning are:

  • The length of your extension (You might only need building regulations depending on the length)
  • Sharing a wall with the neighbour (If you have a semi-detached house like ours, you will need your neighbours permission as the council will be in touch with them)
  • The size of load baring walls (if you want to go more narrow than current maximum regulations are they need to be approved by a structural engineer)
  • Do you any trees near the house that could be a risk for the foundations?

So, do you really need to hire an architect for this type of job? It really depends on your own capabilities and how big of a project you are doing but I would personally strongly recommend it. Our extension project is really not that complex but I didn't want to submit the plans myself as it takes time and there are no guarantees that I would get them 100% accurate. Every time you submit the plans to the council you have to pay a fee so it's important that you are totally happy with them before sending them off. If I was building a bigger extension and wasn't living in the house myself, I would definitely hire a company to oversee the whole project for me.

Aztech also offer additional services and they can add additional details onto the plans (such as radiators, plug sockets, lighting) but of course this comes with an additional cost. I decided to opt out because first of all I didn't have my furniture layout planned at the time (it is very important to do this before you make any decisions) but also I knew it would be very easy for me to add these details myself afterwards.

I'm currently trying to work out the furniture layout which is a little tricky as the room is long but narrow and the side window doesn't make things any easier. Once this is done, I can  work on the lighting and where we want the electric switches. I am enjoying the planning process very much and I am learning a lot at the same time. I really think this extension will change the way we live but there is still a lot of work to be done. The nasty part is still ahead of us (building works) but in some weird way I am really looking forward to it!
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Tuesday, 20 January 2015

WINTER GARDEN MAINTENANCE

I think most people's garden is looking a little 'tired' (at least here in the UK) at the moment and I do find it challenging to maintain it during the winter months. It's easy to make the garden look beautiful when the sun is shining and the grass is green, but in January/February, it will be looking pretty grim and most of us just leave it as it is until the warm weather returns again.

Our garden is very much 'work in progress' but we have definitely improved it in the last few years. During the winter months it is covered in leaves (thanks to the old trees at the bottom of the garden) and is often flooded (because it rains so much here and our current drainage system is out of date).

However, the biggest problem for us is the grass which seems to turn muddy during these months but it always seems to recover for spring/summer time. It is especially annoying as our daughter, who is a toddler, cannot play as much in the garden (at least without making a total mess). All my friends in our area also seem to have the same problem so I guess it is to do with the London clay soil underneath it.

My husband usually does the gardening but this time we decided to 'help'. It's funny how much my daughter loved playing with the leaves! We have been a bit lazy and left them lying around for too long so it was time to do something about it.





If you really want to keep your garden looking beautiful and ready for spring/summer, you shouldn't forget to do some basic gardening tasks during the winter! It really doesn't take that much time but I promise by the time the warm weather arrives, you will be thanking yourself for all the work you have done in advance.

Here's my to do list for my winter garden:

  • Pick the old leaves from the grass 
  • Pick the weeds off growing stumps
  • Prune trees and shrubs
  • Also dig over borders around shrubs and trees so you can see the brown soil
  • Clean patio and garden lights
  • Use a paving scraper on the paving and slabs
  • Clean the windows facing the garden (believe me, it will make the garden look nicer)

Have a look at Which - Winter Garden Maintenance and Seasonal Gardening - January if you are feeling ambitious and want to learn even more. I found these two websites very helpful. I am also being realistic so I have only picked the things that I absolutely must do and that are important to me. Whether I get to do them all as planned is a different story..

Due to a relatively warm winter, I can already see the first signs of spring in our garden; spring onions! I think there is something beautiful about this season. It reminds me of summer and how all the flowers and plants will start growing again. Also, believe it or not, frost is important to some plants so they can survive and produce some great fruit during the summer months. So, cold can actually be a good thing although not for our palm tree obviously. Our palm tree will hopefully survive due to the mild winter this year but in the future we should really try to protect it from the frost.





I have said it before and I will say it again; never underestimate the time you will spend making your garden look good! It is a big commitment, and with today's busy lifestyles, many of us just don't have the time to do it all. We are still doing everything ourselves but I am not ruling out getting a professional gardener or landscaper in the future. It is such hard work and the research you need to do in advance takes time as well.

