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Should I stay or should I go?

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Posted by stephen under advice

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Move or improve? Make something from what you’ve got or pull up stakes and head off into the wild blue yonder of a new house? This is a question I’ve found myself helping to answer quite a lot over the last few years…

New Enquiries

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Posted by stephen under Advice

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The reason for writing this post, and asking people who’ve gotten in touch with me to read it, is that there has been a big build-up of new enquiries. I don’t really feel that it’s acceptable to ignore these. I don’t want to just come back with a one-line email saying I’m too busy to talk to them and good luck finding someone else. And I do believe that a call like what I describe below is what is required to get any project off on a good footing. These calls are like a sample of what it’s like to work with me – they give a solid impression of where I’m coming from, so I see them as important. I wouldn’t commit my money to someone selling something so intangible as design (and advice) without getting some confidence that they understand where I’m coming from and that they have the know-how to help me. The problem is that these calls can take around half an hour each, and when you start multiplying that it makes it very difficult to find the time to get back properly to everyone who gets in touch, not to mention keeping on top of work that is already underway.

So the intention for this blog post is to try and short circuit the process, so that people know what to expect. And to allow people to rule me out early if the timeline or the costs look unworkable for them, so that they are not hanging around waiting for information. And finally to ask for a little forbearance – I’d love to drop everything and have a really interesting half-hour phone conversation every time a query comes in, but it’s just not possible. So for now I’ll be steering people towards this blog post first, and then we can have a more focused call… for those who want it.

A house that is good for you

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This being the first blog post for quite a while, I find myself taking stock a small bit…

 

How long does it take to get planning permission?

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Posted by stephen under Advice

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At the outset of a project, when things are being discussed in a general way and nothing too specific has been nailed down yet, it can often happen that the question of planning comes up. Usually this takes the form of me suggesting that some things are possible without applying for permission, but that other things (very often better solutions) are possible, but only with an application being made. And I’m not sure why this is, but I find that the general impression out there is that getting planning takes eight weeks. In one sense that is correct, but it’s only half the story...

The Home Renovation Incentive Scheme

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Posted by stephen under Advice

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As you might expect, since the announcement in the budget of a scheme to incentivise home improvements, I have been discussing it with plenty of interested homeowners. Anything that eases the burden of making changes to a house is welcome in my view, particularly at the moment when those changes are not generally being done for the sake of it, but because there is a real need to do something to a house that you didn’t imagine yourself still living in. So here is a quick guide.

Open plan and the introvert

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Posted by stephen under Advice

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I’ve just finished reading the book “Quiet” by Susan Cain. It is a wide-ranging exploration of the difficulties (and hidden advantages) of being an introvert in a society (the USA) that seems only to value more extroverted personality traits. Being somewhat of an introvert myself, a lot of the book struck a chord with me. One of the interesting bits (for me anyway) was about the kinds of spaces that introverts gravitate towards in order to recharge their batteries – small, enclosed, private, quiet…

 

Book me for Simon Open Door

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Posted by stephen under News

It's that time of year again folks. I am taking part in the excellent Simon Open Door initiative on Saturday May 11th. Seek me out on the website - www.simonopendoor.ie - and book one of my slots. Like I have done each or the last three years, I am taking the show on the road and doing my consultations in your house - where we can see what you are dealing with and really get down to discussing ideas, potential and pitfalls.

House to Let?

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to_let_sign.jpgI’ve had a couple of queries in the last while from people who are thinking about what they can do with their house, but with one particular difficulty. They don’t live there anymore...

Staying in your starter home - Part 2, The Townhouse

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Posted by stephen under Advice

A while back I did an introductory post on the topic of starter-homes and the people who now realise they have to live in them a lot longer than they originally planned. My aim is to try and set out some ideas and tips for such home-owners, house-type by house type. And the first type I’m going to cover is the 2 or 3-bed terraced townhouse...

No posts for a while?

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If anyone has been wondering why there haven't been any posts on this blog since last July, well, I am blaming this person...

