Our self-builder clients share hands-on experience

Thibaut Devulder
Appointing an architect has been one of the most valuable expenses of the project. I guess that it varies with the architecture practice you are working with, but for our project, 2hD have worked perfectly and have created a home totally adapted to our lifestyle and our constraints. Nothing to do with our original basic plans, nothing at all. Everything was taken into accounts: daylight, connections between the spaces, their volumes and their different levels...
Béranger Hau, client and self-builder for our Gabillou barn conversion project

Our client building the new staircase of the converted barn, using massive oak boards sourced from a local sawmill. 

With now ten years of experience as self-builder, transforming a old stone barn in Dordogne (France) into their dream home, our clients Béranger and Mélanie look back at their amazing achievements.

Over these years they have realised virtually all aspects of the building process themselves — from groundworks and water recycling system, to carpentry and furniture making. They have now decided to give back to the self-building community by sharing all their experience in a great article on their project blog (in French), touching on subjects as varied as project planning, finance and tips on how to not hurt your back on a building site...

2hD started to work as architects on this project as soon as Béranger and Mélanie purchased the run-down stone barn, back in 2006. And we have worked hand-in-hand with them ever-since: helping them define a solid project brief, developing sketch design alternatives, selecting adapted and affordable technical solutions, but also creating custom 3D models of the barn to guide them through the self-build construction process.

Amazingly attentive to details and quality, they are now proud owners of a stunning home, as well as experienced carpenters, plumbers, furniture makers and SketchUp 3D modellers! And they even received an award for their work...

Discussing the usefulness of working with architects in self-build projects, this is what our client Béranger has to say:

In the end, even if your project is not as large as ours and does not (legally) require an architect, we strongly advise you to appoint one. You will have all the drawings, and thus a definite vision of what your home can be. And this brings a lot in terms of motivation and anticipation.
Béranger Hau, client and self-builder for our Gabillou barn conversion project

You can read the full article on our client's project blog.

Can architectural skills help save a local landmark?

Tom Hughes

Tom and Chris have been working with a 'community alliance' in Sneinton, Nottingham.  A local historic building, much loved by the community, is under threat of demolition. We've offered our community engagement and architectural skills to "dOSH" (Development of the Old School Hall) which has formed to find a sustainable use for the site.

Bringing the community together to share knowledge and ideas.

The Old School Hall building dates from the 1840s. Originally a school standing on the boundary between Sneinton and Nottingham, the building served generations of pupils. When in the 1960s a new modern school was opened just up the road, the Old School Hall community centre was created on the site. Many local residents have positive associations with the building as both a school and community centre, so the news that it had closed, and would face demolition, came as a significant blow.

Through his work with Sneinton Neighbourhood Forum, meeting with local Councillors, residents and community groups, Tom helped to arrange a public meeting to bring together all interested people and groups. The strategy was to ensure good information was in the public realm about the threat faced by the building, and to find out whether there was an appetite to try and save the building or to reuse the site for another purpose. The Council had revealed that the building would require a significant investment to make it safe for use and for refurbishment. Despite this, a strong will was identified to try and find a new use for the building, retaining some element of community access whilst securing a viable income stream to maintain the building for the future

Tom attended these meetings and helped the group to come together, structured appropriately as an 'Unincorporated Association' with a clearly defined remit: "To help save the Old School Hall by meeting to discuss feasibility and develop ideas arising from the community to create a business plan". He also researched the history of the site, created posters, spread the word through social media and set up a website and blog for the dOSH group: www.doshsneinton.org.uk

By happy coincidence at this point, Chris was putting the word out to community groups, offering free consultancy as part of his research at Nottingham Trent University. He has been advising the dOSH group on understanding the existing building, seeking advice on the structural stability and condition including liaising with structural engineers and reviewing existing condition reports.

The challenges facing the group are extensive, but the collaborative approach we have helped to foster, in getting organised and understanding both problems and visions, has started things off on the right foot.


The groups represented in dOSH include:

In the snow

Thibaut Devulder

The Hvitsten cabin under construction, in the snow...

