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This is where it all started, we wanted space to expand into,” says Eleanor Kaye wearing a red jumper with enamel bees on the cuff, in the spot where the kitchen used to be. It’s now a cosy corner of a large living room which has their young children’s toys at one end and a more grown-up feel where she’s standing.

On paper the couple might have said they had the skills to design and manage this sort of home renovation project. Eleanor is a Managing Director who is no stranger to futureproofing offices and project managing decorators, and also thought perhaps she had time as she was about to take maternity leave with her first child. While Simon, a Group Reinsurance Director, with good problem-solving skills was really interested in redoing houses.

However, they were also aware that for some things they often found it hard to agree on, so Simon contacted RIBA and the couple ended up interviewing three potential architects. 

“We definitely wanted to like our architect. We needed to know we could be honest with you and have a conversation,” says Eleanor before catching up on how Joe’s family are getting on after moving out of London; while Simon points out that mutual respect is essential as, “you figure you are going to be working together for six months to a year, maybe longer if you include tendering, the snagging, the follow up and project management when you were on site.”

Side infill extension with exposed brickwork and exposed structure

Structural splice detail

“We definitely wanted to like our architect.
We needed to know we could be honest with you and have a conversation.               
Eleanor Kaye

↑  Eleanor runs through the wish list

↓  The kitchen-family-entertaining room

As Eleanor leans against the steel-topped kitchen island she reckons: “I think naively we thought we could have done it ourselves. I dealt with builders all the time but when we began understanding how big this job was, I just didn’t feel comfortable. I’ve done nothing structural before.” And it was a big job: the new kitchen with its showstopping brick wall and teal-colour steel structure has huge, corner bi-fold windows that can be opened up during the warmer months, allowing the living space to flow into the garden and any children in the house to free range happily towards the swings at the far end of the lawn. 

There’s plenty of entertaining space following the addition of the side infill extension – which doubled as the couple’s workplace during Covid.

“For a build like this there’s a lot of legalese over party walls, structural engineers, advising neighbours, dealing with council planners, site survey documents and drawings,” adds Simon as he remembers why it made a lot of sense to employ an architect. 

After an interview at their house, Joe Wright was picked by the couple as their architect and project manager, and straight away the team began operating well. “You had the vision and pushed us with keeping the Edwardian feel,” says Eleanor now sitting on the kitchen sofa, which doubles as her morning sanctuary for a breakfast coffee and where she has a flourishing spread of plant babies. The sofa hides a row of cables and is near where the back bay window used to be.

“The bay was beautiful,” recalls Joe, “but Simon and Eleanor wanted a space where ‘you all can be’, and the house wasn’t working with that window. I think this kitchen is one of my favourites from all our projects, and I know you both put a huge amount of energy into it.”

The couple certainly have the dream kitchen for living, playing and entertaining. Simon loves to cook so they picked a fridge with enough space to hold a massive platter, and thanks to Joe’s guidance thought carefully about which way fridge, cupboard and oven doors would open without interrupting the flow of the room. As a bonus there’s also cosy underfloor heating. Adjoining the space where the old kitchen used to be is a discrete utility room for laundry and a downstairs loo. Both have sliding pocket doors to save space. Joe also helped create an ensuite for the master bedroom and floor-to-ceiling storage in the living room that enables children to play without risk to themselves, objects d’art or the flatscreen TV.

Bi-folding doors with cantilevered structure to allow the disappearing corner

Simon also remembers the design phase with Joe as a stress-free experience because: “The process is so iterative: we did five or six iterations and then Joe threw up the idea about the disappearing corner windows: we loved the cantilever and the steel.”

Building started in January 2018 when the couple’s daughter was just six months old. “We did move to my parents for two or three months,” admits Simon pointing out that just because you’ve paid for an architect to project manage and have engaged builders doesn’t mean you step away from decisions. “Until you do a building project you don’t understand the need to better spec, not to limit decisions, but to do more of a quantity analysis. We went through endless flooring options at the warehouse with a less than one-year-old!”

So what does it all cost? Simon is clear that the “architect isn’t the main cost, that’s the building work which might be 60%, then 15-20% for the architect and other consultants.” Joe points out that since Brexit and Covid costs are changing, but the general rule is that “you pay the builder half to two-thirds of the overall cost. Clients often buy the kitchen units, windows and flooring, so they supply a lot too. It really is a team effort. Some architects are trying to catch the builder out. If the architect and client and builder are working together, you’ll become passionate about the project. If not, there will be aggro and a horrible environment.”

For this project Eleanor was extremely pleased that it finished, “only 10 days late and everything was on budget. We went slightly over our original sum because of our choice of bricks and the pocket doors, but snagging was pretty minimal.”

It wasn’t all plain sailing though, as in their first winter there was a downpour and water started pouring into the new build kitchen. “It was awful but we flagged it to Joe,” who helped the builder, Peter, get it fixed.

Four years on the couple now also have a three-year-old son and are finding the house let them cope well through the Covid lockdowns and is perfect for enjoying with guests – a big Hanukkah party for 50 is currently being planned.

“I always wanted indoor/outdoor space to feel comfortable and happy. This is our space and it’s where our guests come,” says Eleanor who grew up in the countryside. “When I first moved here from Tufnell Park, I didn’t feel safe as the house was very run down. Our house feels very secure now. I’ve lived in many places in London and finally I think this is home. It’s not just the build being finished, and starting to put up the artwork – it’s also due to having the children here. They’ve never lived anywhere else and that’s special.”

Simon, Eleanor and Joe discuss the process

↑ View from the rear garden