Last week our Founder and Lead Architect, Ashleigh Clarke, sat down with the wonderful team at Sharvell Properties to discuss designing beautiful spaces in the Cotswolds and what to expect when working with an architect for their latest journal feature – Designing beautiful spaces in the Cotswolds – Q&A with Ashleigh Clarke Architects’
How would you describe your design philosophy?
Every architectural design is a balancing act between form and function. Essentially, we believe in creating spaces that are designed for living. We believe that buildings are homes as well as houses and we’re ambitious in our architecture but practical in approach. Our design philosophy combines what we believe are the essential elements of unique design, longevity, sustainability, bespoke, luxury detailing and function over form.
Talk us through your design process.
As a RIBA Chartered Practice, our process sits in accordance with the RIBA Plan of Work – the Industry-standard planning method that details each step of the process in a building, construction or design project. It can be daunting, but we have extensive experience and have a deeply collaborative approach with our clients and specialist consultants. During the briefing stage, we create the overall concept designs. The first and vital step is the initial call with our clients, followed by the initial site visit to meet the client and view the property or proposed site. The walk-through at our client’s home is a hugely important part of the process. It’s always a privilege to be invited into someone’s home and as we walk through, we can suggest new options for our clients to consider, and most importantly, we listen to their needs and wants.
As part of our process, we carry out a feasibility study, which confirms whether the project is possible from a structural or environmental point of view. We then present our preliminary costing with our fee proposal for our clients to review. We believe in allowing our clients plenty of time to take things into consideration, to really think about our proposal, and reach their own conclusion as to whether we’re the right fit for their project.
Upon advice to proceed, we arrange the building and topographical survey which is followed by the presentation of our concept design. Once the survey’s been received, we draw up our full design proposals and continue through the stages of obtaining planning permission and building regulations.
What would be your biggest tip when choosing an architect to work with?
To go with your gut feeling. It’s a close, collaborative working relationship and architecture is about trust. As architects, we walk away at the end of the project, but the client will be living in that space every day. Trust and a collaborative approach need to be there right from the beginning. The project can be a long journey from start to finish so it’s important to find a working and friendly relationship knowing you can work well together.
It’s also important to find an architect with the right skill set and expertise who has worked on projects similar to yours that might require further considerations such as designing in a conservation area, the AONB, or experience working with listed buildings.
As the client, you should research the architect’s portfolio and make sure their work is in line with your ambitions for your house. It doesn’t have to be one design the architect has created on one house, there might be elements of several designs they’ve created which influence your decision. This is probably the starting point to narrow down your search for the right architect for you.
What’s your favourite part of the process when you’re working on a project?
Finding out what our clients love during the early part of the design process, putting pen to paper, overcoming challenges whilst designing and then without a doubt, seeing our designs come to life! We love the challenge of a new project and coming up with innovative, bespoke design solutions and of course seeing our clients happy in their dream home is always fantastic.
Tell us about a recent project.
We were commissioned by our clients to design an ambitious side and rear extension for their beautiful, detached home.
Our initial brief was very clear, and our clients were keen to use the newly-created additional space for a more spacious living and garden room which connected seamlessly with the garden and patio area.
Our clients loved the design from the first sketch, which allowed for the large living room with the fire that they requested to create a beautiful focal point. The large glazed panels on the rear of the property floods the interiors with natural light and are hidden away from the front elevation, allowing our clients to retain their privacy whilst also providing a real sense of indoor/outdoor living and connectivity to the new patio space and surrounding gardens.
On the front elevation, the house was beautifully balanced, and followed the roof pitch lines of the existing house. On the rear elevation, a flat roof was hidden and expanded the entirety of the side extension to allow for a large living space connected to the rear garden that you wouldn’t know is there.
We love how we achieved this large space which met our client’s needs but the feature we’re most proud of is the large full-width glazing and the glazed panel feature above the doors which provides a sleek contemporary design and carefully hides the flat roof behind. This contrast between contemporary and traditional design worked really well and provided a beautiful aesthetic.
What do you think makes a house a home?
