The insider’s guide to renovating your home

Whether you’re refurbishing or extending, there’s lots to consider before you start work on your property. Architect Zac Monro shares a few of his secrets

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Brixton-based architect Zac Monro’s complete overhaul of a Sixties house in Brockwell Park featured on Grand Designs in 2013.

Zac Monro

This year the architect has been visiting the Royal Institute of  British Architects’ shortlist of new homes built in the past 12 months for another Channel 4 series, Grand Designs: House of the Year.

Here he shares five considerations for homeowners planning a renovation or extension from an architect’s point of view.

1. A clear brief

Be clear and definite about your needs. Don’t just make a list of the stuff you want. As an architect, you’ll go and meet new clients and, if they’re a couple, sometimes they’ll still be deciding what they want. You need to give a clear idea of what needs looking at. Sometimes you can help a client realise they don’t need more space, just better space.

Half the job of an architect is to diagnose what the problem is. The rest is to needle the client a little bit — to challenge what they want, to throw in other ideas, to see what sticks.

2. Follow the light

This is the fundamental parameter for design. Which direction does the house face? How does light get in? Humans gravitate towards light. Think about breakfast and cocktail hour: what is the light doing? Where are you sitting? This is a very quick way for me to work out what needs to be done. We all want good lighting that suits our lives.

3. How you live

Consider those important moments at home. Is Sunday morning important? Do you have big dinner parties? Your home needs to accommodate the special things in your life — the irregular ones, not just your immediate needs.

Clients admit freely to the dark corners and the cupboards that won’t shut. But looking at what’s important to how you live cuts through to a much deeper conversation about the way a room is used.

It is crucial not just to let the problems that need solving drive the design.

4. Basic economy

What you can or cannot spend is as much a part of the brief as what you want. The costs become part of the design. It is important to have a hierarchy: bits that you can take out to save money.

As an architect you have to look at the situation and think ‘What are the key things I need to do to fulfil the brief?’ As a client you have to be realistic about what you can afford.

Choose one thing that you want to spend money on. It can really lift a shoestring project.

5. Get good cover

I’m always aware that it isn’t my money that is being spent. Every homeowner needs a strong legal framework to fall back on and good insurance is crucial.

Architects are very keen on insurance. Because of the nature of our role we have to be the best insured people on site.

Also, a big part of our job is to make sure the builders get it right — which they don’t always. The financial consequences of an error can be very serious, so you need good cover.

Watch Grand Designs: House of the Year on All 4

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