31 Jan 2017

Self-builder combines old and new to create smart home


As the owner of home technology company, Clever Association, Richard Jones knows all too well the increasing trend towards ‘smart’ living. Therefore, when Richard was faced with the opportunity to renovate a tired Victorian property, he was able to realise its full potential.


Having spent so many years in a home that simply didn’t meet their needs and requirements, Richard and his wife, Anna, came to the conclusion that in order to find the perfect balance of old vs new, a radical refurbishment project was the only route to take.

It was then that Richard discovered a Victorian semi-detached home, and immediately was inspired to completely transform it. He explains: “I put an offer in straight away. It was in the perfect location and untouched for 55 years. I could instantly visualise the fabulous old features with new, modern interiors. Having worked on many build projects in my line of work as a Technology Consultant, I had seen how rewarding it can be to take on a project. We had been in our previous house for 12 years, I was itching to do another project and add all the wonderful things I see and do in other people’s homes.”

Location, location, location

The location was a key factor for Richard and his family. It was in an area they knew well, situated in a quiet region on the outskirts of the town centre of Wetherby. The property itself had plenty of grand Victorian character, as it hadn’t been subject to alterations by its previous owners.

To help take on the design of the extension and remodel of the property, Richard called upon the expertise of Wildblood MacDonald Architects, which came up with the plans that included a highly contemporary glazed ground floor rear extension. The project team also included Stephen Neall Interior Designers and Jeremy Wood Kitchens.

“Before finalising the plans, I had a very clear vision,” explains Richard. “I wanted to create a home with character, both sociable and fun – everything a home should be. I have a passion for lighting design, so it was a real indulgence to work on my very own home.”

Overcoming hurdles

Thankfully, planning permission was accepted on the first attempt. The property is situated within a conservation area, so the project team were conscious this could have posed a problem. However, according to Richard, the most difficult aspect was being mindful of the protected beech trees in the rear garden. Richard explains further: “I think we always knew that we had to be sympathetic towards the trees, so we designed it knowing we couldn’t extend out too far. We actually employed an arboriculturist to write construction methods and satisfy any building constraints and conditions. Due to this, the project took a little longer than we hoped, as we had to go into so much detail.”

With the project largely managed by Richard, the onus was on him to specify a lot of the materials that were to be used for the renovation. Before any work commenced, the family lived in the property for about 18 months, so this gave Richard plenty of time to research the market and find the most suitable products to complement the existing build and its surroundings. To help with the decision-making process, Richard also sought advice from the project architects.

In the end, Richard opted for cedar cladding for the external facade of the extension. The natural wood perfectly complements the heritage features of the existing property.

Improved feel and function

The large principle rooms of the original house were retained at both ground and first floor level with the original features restored where possible. The old scullery kitchen to the rear of the property, however, was completely removed and a new single-storey extension was added, which created a large, open-plan family living and dining kitchen. Large, minimally-framed sliding glass screens allow this space to open directly to the newly-landscaped garden.

The new contemporary space now forms the heart of the home and can be easily opened up to the partially-covered external terrace. At night and in the winter, automated and fully integrated blinds close the space down for a more intimate atmosphere. When asked if he would recommend any of the products used, Richard enthuses: “The Fineline sliding doors are just wonderful – 11m of glass with only three 20mm frame uprights. Also, I would say this, the Lutron lighting control and automated blinds and curtains just make the project.”

In the renovated basement, a new cinema/children’s playroom can be accessed via a staircase that descends directly from the kitchen, ensuring that children can play safely out of sight but not out of mind.

Richard continues: “I always have thought modern combines well with Victorian. The extension was purposely modern so that it had a very different feel to the original part of the property. With the open-plan living area and basement cinema, it would always have felt very different to the more formal rooms in the house.”

However, achieving this striking juxtaposition was not without its challenges. Richard explains: “Creating two en-suite bedrooms in the loft space was probably the most challenging. We had initial issues with the structural steelwork designs, then we had problems getting access to the loft to construct the rooms. Draining and excavating the Victorian water cellar to create a basement cinema room was also a challenge, but well worth it.”

In total, it took eight months to complete the main works, but the project is in fact still ongoing, as Richard explains: “In truth, we’re still working on some elements. Last summer was about the garden and drive and we’re now finalising the fitted furniture. I think everything takes longer than you expect.”

Although Richard kept to his original budget for the project, the ongoing works has meant more expenditure. Richard continues: “As mentioned, the steelwork in the loft cost quite a bit more than anticipated. Latterly, the external landscaping costs were more than we envisaged.”

Radical revamp

The finished space is everything the family had hoped for and more. “The internal space is conducive to a fun, family home,” remarks Richard. “It is very spacious with lots of character, both new and old, and features a great entertaining space. Externally, we have a very useful garage and utility room. The garden has a great lawn for garden games and a terrace area and a sail to soak up the midday sun and then entertain in the evening.”

The radical revamp has received a considerable amount of interest from neighbours and locals. “We’re often giving house tours and visitors are amazed at how the property looks. Having been ‘run-down’ for many years, the aesthetics have now been improved considerably,” explains Richard. “This is a great place to live and a ‘forever’ home now. If I had to choose my favourite aspect, I would have to say either the kitchen space or the basement cinema as it’s where we congregate as a family away from the world. If budget wasn’t an issue, I would have loved for a green roof on the extension, but I can always look into retrofitting one at a later date.”

Offering advice to self-builders about to embark on their own project, Richard says: “My advice to anyone looking to start their own project is: do your research beforehand, use professionals to do specific jobs and secure decent contractors before you start.”

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