From the window niche in the play area, overlooking the snowy approach and the existing annex cabins

Hvitsten — a seaside resort on the Oslo fjord where we are redesigning a cabin — can still be pretty cold in winter. Yesterday's visit to the building site showed me an aspect of the project I hadn't experienced yet: the summer cabin in the snow.

Part of the client's brief was to make the cabin comfortable to use all year round, so I could finally put our design to test, overlooking the snowy landscape from its cosy interior.

The interior is nearing completion and the new oak-clad storage wall was being installed, with its integrated kitchen and window niche in the play area.

The new kitchen and storage wall being installed

Construction work started in summer cabin

Thibaut Devulder

First site visit to our seaside cabin redesign project in Hvitsten, where construction work started a few weeks ago. The new interior spaces are starting to take shape...

Portfolio project
A seaside cabin in Hvitsten

Thibaut Devulder

Sketch impression of the remodeled cabin, looking at the fjord from the playroom

We love to design cabins, as they bring together so many of our design interests.

First, our predilection for architecture in remote (and often sensitive) natural locations, to create small thresholds where man meets nature, where minimal environmental footprint and limited access call for an economy of means.

And we are fond of designing tiny spaces — creating places rich in human interactions and intricate functions where people can really "key in" with the architecture, bringing back the simple joy of being together, sheltered from the elements.

But as importantly, cabins also act as social nodes where the complex community of the different generations in a family or in a group of friends congregate, each with their different needs, expectations and desires, making for a challenging but fascinating briefing process.

This redesign of a seaside cabin in Hvitsten, on the shore of the Oslo fjord, brought all these aspects together and was a nice counterpoint to our earlier design of a skiing winter cabin in the mountains of Hedmark.

A small stream flowing between the existing cabins

About the project

As is often the case with Norwegian cabins, our clients for this project spanned over three generations. Initially built in the 1950s by the great-grandfather, the summer cabin and its small sleeping annex have been used ever since by the family for spring and summer holidays.

The extended families are now struggling to all fit in the cabins, which has become both too small and in need of repair. Now retired, the grandfather and his partner also want to use the cabin a lot more throughout the year, so they needed the uninsulated cabin to be upgraded for the winter climate and wished to have a real bathroom installed.

All had cherished childhood memories of the cabin and wanted to preserve as much of its exterior aspect and rustic character as possible. So, their requirement to comfortably fit in up to twelve sleeping guests for occasional extended family gatherings called for inventive remodelling and renovation, considering their tight budget!

Looking at the existing cabins

Perched against a steep rocky hillside overlooking the sea, the cabins face south-west into a breathtaking view of the Oslo fjord and its slow ballet of sailboats and cruise ships.

The Oslo fjord, as seen from the main cabin

Plans of the existing cabins

In the main cabin, the small living room actually had a large window opening towards the fjord, but the kitchen and meal area — central to family life in the cabin — were situated behind it, in the darkest part of space of cabin, right against the rock face to the north. The other facades of the cabin were essentially blind because of a small hallway and the two bedrooms to the west. As a result, the main daytime social spaces had no visual connection with either the covered porch to the south-west or the sleeping cabin to the west, both of them often used in the mornings and evenings for informal meals and drinks.

Typical of spaces with light coming from only one direction, this configuration made the living room and meal area appear strangely gloomy, as the large window created a glare effect in contrast with the other darker and unlit interior surfaces. Built to look straight onto the fjord through this large window, the space had only short interior perspectives, making it appear more cramped and small than it actually was.

Situated a few meters downhill and to the west, the sleeping annex had a quiet simplicity to it, nested in the overgrown vegetation and straddling a small stream in the rocks. Unfortunately, an improvised shower had been installed inside a few years back without proper ventilation and created damp problems, so that in addition to being overcrowded, its sleeping rooms had also become uncomfortable.

Welcoming everyone

The initial plan was to integrate the existing porch into the main cabin, to create an extra bedroom. While this made sense to accommodate more guests, we all agreed that this compounded some of the existing problems, in particular closing off the main cabin from the fjord.

From two to fourteen sleeping guests! (click for full size) 

Turning the problem around, we actually removed one bedroom from the main cabin, thus keeping only one for the most frequent occupants of the cabin: the grand-father and his partner.

