8 Easy Ways to Achieve Architectural ‘Wow’

All too often self-built and renovated homes end up as bland as off-the-shelf developer houses. Charlie reveals some simple ideas to make yours special.

Designing a house is a complicated business. There are an almost incalculable number of decisions and variables that shape the design process and, therefore, your home. Well-designed unique homes are desirable, lovely to live in and ultimately more valuable than off-the-shelf alternatives. But all too often self-builders and those carrying out major renovations end up – thanks to constraints of space and budget, a designer with limited ‘vision’ or simply timidity about anything out of the ordinary – with a bland home too.

To avoid being sucked into bland you need a good design early on — and you need to stick to it. I believe there are a few straightforward ideas that will help you (and your designer) create a home that punches well above its weight.

Stairs Need Space

Don’t simply shoehorn the staircase in. They can be mean, narrow and tucked away (as per developer homes) or have drama and excitement. Stairs are always an expense but with some clever design and not a lot of extra money you can transform stairs from a perfunctory necessity into a show-stopper. I tend to put stairs in a double-height space to accentuate the connection between levels and therefore creating additional interest.

Raise the Ceiling

One of the things that sets the bland mood in a new developer house is measly ceiling heights. Almost invariably 2.4m, and in many cases less, such ceiling heights create a slight feeling of claustrophobia and give wider, longer rooms an unsettling letterbox feel. The increasing invasion of downlights, smoke detectors, air ducts and speakers that litter ceilings only increase this top-heavy feel. The good news is that high ceilings make small rooms feel generous and are an absolute must for large spaces. Big rooms with 2.4m ceilings feel squat. You can easily attain that feeling of grandeur by designing ceiling heights of at least 2.7m and preferably 2.9m. The extra materials used will add cost to the build but it’s worth it for a luxurious feeling of space.

A Dressing Room

A master bedroom suite increasingly helps define a home’s value — the people using these rooms are paying for the house, after all. Dressing rooms are a real luxury and don’t have to use much extra space — a bedroom with less clutter can be smaller and still feel spacious.

A Larger Hallway

The impression you get when first entering a building sets the tone of a home. There is nothing worse than cramming into a small hall when you arrive at a house, so always be generous with your entrance. You only have to try and shuffle your family/friends in and out the door with bags, coats, dogs and wellies a few times before you understand how crucial the hall is.

A Big Front Door

As a central part of the arrival experience, the front door is always worth spending time and money on to get right. Much like the hall, it sets the tone. Go wide and go tall.

Position Windows from Inside Out

Far too often windows are placed to look symmetrical and neat on an elevation. The real function of windows is to create views and bring in light — not as a decoration for the exterior. I tend to start by placing windows from the inside out and then try to make the elevation work.

No More Tiny Doors

Why do people stick to bland standard-sized doors when a large door blank and an extra set of hinges cost just a few extra pounds? Don’t just go wider, go taller as it draws the eye up, accentuating height and space.

Double Height

There is huge pressure on self-builders and renovators – especially with the growing trend in valuing houses using floor area – to do away with double-height spaces. This is a mistake — double heights don’t waste space, they make space. In many ways it is the perception of space rather than a measurement that defines how a home feels. I use every opportunity to connect the different levels in a building, with views and light creating interesting shapes, light effects and a dynamic experience.

  • 16/07/2019Nearing completion This project next to the woods just south of Oxford is nearing completion. The wood cladding is looking very fresh but the untreated white cedar shingle on the lower half will fade to a pale white colour and the larch
  • 12/07/2019Planning submitted We’ve just submitted a planning application to undertake a substantial re-modelling of a mid-Victorian house that had been altered and extended several times. Quite a challenge. A key part of the plan is to re-locate the main access which currently
  • 08/07/2019Building the Dream is back The next series of Building the Dream is back on More4 from Tuesday 9th July, 9pm.
  • 04/07/2019London’s Great Bridges A fascinating show looking behind the scenes at a multi-million pound project to re-light London’s bridges. The three part series starting this Saturday 7th July on Channel 4 at 7pm, looks at the history and culture of London’s bridges and
  • 26/06/2019Ideal Home! The Sheepfold is featured in July’s issue of Ideal Home magazine; pick up your copy now!
  • 11/06/2019Impossible Builds Impossible Builds is back on our screens starting tonight on More4, 9pm.
  • 10/06/2019Oxford Green Week This week is Oxford Green Week . A city-wide festival which uses culture, creativity and community to inspire local people to take action against climate change. Charlie is joining with Transition by Design, an architecture and design co-operative to talk about sustainable architecture
  • 04/06/2019Timber Frame Following several months of coordination with the timber frame manufacturer, this new-build project is finally bursting into life. The prefabricated elements are hoisted in to place with a telehandler; a process that produces a weather tight shell in a mere
  • 23/05/2019Garden Room Extension This new garden room extension will provide much needed extra living space to the existing cottage and greater connection to the garden. Connected by a linking walkway the garden building will compliment the cottage with a sensitive use of materials
  • 15/04/2019Gone to Planning We have just submitted a planning application for a replacement dwelling in Buckinghamshire. The original house dated back to the 1850s and had been extended a number of times and this piecemeal approach had left little evidence of the original
|