Also, I don't want to spend too much time on gardening at the moment as we are hoping to build an extension in a few months time which will without a doubt ruin the grass for short term. I am very excited because I am hoping our new extension will help us to appreciate our garden even more.

In fact, I am heading this weekend to see 'Don't Move, Improve' event organised by NLA. The aim of the event is to provide inspiration for people who are planning to extend their homes and some of London's best and most innovative home improvements will be revealed there. I cannot wait to get some inspiration and they are also offering free advice but you need to book your slot in advance! The exhibition/event is free and you can find more information on their official website. I will be writing more about our extension plans very soon!

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Tuesday, 6 January 2015

HEAL'S SS '15 PRESS SHOW

I was kindly invited to Heals Spring Summer 2015 Press Show in December to have a look at their new collections. Heals have been designing, making and selling quality furniture for more than two centuries and are on the cutting edge of contemporary design. Heals represents to me high quality furniture, and bold and individual designs, that fit in very well with my idea of contemporary home decor.

I am very excited to say that current interior trends are very close to my own personal taste. There is plenty of white, marble, funky patterns and navy blue; my new favourite colour.

I've photographed some of my favourite pieces for the blog and I can honestly say I can imagine having each and every one of these in my own house. Spring/Summer '15 is looking pretty white. It's all about white furniture, light wood and white marble. I love the combination of these three! Stained ash wood and stained glass are also very trendy at the moment and I find them very elegant and understated. This does make me question if my own house it too black these days but I guess it's all down to personal taste. Everything looks so clean and fresh but all the patterns and textures make sure you don't get that clinical look. All white homes are very common in Scandinavia (I think it cheers up the cold dark winter days) but I personally haven't gone for this look mainly because we have a toddler in the house. But, I know plenty of people with children who have made it work for them so I guess it's possible.

This year we are building a new extension (second living room/playroom) to our house and I am considering having a light coloured sofa there when it's finished... Am I crazy?! I haven't made up my mind yet but I am loving this all white look. I also adore the taupe/beige/white pony hair rug. Perhaps not ideal for heavy traffic areas but it would look fantastic in a formal sitting room.






I love white marble and I am very excited that it is still very much in trend. Marble is elegant and timeless and Heal's representative revealed to me that there is a lot of demand for marble at the moment. I am also seeing more and more marble effect furniture and from a distance you really wouldn't know if they are the real thing or not. We have a marble effect worktop in our downstairs bathroom and I love how easy it is to maintain.

I am obsessed with these hanging pendant lights and the wall paper! Marble effect wall paper would make a great feature wall. If we lived in a Victorian property, I would definitely go for something similar.

As much as I like white, I don't think all white decor is ideal for our house (at least for the time being). Heal's Industrial Chic 2015 Collection could work very well on the other hand. Heals collection moves on from the raw finishes of the last few years highlighting the strong lines and modern materials of the rough-lux look, while adding refinement to the finish. I personally find this look more appealing and prefer the attention to detail on the finishes which gives it a much more luxurious presence.

I am also loving all the patterns that are out at the moment. Navy blue was a big trend for 2014 and I don't see it's popularity slowing down anytime soon. Navy/dark blue goes incredibly well with white, grey and black furniture. Blue has been really growing on me lately and I find it being a softer alternative to black. I am planning to introduce more blue items to our house in the future and I particularly love this blue/white cushion from Gemma Kay Wagget which has been designed exclusively for Heals.




Of course the Spring/Summer collection wouldn't be complete without some vibrant colours. This African inspired woven tray is very interesting and unique looking. It would be perfect for an outdoors barbecue on a hot summer day!

I am also very excited about the launch of Heal's new home fragrance collection. I am a big fan of scented candles and home diffusers and I am always testing out new brands to see if they are any good. The collection is handmade in Britain and it includes two distinctive ranges, Woodnotes and British Botanics. I only had to walk past them and I was sold. They smell and look gorgeous! Heal's diffusers and candles start from £25 each and they also come in handy tea lights.



It is worth mentioning that Heals have also started their Antiques collection this year. There is a great demand for antiques at the moment and if you thought that Heal's only do modern/contemporary furniture think again. They have some stunning classic designs that will without a doubt appeal to both existing and new customers.

I wasn't aware that Heals also host regular workshops and events which anyone can sign up for. They can be found here. I am definitely going to keep an eye on their upcoming events in case something interesting pops up!

For more information visit www.heals.co.uk

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