We carefully checked the feasibility of our proposal by preparing a comprehensive list of use scenarios, from one couple to up to fourteen sleeping guests! We found that moving the shower out of the sleeping annex, ventilating it properly and making some slight adjustments to its interior layout and bedding would allow eight people to comfortably sleep there. All this could be done at minimum cost, so that most of the available budget could be dedicated to the main cabin.

Now remained the task of optimising the shared daytime spaces in the main cabin. And this was essential: every parent can imagine the intense atmosphere when up to three families, including young children, are stuck together indoors for a whole rainy afternoon! Thus, in addition to creating functional living quarters, we also needed to organise sub-spaces within this small cabin, so that everyone could define his or her comfortable own space.

A niche in the rocks

We approached this task from two different angles.

Our design strategy for the remodelling the main cabin, drawn over the plan of the existing cabin (click for full size).

First, we created two different sub-spaces: one for the adults, facing the fjord, more social and relaxing, and one more playful for the children, cradled against the vegetation of the shaded cliff face. These two spaces intersect around the dinner table, the natural converging point for the whole family.

Then, we connected these spaces to the outdoors by nesting these sub-spaces around generous openings — not just towards the fjord, but also towards the sleeping cabin wrapped in overgrown vegetation down to the west, the mossy rocks at the north and the sunbathed terrace to the south — to create a dual feeling of spaciousness and enclosure.

Sketch impression of the remodeled seaside cabin, looking across the living room

Although the main living space remains compact, it feels opened to the light patterns and textures of its natural surroundings.

Frequently eating out during the summer months, the kitchen and dining area extend out onto a terrace that is stepping down, so as to maintain unobstructed views of the sea horizon, even when terrace parasols are used or the large awning on the south facade is deployed. The terrace also acts as a connecting point between the main cabin, the play garden and the shaded path to the sleeping cabin.

The proposed plan for the main cabin (click for full size)

Fitting it all together

Space was very limited inside the main cabin, so we concentrated most of the storage along the west wall, designed as a large oak surface perforated by the kitchen and large window niche where children can sit and play. To make sure that everything fitting nicely, we produced a detailed specification for these densely fitted interior — both in Norwegian and in English, at the clients' request.

We love to involve our clients in the building process. And since one of them is keen on woodworking, we had a design session together to develop together the design of open screen between kitchen and sitting, which also will also integrate coat/shoe storage, seating, a book shelf and the TV equipment. He will later on build it himself.

The very basic existing drainage and electric systems were upgraded to cater for the new bathroom and appliances. The cladding was damaged and needed replacing, so we insulated the whole building fabric and fitted new energy-efficient windows. Along with a flexible shading system and ample provisions for natural ventilation, our clients will be able to enjoy their cabin all-year round!


New light filled heart to a 1920s home

Tom Hughes

Our strategic approach to the remodel of a 1920s home was to carve out a new space at the centre- relinking areas of the house that for reasons of class had originally been divided into servant and served.

Into this void would go a contemporary stair, a strong element in its own right but designed to direct space- creating important spatial links and sightlines.

The existing stained-glass steel framed window to the south elevation remains in place, pouring light into the new heart of the house.

Deep in the Forest of Acro

Thibaut Devulder

We've given you a clear idea about your destination, and working with the builder, engineer and others we've mapped out a route to get you there. But when embarking on a remodelling project there's often no way round the forest of 'acrow props' that will temporarily invade your space.

This cottage remodel will open up three poky little rooms into a decent living space and connected kitchen. Opening up space like this can transform a house but the joys of open plan living can quickly die if it's not right for your lifestyle- we always try to balance the breathing space and light created by larger spaces with the functionality and feeling of security offered by cellular rooms. This approach brings out the best in existing buildings and delivers spaces that meet our client's needs.

Invented in 1935 by a Swiss engineer, the Acrow Prop provides adjustable temporary support for the existing structure while new elements such as beams and coloumns are inserted. Their appearance signals a major advance in the project, but the Forest of Acrow can seem a gloomy and threatening place too. Things get more complex by the day, the route can be hard to see and final destination feels further away than ever. Time to look at those visualisations again and keep moving forward- end results like this will be worth it!

