Architects cast an expert interior eye

FREELANCE writer Elisa Wickham and her partner were faced with a debate two years ago when they began renovating the interior of their promising, but outdated shabby three-bed property in N7: Pay an architect to advise or go direct to a builder?

“Neither us have any building abilities and we don’t have massive incomes so the whole project was a gamble,” says Wickham. “We didn’t want to get it wrong.”

Wickham and partner opted to consult London-based architect Brian O’Tuama and today they say they’d never consider anything else. “The layout and the overall design are much better than it was originally. The flat is flooded with light thanks to his suggestion of a window on the stairwell. He also guided us through moving the bathroom upstairs from the downstairs kitchen, conforming to building regulations. It was an expense but I think it has really saved us money in the long run,” says Wickham. She added: “If we hadn’t used an architect I think we could have gone way over budget. He managed the planning, the building contractor, and materials. He helped us get a better deal on some supplies and advised strategically on where to spend money and where not to.” Wickham said the flat was recently valued at 30 per cent more than the original purchase price, adding a double digit profit which was largely down to the improved layout and finish.

“There is a misconception that architects are only there for large projects but I would recommend using one any time for interior work. The way I see it, if you’re spending upwards of £20,000 on renovations an architect can be fantastic for making sure it is executed well and in a way that benefits the property.”

Wickham is one of a growing group of savvy consumers turning to architects for smaller projects. “It’s great if you have small spaces like flats where you need to fit things in cleverly,” says London-based architect Robin Monotti, adding that people approaching him about small-scale interior projects were becoming increasingly common. “You save money in the long run because you don’t make expensive mistakes and you get what you want.” Monotti advises clients on all the tricks for making properties look, and work their best, from choosing the right door height to strategic spotlight schemes.

Getting an architect isn’t as expensive as you’d think. Prices start at roughly 12 per cent of the total works, or can be charged at an hourly rate of roughly £80. “It really can be a bespoke service, from just a consultation to managing the whole thing,” says Brian O’Tuama, who has built a following among clients in North London. “We source reliable builders. Because everything is drawn to scale, the quotes are much more accurate. We help people eek more out of the space. You also avoid the expensive retail costs on things like designer kitchens. With an architect you can get a bespoke top quality kitchen designed to your needs, with cost price on materials, for a fraction of showroom prices which can run to over £20,000.”

And, the benefits to the long-term value of your home can be huge. “It’s a major selling point to be able to say your property is ‘architect designed.’ So often the spaces work much better when they’re worked on professionally and people know that,” says Martin Bikhit, managing director at central London estate agents Kay & Co. “People are more aware of space now. It’s not just size, it’s the quality, too. An architect can help you get that right”

Meanwhile, says Bikhit, a bad renovation can actually be counterproductive. “People think they are saving money by doing it themslevs, but buyers are put off by paying a renovation premium for a property they have to correct.”

And, the benefits to the long-term value of your home can be huge. “A bad renovation can be counterproductive to a sale because buyers are put off paying a premium for a property where they will have to correct the work. You see so many examples where people have saved money going straight to the builders not done it well.” says Martin Bikhit, managing director at Key & Co. “To be able to say ‘architect designed’ is a major selling point, so often if the layout is re-jigged it can make the space work so much better. People aren’t just interested in space any more, it’s quality of space and an architect can help you get that right” –ENDS-