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22 Apr, 2020

Inside Ar-De Architects' Home & Office

Vicky and Nick, the owners of Ar-De, a London based architecture studio, share their story on living and working under the same roof, in a stunning recently extended house where they added an Unlimited Rooflight.

We interviewed them to find out more on how it is to design and project manage your own extension, what it is like to work and live in the same place, and the importance of daylight in a healthy home environment.

You've just completed your new extension project. Wow! Great job! Please, tell us more about it 😊

Thanks, we're very happy with it!

We bought the house in the summer of 2017 and we had been looking for a real fixer-upper property for quite some time. My wife and I are both architects and we had just started our architecture studio Ar-De at the time, so we were looking for something that we could really make our mark on. 

Working on architectural projects across London, we know a lot about the rules, regulations and what can be done with the types of properties that you find in London. So, we did have a bit of a checklist of things that we were looking for and this house was perfect, we were very excited to find it. 

Because we went into the purchase knowing that we wanted to do loads of work to the property, and given that we do this as our day jobs, we had already done huge amounts of planning before we’d even bought the property, so there was a fair amount of build up to this project before we got going. 

We held off from moving too quickly with the build for a couple of reasons, firstly we wanted to live in the property for a little while and work out how we would use it. We always feel that there is no need to rush with such large-scale changes, so we decided to take a little time at the beginning to think about it. 

The second was financial, after buying the house we had just set up our practice, so we needed to see if the business would be a success, and to see how this would affect our home and work requirements. Depending on if we would work in the property or have an office elsewhere, would obviously change the way we use the space. 
 
What does being your own designer and project manager of building your house extension involve?

As you’d imagine its quite an involved process, but we wouldn’t have done it any other way. As we already mentioned we had started to design the project even before we bought the house. It was a further 2 years before we could get everything together to go ahead with the building works, so we’d had a lot of time to think and plan what we wanted in the space.

Importantly we’d had a lot of time living in the property to understand what we really needed and what was right for the house, and we stayed in the house during the build so that we were on hand to respond to any changes that might be required. 

Most importantly, we had a great contracting team, who we knew well and trusted to do a great job, so we always knew from the outset that we would end up with a great result.

What were the steps you followed from the inspiration phase to building?

The important thing is to never stop thinking about the spaces and being inspired by what you see. You will see different opportunities through the build as you start to see the project come together, you might see an amazing picture online for the first time and it changes how you might want to arrange the furniture, you might find a new product as we did with Vario that changes the design, and we encourage you to continue to think about the design throughout the project. 

Just keep discussing things with your builders, as if you haven’t gone past the sign off date for an item yet, often there will be room for you to tweak things on site. 

Tell us what was the timeline from inspiration to finished interiors? I'm sure it's a question you get very often.

Indeed. Well we actually only found out about Vario by VELUX as we were on site, they were just about to start the roof construction as we found out about them, so we didn’t have a huge amount of time and had to get things organized very quickly! 

From finding the products to getting them on site it was only a matter of weeks, once we had chosen a size for the roof lights all we had to do was confirm the opening dimensions to our contractors, and double check with the structural engineer that the roof structure was ok to support the new roof light. Once that was all sorted all we had to do was wait, it was a very easy process. 

The project took around 4 months on site in total, but the roof lights go in fairly near the end of the project, so once they’re in it’s all very exciting, as you are close to completion.   

How are rooflights contributing to the interior of your home? What would you say are the advantages?

We’ve worked on lots of projects of this type in the past, and we would always specify VELUX flat roof windows in our projects. For a side infill like this, we would have 3 or 4 in a line in the roof space to add loads of natural light from above.

We did this because over the years we had realized that there was no-one as reliable or affordable as VELUX in the roof light marketplace. Other companies do provide similar systems, but we realized that these were either very expensive or fraught with issues.

When we started to design this project, we had allowed for 3 x VELUX flat roof windows next to each other, then we heard about Vario, and started to look into their products. We found that for a very similar price, we could have a much more dramatic, single piece of glass that was also supplied by VELUX, it was essentially a no brainer!

It was also a game changer for us as a business, as finally we had a reliable roof light company that could make truly bespoke design solutions on our projects at a reasonable cost.

On that note, what does the word bespoke mean to you as a homeowner? 

