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I want the beams,” Nerys Walters said to partner Matt Wiggins after studying architect Joe Wright’s website. She had seen a photo of a kitchen extension in Palmers Green, London and was smitten. Meanwhile Matt kept, “Looking for architects round here and trying to find ones that looked more professional and had worked on a similar property to what we had.”

The couple, both 42, had moved into a semi-detached house in West Worthing intending to enlarge it, but they were unsure about how to find an architect. Practical Matt went on to Nextdoor, a neighbourhood info sharing app he’d heard about from a flyer through the door, to ask if anyone could help. They could: armed with a list of recommended people he and Nerys then organised face-to-face meetings for the job.

As it happens Joe lives in nearby Worthing with his family – where he also grew up – but his office is based in London.

Beam colours picked up on artwork

What I really liked was that Joe listens more than he talks.
Nerys Walters

↑  Nerys Walters

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“Joe’s was the most expensive design quote, but he felt the most professional and we got an awful lot more from him,” says geologist Nerys. “Some would say ‘we’ll just do drawings, and then you’ll have to manage the planning process’. Other people weren’t doing detailed plans, just sketches. Whilst paying more, it was a full service. One guy wanted to put lights on to our art work, but we needed to talk about structure, windows and doors and how the building works. And we didn’t just want a builder to knock up something.” 

The couple’s determination to create the right space saw them creating a homemade mock-up of the kitchen on the floor with masking tape, before ordering at Magnet.

But there was something just as important as the service Joe was offering, having modern manners. 

“We had a few people around and even some of the big swingers – architects and builders – only spoke to Matt and didn’t say a single word to me,” says Nerys bristling at misogyny in a kitchen which mixes recipe books with I am Malala: how one girl stood up for education and changed the world and The Gendered Brain. 

“It’s a real red flag if people only talk to your husband,” says Nerys. “We are equally involved and make decisions together and I was going to be at home. What I really liked was that Joe listens more than he talks.” 

She also has a very strong connection to the local built environment as her Grandmother’s father and brother were civil engineers/architects who built many of Worthing’s streets between 1900-1929 including Westcourt Road, Southcourt Road and Northcourt Road near the train station and buildings on the sea front. She even grew up in one of the houses her relations built in Lancing – a semi-detached bungalow “but we owned both halves. It sounds very grand, but it wasn’t,” says Nerys.

In the end they decided to go a bit further from the seafront to get a bigger garden and a house needing work.

Daylight is maximised throughout

Joe quickly understood that the couple wanted to close off the front lounge to create a great family space to the rear. His process at detail design stage starts with him “drawing designs in draft, we do a scope at the site, make a headline shopping list, for example if we are going to build a wall we specify what bricks and mortar to use. We then met with Nerys and Matt and used the draft as a tool to ask questions about what clients want – for example, do you want underfloor heating?” 

In their now completed extension, the kitchen is divided from the living space by massive exposed beams painted a striking water blue. The colour echoes the tones in a witty reimagining of The Statue of Liberty by Matt’s favourite urban artist, D*face. Beyond is a dining table set for six with great views of the garden, shelves filling with books and a super comfortable, L-shaped burnt orange velvet sofa. 

Joe also created space for a small toilet with sink and opposite it a washing machine and dryer, which can be shut off by sliding doors.

Matt who works in Haywards Heath reflects that: “I thought the kitchen might be too dark, but Joe’s design with roof lights maximises daylight and means you never really need to turn the lights on.” There’s also quite a lot of insulation, including triple glazed windows on the roof lights and the sliding doors which Matt finds, “makes it a very quiet space.”

The couple appreciated that Joe was also able to recommend a local builder he uses, Luca. “I was very aware it was going to be a three-month process and I didn’t want someone whose ego I was having to manage,” says Nerys. “I want to talk to them and discuss something, ask their opinion and have my own. I felt I could have that with Luca. We got loads of quotes, but it’s quite a good recommendation if your architect recommends the builder saying he’s good at solving problems and pragmatic.”

“I was here every day during the building work. It was very noisy, very dusty and I had to field a lot of questions, particularly when the electricians were on site. I was working from home too, so power being turned off was an inconvenience,” points out Nerys – pragmatically realising that there was really no choice! 

The couple, who have a six-year-old, Maddie, wanted to open up the narrow galley kitchen and create a family space that they could be in together but not always – “We tried to be mindful that we’re going to have a teenager at some point – so there are doors between the extension meaning that she can be in here on her own, or with friends, and we can be in the front room if we want,” explains Nerys.

They’ve been using their new room since December with its cosy underfloor heating. “Having Christmas here was really special. We’ve had couples round, but come summer I’m looking forward to opening the doors and having BBQs,” says Nerys.

They’ve found that the room excels for family living, just as they’d hoped.

“We have movie nights on the sofa. Maddie has had friends to play, and that space has become the Twister and dance floor. Having a dining room table, means she can sit doing art and I can be cooking dinner rather than dealing with constant shouts from next door of “Mummy I need the scissors”, says Nerys, adding, “What I wanted was a view of the garden from the front door, space for utilities and a downstairs toilet – Joe came up with the plans and we picked the one we liked, but what I really like is folding into the corner of the sofa and sitting watching the birds on the coconut feeder.”

Reflecting on the process Nerys says: “I had unrealistic expectations about the cost. We set aside a sum and needed more, though we did buy the most expensive doors and could have done it for less. Still, we’re going to be here for a while! Covid was a shock as everything stopped for about nine months, but Joe was very good at communicating what you were doing and what needed to be done.”

Joe, Nerys and Matt reflect on the project


Kitchen with waterfall peninsula