A space which is not only aesthetically beautiful, but functional and serves the lifestyle of its inhabitants.
Everybody understands what we mean by ‘soulless architecture’ – a house or a workplace where your heart sinks a little every time you walk through the door. As architects, we believe that architecture should aspire to be so much more and inspire its inhabitants with a space that is perfectly designed to not only meet their practical needs, but to also bring harmony to their home.
What are some architecture trends you’re already noticing for 2023?
In recent years, creating beautiful living spaces which are flooded with natural light has been a priority so we expect to see this trend continue as well as the desire for open-plan living. Combining traditional features such as oak framework and Cotswold stone with contemporary design features with extensive glazing and metal framework will also continue to prevail as a trend into 2023. Trends will be driven towards designs that allow for more flexible spaces, more floor space, and storage. Indoor/outdoor living and outdoor-inspired interiors are increasingly sought after and we’ll continue to see the upward trend for biophilic design which maximises our connectivity with the outdoor environment. Another key trend is that of customised interiors such as gyms, entertainment spaces, home cinemas and luxury games rooms.
Where do you get your design inspiration from?
Growing up, I was constantly drawing, painting or modelling and I took real inspiration from the world I saw around me and recreating it in a different medium. Now as an adult and being a Cotswold architect, I love the beauty and the artistic freedom that the landscape brings and it’s a constant source of inspiration to me. It’s always incredibly satisfying to design spaces that inspire people and bring a sense of calm.
Specialising in Cotswolds homes, you must work with a lot of listed buildings, conservation areas and of course, the AONB. What are the challenges with that?
We love being based in the beautiful Cotswolds but there are challenges we face as architects in a rural setting. Listed buildings, conservation areas and the AONB all mean that additional permissions need to be obtained. With both conservation areas and the AONB it’s essential that our designs are both sensitive to the surrounding landscape and sympathetic to the existing structure of the original building, maximising views through contemporary extensions and glass links which also combine original features such as oak beams and framework.
Creating a separate dwelling that links to an original part of a building of historic importance helps to preserve the original features and stonework whilst also lending a contemporary twist that is sympathetic to its surroundings.
National Parks can also be a challenge in certain rural areas, and they currently have the highest level of planning protection in order to preserve the landscape and its unique qualities. As with AONB status, it’s imperative to consider the impact of any planning applications on the character of the existing landscape. Planning approval is needed for extensions, cladding, verandas or balconies, certain raised platforms, curtilage structures, certain roof lights, with materials required to be consistent with the existing materials used in the surrounding area.
A lot of our projects involve works to existing Cotswold traditional buildings, many of them Listed or historic properties with requirements tending to lean towards additional space and increasing natural light. This extends far beyond the actual design itself. We carefully select materials that are sympathetic to and in keeping with the existing structure and are locally sourced.
There are essentially a much larger number of additional factors that need to be carefully considered in the initial design process before planning is submitted.
What should people consider when revamping their homes?
When it comes to revamping your home there are a number of considerations to make such as what you ideally want to achieve eg more storage space, living space, an increase in natural light etc and what limitations there may be with your existing home.
There are also a number of different ways to achieve your design goals. You may be able to extend your property to allow for more modern, open-plan living spaces with lots of natural light and additional living spaces such as snugs, bedrooms, utility rooms, and boot rooms.
You may be able to create better connectivity with the surrounding landscape and gardens to create a real sense of space and indoor/outdoor living through incorporating extensive glazing and lantern roof lights as well as biophilic design features.
Reconfiguring your home to improve the existing layout, whilst using clever design details to maximise both storage and floor space where possible can be a relatively simple approach to the problem of lack of space.
Modernising interior spaces, specifically with regard to a new kitchen if needed as not only is it often the heart of a family home, but along with bathrooms, it is one of the most important rooms in terms of appeal for prospective buyers. Improving your property’s ‘curb appeal’ with a new porch and features such as a gated front entrance can also have a significant impact.
It’s always worth speaking to an architect as they can often flag any issues that may arise with your proposed plans as well as offering alternative design solutions that you may not have thought of previously, whilst being able to provide invaluable guidance throughout the planning process.