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Broomfield Avenue Full Beam




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

↓  Skinny frame sliding doors maximise views of the gardens

“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








Hill House Elevation




One of our favourite things is spending time up here with the lights off just watching,” says Sarah Dyce nodding towards the immense window view of London from the upstairs kitchen-lounge windows of newly built Hill House. Her husband Gordon, leaning back on the sofa by a sculptural circular fireplace is in total agreement: “The view of London is just magical and when it’s clear we can also see the lights stretching off to Kent.” Wherever fireworks are lit across London, this is the place to enjoy them, especially on New Year’s Eve.

From their new house on Canonbie Road you can see the Millennium Wheel and Battersea Power Station over to the North London hills one way, and towards the North Downs in the other – views which Sarah uses to destress during tough Zoom meetings in her new office. 

This room also doubles as a guest room, sewing space and rather wonderful gym. There’s no Peloton, instead keen dancer Sarah drapes an immense length of silk from specially fitted ceiling hooks so she can practise aerial acrobatics. As an added bonus this window allows her to also keep a discrete eye on what’s going on in the kitchen with Lucas, 9, Hayden, 7 and Clara, 5.

Kitchen dining space with window seat beyond

Pendant lights over the main stair  


“It was a crazy house, but it had potential and we decided at once to work with an architect we knew, and that was Joe.             
Sarah Dyce

↑  First floor sitting area with views east

↓  View of the rear of the house

The couple, who have busy jobs – she’s a tax partner and he works in the pharmaceutical industry – moved into the house they built in late December 2021. But they’ve lived in this spot since 2014 when they moved, with one young child, from a rented flat in Islington. Besides the view, the big draw of this tired 1930s bungalow was just-about-to-expire planning permission for a big new house. 

“It was a crazy house, but it had potential and we decided at once to work with an architect we knew, and that was Joe,” says Sarah. It says a lot that their friendship hasn’t been tested by the challenges of a new build. “We’d watched a lot of Grand Designs, so we learnt we’d go over budget, but Joe made us have a contingency in place. He also explained the importance of getting a builder in early with such a complex build.”

Joe contacted the original architects, then adapted their plan so there was less glazing to overheat and exciting eco-credentials above and below the building. He also found a way to join the house and ‘garage’ with an entry hall that links the upside down living with its four bedrooms, three bathrooms and a play room. The entrance is already working
brilliantly as a winter play space for the children and has the potential to host post-pandemic parties. 

Joe, who has builders working in his home at the moment, feels lockdown was an especially tough time for his friends to be building. “Material costs were all over the place and it was difficult to get hold of things. Then there were complications with the decision on renewables for heating and cooling the house coming in quite late and how they would integrate.”

Perhaps the most hairy moment was right at the start when the couple had to knock down their bungalow’s front wall in order to meet the planning permission timeline, because the finance wasn’t quite organised.

The main family living space

But Sarah sees it in a more positive way: “It’s such an opportunity when you are building from the ground up. We rented nearby and were in lockdowns while we were in build, so our house was a much-needed distraction. Site meetings became our social life! The team, Joe, and also Dan and his builders from Beam Development were absolutely brilliant. You hear absolute horror stories, but we were only slightly over timewise. It was 15-16 months rather than 12-13 months.”

Beneath Sarah’s home office with a view is a spacious utility room for laundry and two large plant rooms. For eco-fans this is the heart of the house.

Gordon, who has apps on his phone to measure his home’s energy use and an array of kitchen gadgets, says: “Using renewable energy was important to us, we wanted a big comfy house, but not one with a massive environmental cost. I like my mod cons and sustainability was a way of offsetting this.” Joe recommended using the latest technology to enable the family to heat and cool the house to zero carbon standards. In the plant room there are tanks, cylinders and pipes which connect to the three main parts – photovoltaic thermal (PV-T) solar panels on the roof which collect electrical and thermal energy; an earth energy bank (also known as an EEB) under the house which is used to store thermal energy (in hotter months so it can be used in the winter) with a heat pump for hot water, underfloor heating/cooling, and mechanical ventilation with heat recovery and pre-conditioning of the air via a 42m long earth tube.

