A house that is good for you

A house that is good for you

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


Over the last 5 years I have been working with homeowners to help them find ways to make changes to their houses (and occasionally apartments). Some of the time this has been an exercise on paper that ends up with the homeowner being clear that what they thought they could achieve is not actually feasible for them, or that doing a job is just not the right thing to do, all things considered. (Often I’m feeding into the decision process between staying in a house and improving it, or moving on). The rest of the time things have progressed to the job actually being done, with varying levels of involvement on my part (I generally describe this as a spectrum between hands-off and hand-holding). I’ve been thinking a little bit about what it is that I actually do in relation to these projects – what impact does my involvement have; what are the results that I should measure my performance against? The list of “things that I do” is fairly easy to set down, although boring or bamboozling the reader to tears is a potential hazard if I were to try to describe it all here.

A more slippery customer though is the result I aim to help my clients achieve. This is both the point of what I do and the value that helps me make my living. When I’ve tried to tie this down before I was never quite happy with how I defined it. It can take effort, for both me and my clients, and probably more for me, to get beyond focusing on the stuff I produce or do (discussions, drawings, documents, meetings, site inspections) and clarify exactly what all of that is intended to achieve. Another factor is that, just as all clients are not alike, so also all architects are not alike, and different ones have a different focus. I tend, in discussions with clients, to play down the focus on the design as an end in itself. If I was working on a publicly visible building (or, God forbid, a “status” extension..) this balance would be different, but these are private domestic projects for people with a real need and relatively limited resources. In any case, for me design is as much the process you go through as it is the result of that process looked at on its own. And tying in with this, as I mentioned at the top of the post, that process sometimes results in a decision not to go ahead and make changes, and a client who has seen value in being helped to make that decision, confident that it’s the right one. So part one of the result I work towards is clarity of thinking and decision making.  In other words – it’s not (all) about the design.

With those jobs that do go ahead, what then is the impact I’d like to be known for? I’ve done a bit of thinking about how to describe that result and what I have arrived at is the definition I put in the title to this blog post – “a house that is good for you”. I think that there are very broad principles in relation to buildings and what they do for people that haven’t really changed much over a long, long period of time. There have been various definitions of this from Roman times on, but my version of it in relation to the jobs I do is as follows: I try to help people make changes that make their houses: suitable, well-made and lovable. And I do this for people who have high aspirations about how they want their home to be, but who at the same time have relatively limited resources to achieve it. For my sins (and it certainly feels like it sometimes) I am attracted to trying to be creative in adverse situations. That doesn’t mean waving a magic wand – all solutions need some money to make them happen, even the most resourceful ones, and God knows I need to be paid! But I do find that the best jobs I’ve done are usually plan B or Plan C when what we all thought was the right idea proved to be too much of a financial stretch. I think the best of my designs are fairly well-tempered by compromise.

When I think about wanting to make an impact on the area I work in, there is also a second strand that I’ve been guiltily neglecting for some time. While it is the case that no particular solution can be just copy/pasted into another project (or at least not successfully), the fact is that the various houses that I work on are often broadly similar and the needs and situations of their owners are also often broadly similar. So having worked through the thinking process with people around their needs and their aspirations and their houses, I reckon I can take the main principles that I and my clients find working, and communicate these more widely (through this blog in other words). This isn’t a case of presenting ready-made solutions – this business wouldn’t exist if ready-made solutions were a suitable way to approach these problems. It also isn’t a case of doing this to attract more clients – to be honest I have quite a few more queries than I can actually deal with (the reason this blog has been gathering cobwebs) and many of them I just can’t get to. Maybe communicating like this will help to connect with clients with whom I’d be a good fit – that’s what my limited marketing research would have me believe. But I’d see it more as an attempt to improve how this design process is understood by those who can benefit from it (regardless of whether that is with me or with someone else) – which is really anyone looking to make their home more suitable for the way they live, or better put together, or more likely to just delight them on a daily basis. And all without having to invest more than they feel is reasonable. While these are quite general aspirations, I should point out though that over the last 5 years visiting houses, the one thing I can say with certainty is that there is no such thing as normal. The infinite variety of the houses themselves, the people in them, and of what you could define as a normal situation between a person and their house is a big part of what keeps me interested.

With all that in mind, my aim is to get this blog up and running again so if you’ve read this far then make sure to check back and see what else I have to say. It might even be useful.

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About Small Spaces

small spaces is a one-man 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.