Good questionWe deal in the bespoke every day. Our role is to bring something that is tailored to our client’s specific needs so make a space that is unique to them and their needs.

Our goal as a company is to make spaces that make our clients look around and feel happy every second that they are at home! But we are also conscious that most people have budgets and restrictions, they want to make sure that they are investing their money wisely and effectively, so we need to balance the truly unique with the pragmatic.

So, for us being bespoke doesn’t mean reinventing the wheel every time, it is about finding solutions and products that can allow us to be creative and make unique features, without completely blowing the budget.

And this is exactly what Vario’s product builder lets us do - we can look at multiple options for a space and get instant costings back for each option as we go. This allows us to work with an informed creativity in our work, there’s no designing something and then realizing we need to cut it back for budget reasons further down the line.

You added a rather large rooflight to your extension - The Unlimited Rooflight. What impact does it have on the space?

It is amazing how bright the space is. We get so much light from above that the space always has a wonderful vibrance to it during the daytime.

But I think that possibly what’s even more striking than the amount of light itself is the size of the glass, its 5m² total, split into 2 pieces. It makes it feel as though there is more glass than there is solid roof up there, it really is the wow feature of the whole space.

Whilst we had expected that when we designed it as it was always meant to be the feature in the room, what we hadn’t realized was how much it would make the space feel bigger. With extensions on a mid-terrace property, you are often limited as to how high you can build so your ceiling height can be capped at a certain level, but having this huge opening in the middle of the room makes the whole space feel like you’ve got this really grand ceiling height, it has such an effect on how the space feels. 

What was the decision-making trigger in choosing daylight from above?

To be honest there was no choice here. In a London mid-terraced property, even a semi-detached one, when you do a side infill to increase the rear of the property by filling in the gap between the properties, it creates a dark space in the center of the property where there is no natural light.

So, you generally counter this by adding roof lights in the ceiling over the new extension, and make sure that they are placed fairly close to the back of the room so that you can flood that space with natural light.

Vertical windows tend to allow a good level of natural light to penetrate around 6 meters into a building. Not only do roof lights allow a lot more light in a space than a vertical window, but as you can place these in more central areas in the room, they are nearly the only way to get daylight into the center of your house.

We have our office in the central room of the property, so for us, we had to have good natural light levels in this area as we spend the most amount of time here in the whole house.

You're both working and living under the same roof. How is it?

To be honest we love it! We don’t think we could ever go back to working any distance from our home again. The benefits of not having that morning commute, getting to spend loads of time with our cat and making a proper lunch at home are just a few of the reasons we love it.

Obviously, it has got 10 times better since we had the works done, we’ve always loved our home, but it was most definitely in need of some love when we first moved in. Like a lot of period properties, it was dark, it was dirty, and it was very drafty and cold. 

The works have changed the property beyond recognition, and the feeling we get when from spending our time in an amazing, bright, warm space is incredible! We feel very lucky every day to get to watch the clouds drift past from our desks! 

And if you think we love the sun, you should see how much our cat loves it! Underfloor heating and golden sunlight from above, you literally couldn’t design a better lounging spot! 
 
How do you separate your work life from your personal life?

This is an interesting question. For us it’s really important to have a dedicated space that we can work in, where you feel like you can get in the zone, At the same time, we have always been adamant that we don’t want to be tucked away in some corner of our house spending all day in the worst part of the property.

So, we decided to turn the middle room in our property into the office, so that we could spend our day connected to the beautiful new extension that we made, but they still feel like separate spaces. This way, we don’t feel like we’re at work while we are entertaining.

How are you keeping a healthy office and a healthy home, subsequently? What are your tips?

I don’t know if we know any great tips for this! We think it’s best to fill your house with things that make you smile. Vicky loves little trinkets and quirky objects, I quite like to keep things pretty minimal, but I do love plants in the home, so we try and sit somewhere in between these styles. 

Currently we have compromised on unusual pots which are interesting to look at but also functional and full of plants! Having a pet does really improve our wellbeing and provides a welcome distraction when you want to take a break. 

Daylight contributes to our good moods as well, especially now that summer approaches and we'll get loads of it.

Brockley Extension Project, South East London by Ar-De Architects: https://ar-de.co.uk/

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