In February the house is cosily warm – Sarah’s in a short-sleeved top and there’s a shoes off at the door habit which gives everyone full benefit of the underfloor heating. 

Although snagging still needs to be collated (this is an important part of an architect’s service); workmen are busy in the garden; furniture needs to be sourced and photos hung, Sarah says the family felt at home at once. 

“We’ve just had two of my old school friends and their families to stay for the weekend and it was lovely,” she says beaming. Both sets of grandparents stayed in the first week they moved in, enjoying the comforts of an upstairs living space with its cushioned window seat, kitchen with a long table that can seat 14, bar area and two sofa gathering spots, one around a fire and the other a giant flatscreen TV. 

Sarah and Gordon both grew up in peripatetic families, constantly moving house as youngsters, and through building their own wow house it looks like they’ve found a forever home in Forest Hill perfectly suited to their busy lives.  
“It’s fair to say that Sarah and Gordon really like entertaining,” adds Joe drinking a coffee in what only a few months ago was a muddy building site. Now Hill House is a unique place for Sarah and Gordon, that can switch from grown-up space for martinis by the fireplace to family home with ease – and all in the most eco-friendly ways possible.

Disappearing corner windows opening to a sheltered courtyard

The same windows, seen from inside








Broomfield Avenue Team Building




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








The Wee House Inch Perfect




This is my first-coffee-of-the-morning chair,” says Ewan Armstrong in his Scottish accent, about the big chair on the very top floor of the well named Wee House. The glass ceiling is letting in today’s winter blue sky and there’s another view of Clerkenwell to enjoy out of the window opposite. Next to Ewan’s chair is an espresso machine and a shelf full of titles – both Cabins and Japanese Houses look tempting – but right now Ewan, who originally trained in medicine, is reading a friend’s book, Light into Dark Places, about women sanitary inspectors in Sheffield. There is another library nook opposite where Ewan’s books are colour-coded and arranged alphabetically. This is definitely an organised home: full of tiny house living ideas and colourful art.

Although The Wee House is only 8 feet wide and one room deep it has the Tardis like ability to feel bigger on the inside and that, 61 year old Ewan claims, is down to Joe Wright’s skills at envisioning a home. 

“One principle was that I didn’t want any trickery with tables coming out of walls, like maybe you’d have on a boat or caravan. I wanted it to feel like a normal-sized house,” says Ewan firmly. In part that’s down to his choice of décor. For example, his bedroom has a small double and the dining room has an oval table which fits six small chairs. But to get to that point he needed help to reconfigure the floor space over five floors, each just one room wide. And what might have been stressful was collaborative and fun with Joe.

↑ Ground floor kitchen and oversized entrance door 

↑ Lighting detail over the kitchen

“I liked the fact that we were able to play with ideas and that we could end up agreeing ‘no’!”               
Ewan Armstrong

↑  Joe and Ewan discuss the Wee House

↓  Daylight maximised to the basement

Ewan had known the building for some years before he bought it. He’d lived opposite in a one-bedroomed ex-local authority flat at Cavendish Mansions when the tall infill building was a cycle couriers base. And when he moved in, elderly neighbours told him they remembered 8 Laystall Street as a sweet shop. No longer a shop, when he made it his ‘Wee House’ it was in a poor state of repair with damp problems.  

First task was to sort out the façade.  

“I enjoyed working on the shop front window design.  One early question was could we turn that basement into a bedroom and, if so, how could that window work? Could there be a section of window aligned under the level of the kitchen counter to bring light and ventilation into the basement? We did play with a few options,” says Ewan, who clearly enjoyed the way Joe posed what-about questions in response to his ideas, asking ‘if this, then this, but what about that?’ Joe nods in agreement. “I don’t want to impose things or for it to be a test in real time on the build!” This sympathetic ability to play with ideas and then steer to a conclusion helps makes sure that Joe’s architected space can quickly become a home.  