Into the void: 1920s house remodel gets off the drawing board

Tom Hughes

A remodel project is usually a messy thing when it starts on site — plenty of dust and disruption as things get worse before they get better. However, the first steps of this project have presented a glimpse of how much better the house will be when the work is complete: with the removal of the stairs and jumble of storage rooms at the core of the house, new views have opened up from ground level to the underside of the roof.

The creation of a new heart to the house is a key part of our design, reconnecting rooms on each side of the building and linking-in a new loft space above. It's rewarding to see evidence of the value the design will bring at such an early stage. 

For the background to the design, see our previous post about upgrading a 1920s house.

Portfolio project
Tune house

Thibaut Devulder

We converted a derelict building on the bank of Mjøsa, Norway's largest lake, into an artist home with a large integrated workshop.

Reusing the concrete structure — an usual asset in Norwegian housing! — we created a focused work space, linked to a open plan apartment that takes in the beautiful views to the lake and its surrounding hillsides.


Portfolio project
Upgrading a 1920s house

Tom Hughes

This project is currently on the drawing board in the practice, and we thought it worth sharing some interesting aspects of the process so far.

We started out with a client with a beautiful property... that is unfortunately an energy guzzler and has a layout that just doesn't work for the family's lifestyle. The house features a half-timbered front and an interior with many Art Deco, Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts features. The rear elevation however has many problems with the detailing and a too-hot/too-cold (and out of keeping) conservatory.

With ambitious ideas for remodeling and extending, and a great set of intentions to create a sustainable and energy efficient building we straight away knew that this was a client with whom we could do something special. We also know that these kinds of great ideas can sometimes clash with the realities of programme and budget, so we agreed with our clients that the first step would be holistic: to develop an architectural strategy hand-in-hand with budget costings and a sustainability assessment.

We brought Hockerton Housing Project in to create a 'Home Energy Masterplan' for the property. They thoroughly surveyed the existing fabric and identified cost-effective and practical methods to improve the energy performance of the building. Their report identified measures and payback times for a range of approaches, from the 'no brainer' moves that would pay off straight away to the 'green halo' measures that improve sustainability but might not pay off for years or even decades to come. 

We took that information and worked with Branch Construction, an environmentally aware building company, to develop budget costing and buildability strategies on a number of different design options. Having worked out what the current problems were with the house, we developed some ideas for solving them and creating an amazing new home for our client. This centres around a completely remodeled core to the house, linking front to back and interior to garden.

 

Finally, we rated the options for cost/buildability, sustainability and design – presenting the conclusions as an architectural strategy report. You candownload a public version of this report.

This thorough-going approach has helped our client through some tough decisions on the project scope, and the trade-offs between cost, sustainability and payback time. Having established a scheme that can be completed as a Permitted Development (not requiring planning permission) we are now developing the project into the detailed design stage.


2hD in RIBA journal

Thibaut Devulder

A great article on East Midlands regional architecture practice has appeared in the Journal of the Royal Institute of British Architects. It features 2hD's Alina Hughes talking about her dual roles in practice and education, and the importance for the region of retaining talented graduates.

Portfolio project
1 Thoresby Street art space

Tom Hughes

Nottingham has a thriving arts scene, and over the last few years there has been a swell of artist-led studios and galleries.

We’ve had a chance to find out more by getting involved with the 1 Thoresby Street building, part of BioCity where the Stand Assembly artist studios, and the influential Moot gallery (which recently disbanded) have been given space. It’s a vibrant place with artist studios and several galleries from the poster-sized Keep Floors and Passages Clear, to the bedroom sized Trade to the 180m2 attic space. It was the Reading Room for the fantastic Hinterland project, a base for experiments in projection from Annexinema and is now the base and a major venue for the upcoming Sideshow — the British Art Show fringe event.

We’ve been helping the artists to get to grips with their building, making something workable, safe and with a strong identity on a minimal budget and, with the future of the building uncertain due to development and road widening plans, probably temporary. It’s a work in progress and an association with the art scene in Nottingham that we hope will continue. For us, it has also spawned a collaboration with artist Tristan Hessing on a piece for the Lincolnshire coast.

At 1 Thoresby Street an empty, wasted and forlorn building has had new life breathed in to it. We urge you to get down there to catch some Sideshow events, which run from 22 October to 18 December.