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Staying in your "starter-home" - Part 1

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Posted by stephen under Advice

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Since I’ve started out doing what I’m doing with small spaces, I’ve noticed three broad categories of people who tend to get in touch with me. This post is the first in a series about one of those categories – the first time buyer in negative equity.

a new home...for small spaces

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Posted by stephen under news

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I'm very pleased to announce that I am taking up residence in Fumbally Exchange, an innovation hub in Dublin 8 populated by numerous design-focused small businesses. Having worked for the last three years from home and on my own, I'm looking forward to being told to stop muttering to myself by my new neighbours, cadging cups of tea from people, having a real swivel chair, and generally becoming civilised.

Fumbally Exchange is one of those very good things that sometimes emerge from turmoil, and I'm really looking forward to working in proximity with the array of talents and interests that are there. As its chief instigator George Boyle might say... exciting times...

http://fumballyexchange.com

 

a kitchen extension that doesn't block the view

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The latest job to go to site (and nice weather it is for building too) is a micro-extension to a semi-detached house. The original layout of the house had a very narrow and low-ceilinged kitchen built out the back (image below), that the owners had gamely lived with for years. But eventually thoughts of a bit more elbow room while cooking began to get more insistent. And for all this time the fridge was sitting in the dining room, a proverbial mile away from the rest of the “kitchen triangle”. I think in the end it was trying to figure out how to find space for it in the kitchen that led to me being called in to see what could be done.

Simon Open Door 2012

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A huge thank you to my eight “clients” for this year’s Simon Open Door weekend. Now in its eighth year ( the third year for me) this event, for those who don’t know, is where home-owners pay a €50 donation to the Simon Community for an hour’s consultation with an RIAI architect to advise them on all kinds of aspects of their home and what they can do with it. It’s a very simple idea, and it’s very well run and well publicised. This year I believe the donations this year totalled around the €25,000 mark, with the overall figure donated for the eight years being around €265,000.

Like I’ve done in the previous two years for Simon Open Door, I once again took the show on the road and did all my consultations in the “client’s” homes. My rationale for doing this is pretty simple – it leads to a better quality of consultation. The only reason I can think of against it is that if people came to me I might manage to squeeze in a few more consultations than the eight I do. But to be honest, given that I work solo, I’m not sure I’d manage more than four in a day anyway. And I prefer to have the eight people I deal with get the most for their donation – and hopefully spread the word about this very worthwhile event.

4 things to think about before extending your home

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Pretty much all houses (and some apartments) have the potential to be extended. You know that things aren’t ideal the way they are. But how do you move from there to figuring out what you should do to improve them? And how do you avoid making mistakes in the way you think about it?

Because I spent a portion of my time going out to assess people’s options for them, I get inside a lot of houses. And a large proportion of them have had some work done over the course of their lives. Many of the extensions I’ve seen are of the not-too-well-thought-out variety, so to help you avoid the most common mistakes I’ve seen people make, here are some things to think about if you are thinking of extending

Help! My apartment is too small...

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Posted by stephen under Advice

I’ve had a couple of enquiries recently from apartment owners who are beginning to think about what they could do to increase their sense of space. It’s got me thinking in general about apartments, and about what to do when your  life is moving on but negative equity has you staying put. I’ve come across plenty of people in houses over the last three years in what they originally thought were “starter-homes” and that they are now re-evaluating with a longer term view. And if there are people in this situation in houses, then there are also plenty of similar ones in apartments. While it is true that extensions are often on the cards for the house-dweller, it is also true that there are always options for improvements that don’t involve extending at all. Often the budget to build an extension just isn’t there, or isn’t justified. So there is always a “no-build” option – focusing on the key points as listed below: storage, layout, improvements, decoration and a few others. And these are also 100% relevant to apartments and their owners. So, with the experience of several successful “no-build” house projects behind me, and my own “previous” as a designer of apartment buildings, not to mention having lived in 1, 2 and 3-bed apartments before buying my own slice of negative equity...

... here are my top tips for making the most of your apartment:

Simon Open Door

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Posted by stephen under Advice

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First of all, belated thanks to everyone who “hired” me for last year’s Open Door weekend. Fast becoming a staple in every architect’s annual calendar, the Simon Open Door weekend, for those who don’t know, is where home-owners pay a charity donation for an hour’s consultation with an RIAI architect to advise them on all kinds of aspects of their home and what they can do with it. Very well run and very well publicised, it is one of the main opportunities for small architects like me to show people what we do and how we do it.