Although Ewan is confident about design: “My head is built in a way that I understand 3D spaces and I have a quirky feel for colour.” Nevertheless, he took little convincing that he needed an architectural professional. 

“I could have employed a good joiner to make the shop front and basement lightwell but you need planning permission to change the frontage…” says Ewan thoughtfully. “I could have got a damp proofing company to tank out the basement… but it is such an awkward site. Actually, just talking things through with Joe expanded the possibilities. And Joe recommended a brilliant, like-minded builder which led eventually to us doing London’s smallest extension by filling in the back triangle,” he says. 

“Part of Joe’s skill is having a feel for what you want – some architects don’t have the muscle to find that. “I liked the fact that we were able to play with ideas and that we could end up agreeing ‘no’!”, he adds.

Newly created third floor space with glazed roof

At the oval glass dining table on the first floor, Ewan stretches out one arm towards the front window and its Clerkenwell view and the other towards the stair and the triangle of the back of the building. This tiny extension, completely hemmed in between neighbouring buildings, was the architectural masterstroke despite being so awkward to complete that the builders had to abseil into the space. 

“Sitting here, you get can see several metres front to back, making you think the room’s quite big, but the whole house is only 70m2. These little half landings between floors give The Wee House a boiler room with washing machine, internet stuff, electrics and toilet services, another shower room on the next level and then the top floor reading nook… I’d never have been able to realise this on my own,” says Ewan. Originally from the Ayrshire coast, Ewan came down to London in the early 1980s to do postgraduate studies in Health Education before working in Community Medicine, GP development, running a Masters course at South Bank Polytechnic and HIV training for charities including PACE, a lesbian and gay counselling organisation.  

Combined with long experience in Jungian therapy, Ewan has spent a lifetime working in education and professional development – and then with unexpected spare time during lockdown also finished writing a crime trilogy starring a gay police detective, set in Glasgow. No surprise then that you’re likely to find Ewan working from The Wee House in his light-filled office on the floor above the dining room.  The room has space for a big desk below rows of shelves. There’s also a neat sofa bed that enables it to double as a guest room.    

The work on the house happened before the pandemic and has proved that it can shape itself to different possibilities. Ewan, who loves a run down to the river, around the Thames embankments and back, enjoys the way Joe’s design has created, “different spaces each with a different feel – I don’t have to be in one room all the time. There’s my comfy reading space on the top floor, and dinner on the kitchen table or in the dining room with friends – like tonight where we’ll have a wee champagne gathering for my nephew who is being inaugurated into the Royal College of Surgeons today.”  

It’s clear that Ewan gets on really well with his architect as they give an impromptu joint tour of the house.  As Ewan says, “the big thing with Joe is the good working relationship, the collaborative development of ideas and testing out, refining and changing. The finding of the builder with him – that triumvirate worked really well. The enclosing of the back triangle was a bit of genius and the sense of mutual respect that we all seemed to have – architect, builder and client – was nice. Which is why I’ve approached Joe again to revisit his earlier idea of taking off the glass roof so I can grow more plants in an outdoor space.” 

Ewan’s conversation is peppered with wit but he’s not joking this time. Following his experience in lockdown, The Wee House is ready for a tiny terrace on its top floor, reflecting how versatile homes need to be as our lives change. And that is where Joe’s architectural future proofing skills come in.  

With Ewan, it’s been a pied a terre, a sanctuary during the pandemic and has been listed on One Fine Stay for short-stay guests. “Home is really, really important to me, I talk to the house, I thank it for keeping me safe and secure. If I accidentally knock a wall I even apologise to it! It’s home. It’s lovely, although I don’t think it will be my last place. Partly, because I’ve still got a mortgage but more because I think my knees will probably give up before I’m 70! I was brought up at the seaside so, by then, it may be time to return to the coast.”

Joe describes a detail of the build 

↑ The landing became part of the dining room at first floor