CHOOSING THE RIGHT PROJECT
In his first diary, architect Paul Testa discusses why he chose to retrofit a 1960s house rather than build his own home
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.
NEXT MONTH: RETROFITTING BEGINS