The Feasibility Study

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Posted by stephen under Advice

Where someone gets in touch with me to look at possible changes to a house, the first stage (after the “test drive” that is) is the feasibility study.

What this first stage in the design process is intended to do is provide answers to some key questions. Depending on the situation, finding out what these answers are can involve some work, more work, or a lot of work. And it can involve just the client and myself, or us both plus other professionals, or builders or more. There have been times where people have shown me around a house (in one case someone just did a vague scribble on a piece of paper) and then sat back and said “amaze me!” Sorry folks, but if the answers were that easy to come by then I’d be going door to door with a  wheelbarrow full of your money. It takes much more perspiration than inspiration. And anyway, I don’t sell answers, I sell help. Service. Ideas. Advice. (And maybe just a bit of Style...) The “answer” is always a joint effort between the designer and the client because I’m designing to meet your needs, not my own. In fact, if in some hypothetical reality I could give the “right” answer at a glance, then you wouldn’t believe me anyway…

Architects and the "two things"

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Posted by stephen under Advice

I read a blog post recently by Chris Butler of Newfangled web developers (you can access it by clicking here) that put forward the idea (from another guy called Glen Whitman) that for any subject there are really only two things that you need to know. Everything else is either the application of those two things or else it’s just not important. So, my take on the two things for architects:

1-     they’ll think of things that you won’t

2-     a building project is very hard work without them.

Asking about the two things is also very handy at weddings, conferences, network-y things (not that I’d know), and possibly for chatting up a professional person…

The Latest from Site

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Posted by stephen under News

These are a couple of images from a job currently underway in Irishtown - a tiny do-er upper that needed a lot of thought. More to follow...

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Do I need planning?

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I'm going to be coming back to this subject (with some pictures), but for now, here are some of the main things you need to know about what kind of house extension does not need planning permission...

Simon Open Door 2011

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Ideal Home Show 2011

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Down the Market

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Posted by stephen under Inspiration

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This was another case where something caught my eye. There is a new breed of businesses that have been set up post credit crunch and have had to get up and running with a minimum of outlay. When it comes to design, this can be a good thing. Old fashioned resourcefulness is set to make a bit of a comeback I think, and when it is combined with a little creativity the results can be really fantastic. This fruit and veg shop on Mary’s Abbey just beside the Fruit Markets is a brilliant example of this. Housed in a set of old banana ripening rooms where the owner worked as a young fella, it shows just what can be achieved using very limited means if you apply a little bit of inventive thought. Here the main things that I like are the use of pallets and graffiti as display units and signage. The whole area around here is covered in both pallets and graffiti, so this job was definitely done using locally available materials. The signage was done by a mate of the owner – one who had a history of decorating buildings without being asked… And it seems that graffiti itself is graffiti-proof - the local lads don’t touch it even when they are tagging all the walls around.  As for the pallets they create a solid little space in the old loading bay, and something about them just feels right. This kind of attitude is also in evidence inside, where the owner’s pride and joy (as he was quick to tell me) is the banana ladder. Sums up the “theme” of the place, if you could call it that – resourceful re-use.

 

Early House

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Posted by stephen under Inspiration

  The Bernard Shaw, on South Richmond St, surrounded as it is by dereliction and self-inflicted graffiti, tends to attract your attention from time to time. A cool looking place, I can't claim to have been in it too many times, but passing it a while back I noticed a different kind of change going on, one that did entice me through the door. In these recession busting times, it's always somehow uplifting to see someone do something clever and inventive, especially if that thing also comes with coffee. In this case the thing that caught my notice was a small change to one of the windows. In a nutshell, it was open. Some graffiti of a different order announced that I could walk up to it and get a coffee. A little shelf had milk and sugar on it. I went in and it turned out that there was a fully functioning Italian cafe running behind the bar. The clever thing about this of course is that two separate enterprises are successfully coexisting in the same space. The cafe runs in the morning until around 3pm, and then the pint glasses are dusted off for the bar to take over until the small hours. When you pass by during cafe hours it just looks right. A part of this is location - the big windows are belted with sunlight all during the late morning and early afternoon. It means you can see right in as you pass by, and sit in the sun indoors, a very effective form of enticement. The rest is down to a very inventive attitude - lots of small (cheap) moves that let you know what's going on, and make it seem like a good idea to stop and refuel. Some photos below should give you an idea of how it's done. The coffee, by the way, is Sicilian, and is very very good. 

