In his first di­ary, ar­chi­tect Paul Testa dis­cusses why he chose to retro­fit a 1960s house rather than build his own home

Homebuilding & Renovating - - ON SITE -

Iwould love to build my own home; what ar­chi­tect wouldn’t? How­ever, find­ing land at an af­ford­able price is one of the big­gest hur­dles for any­one look­ing to self-build. So when my wife and I de­cided to em­bark on a project, we did look for a plot but couldn’t find any­thing in the ar­eas of Sh­effield where we wanted to live.

Luck­ily, I also have a soft spot for retro­fit and re­mod­elling — I love the idea of tak­ing an ex­ist­ing struc­ture and ex­tend­ing its life. True, it’s not nec­es­sar­ily cheaper (es­pe­cially when you fac­tor in VAT) but it cer­tainly has less car­bon cost than build­ing from scratch.

So we started look­ing for a house with po­ten­tial. For me this meant some­thing mid-20th cen­tury. I much pre­fer the look, lay­out and space stan­dards of ’60s/70s houses than their later equiv­a­lents.

They’re also blessed with huge win­dows so are al­ready light-filled and feel gen­er­ous. We didn’t want to buy any­thing much older as the re­stric­tions on what you can do, ei­ther in terms of leg­is­la­tion – or our own moral stan­dards – are of­ten likely to be much greater.

A house of this age is also likely to be built with mod­ern con­struc­tion and ma­te­ri­als. This makes things more straight­for­ward and is less likely to throw up sig­nif­i­cant un­knowns dur­ing the build.

Only time will tell on that one.

I would have pre­ferred to buy a de­tached house as this tends to make retro­fit eas­ier; you don’t have a party wall to con­tend with. How­ever, when we saw this place (above) on the mar­ket

we de­cided to go and see it. The house is close to great schools (how im­por­tant does this be­come once you have kids!), the neigh­bour­hood is lovely, and the views across to Wharn­cliffe woods - one of my favourite moun­tain bike lo­ca­tions - are stun­ning. North Sh­effield is also still a pretty cheap place to buy, es­pe­cially com­pared to the south west of the city.

The house is right for us and our retro­fit plans in many ways. It hasn’t re­ally had any mod­erni­sa­tion since it was built in 1968. The electrics and heat­ing sys­tem need re­plac­ing, it has two ex­ten­sions al­ready - but they’re badly con­ceived (and built) so are also ripe for re­place­ment - and it’s cer­tainly not warm or ef­fi­cient to heat.

This has made the last five years in the house less com­fort­able and slightly frus­trat­ing. We have, though, had plenty of time to think and re­think about the way we use spa­ces. We def­i­nitely know what works and what doesn’t, and we’ve stretched the life of things like the boiler to their ab­so­lute limit. We now have the op­por­tu­nity to re­con­fig­ure ev­ery­thing to suit the way we live as a fam­ily.

It’s been a long time get­ting to this point; I started sur­vey­ing and draw­ing the house to de­velop de­signs back in 2014. Now four years on we’re ready to get started. The fam­ily are all re­ally ex­cited to see the project de­velop over the next few months.


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