  

a little goes a long way

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Posted by stephen under Inspiration

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I was flicking through a back issue of the Architectural Association of Ireland’s annual awards (as you do) when I came across this little gem designed by Noel J Brady. A well crafted and modern (but not showily “perfect”) little box creates a distinct space for reading and, I think, writing, at the border between an original room and an underused portion of the back garden, in a terraced house on South Circular Road.

Tales of the Unexpected

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Posted by stephen under Inspiration

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A search for a book on gardening and horticulture brought me to the Rathgar Bookshop. I had heard that they did a good line in gardening books, and the potted plants outside reinforced this impression, but not so much as the sheltered, peaceful and wholly surprising garden out the back. I took my newly purchased book and a coffee and sat under the trees in dappled sunlight, together with some other browsers who were in the know. And I got the feeling that sipping tea and coffee in the sun was a large part of the draw of the place. Now it’s not that Rathgar is a heaving metropolis, but it is a busy junction, and the contrast between the front and back of the bookshop is striking. The garden, in some form or other, must have been already there, but most people would probably not have seen that it had as much potential as a key part of the shop. And it didn’t really require all that much – a decked area, some new plants around the edges, furniture and a little sign. There’s no stone, no “water features”, nothing superfluous. Even from the back of the bookshop it’s not obvious that the garden is there – which all adds to its “secret garden” charm.

Mayfield

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Posted by stephen under Inspiration

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This is the first of (hopefully) a series of blog posts on interesting and successful small spaces. In a row of shops between Terenure and Harold's Cross, this cafe / deli / eatery is a re-use of an old butcher's shop. What struck me, apart from the fact that it seems permanently full, is how well the traces of previous use have been preserved and used to provide "ready-made" character. You can't reproduce authenticity - but you can use somebody else's... Rails for hanging meat, a walk-in fridge that looks like it's from the thirties, and beautiful old tiles all provide a setting for the new use. The owners seemed to know instinctively what to leave alone. This includes the old facade, which makes for an incredibly bright and glare-free interior. Many old shops are being re-used for new purposes, but few so sensitively preserve the legacy of old-fashioned commerce they inherit. And the food is great!

Squeeze

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Simon Open Door

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Simon Open Door took place over the weekend of April 24th and 25th. small spaces decided to do things a little differently to the other architects (this is a theme you may see on these pages more than once). I decided to bring Mohammed to the mountain (makes sense really) and gave all my consultations at the "client's" houses. This saved them the hassle of having to take photos, do up scaled drawings and generally describe things that are much quicker grasped by standing and looking at them in person. I think the people I saw appreciated the effort and the less vague discussions that resulted. Seeing them in their own habitats meant that the advice given was much more focused and took account of how they were actually using their houses, as opposed to how they would have described it themselves.

Simon Open Door

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Ideal Homes Show at the RDS

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As promised, a little feedback on the Extension Advice Centre at the Ideal Homes Show. From listening to the people looking for advice (at my stall anyway) there does seem to be an appetite out there for finding out what can be improved without doing large amounts of work. One couple in particular went away pretty happy after I halved the size of the extension they were thinking of and still showed them how it would fix all the issues they wanted fixed. Less is more, as they say.

Greek sea-view

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Ok, so this is not in Ireland, but it is how you capture a view...

Ideal Home Show

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Ideal Home Show in the RDS

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Posted by stephen

I will be at the Ideal Home Show in the RDS this Sunday afternoon manning one of the desks at the Extension Advice Centre between 2 and 6pm.

When you arrive at the show, go to the Extension Advice Centre and book into see me for 15-20 minutes, free of charge.

I'll write a blog post about how I got on next week. In the meantime, see you Sunday.

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About Small Spaces

small spaces is a Dublin-based architectural practice dedicated to helping people find the best way to add space to their home, or to make the most of what they’ve got. You can find out more here.