Thanks for visting Simply The Nest. I'm an English girl married to an Portuguese boy, and when I'm not working or taking care of our three adorable daughters, I blog about our house renovation, DIY projects, and family life in a Victorian Manchester nest.

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Architect and Builder Recommendation for South Manchester

Also known as... how on earth do you get started with a build project. When we were planning our kitchen-diner extension, I didn't have a clue how to go about it. I spent hours reading internet forums where people were talking about architects, structural engineers, planning, builders, technicians, glass calculations... there seemed to be so many different ways to go about things and I couldn't work out which one was best for us.

Architect and builder reccomendation for south Manchester by Simply The Nest, a UK DIY and renovation blog Gibson Architects and Tipi Construction

Having eventually worked out an approach that resulted in an extension that we're absolutely delighted with that came in within 1% of the planned budget, I thought I'd write down how we did it, in case it helps anyone reading this in future.

Design and Drawings

We decided to work with a local RIBA architect, Dan Gibson from Gibson Architects. I found Dan from a google search, met him in person, spoke on the phone to a couple of his previous clients, and visited a property he had designed in the local area to see his work in person. Dan is a wonderfully creative architect who understands how people actually live in their houses and move around them, which is a key differentiator in my opinion.

Now, you don't have to work with an architect at all, as there are other professions that can do the drawings and calculations required to get planning permission. We chose to do so for several reasons:

  • Our house is complex with different levels on the ground floor, and larger rooms on one side of the house with more of a rabbit warren on the other side. We knew that we wanted to do something much more complicated than simply adding a box on the side of the house and knocking through to it (if the latter is all you want to do, then using an architect might be overkill).
  • We were investing a reasonable amount of money into our forever home, and wanted to avoid making expensive mistakes.
  • Neither of us are experts in house design, layouts and architecture.

Dan visited our house, spent time with us talking about how we wanted to use the space, and came up with a few different options. He made a few design suggestions such as retaining a chimney breast (that I would have expected to remove) that both saved us money and cleverly allowed the kitchen utility space to wrap behind the chimney breast making it invisible from the main dining area, therefore solving my 'how to hide the dirty dishes from view in an open-plan room'. I would never have thought of doing this myself, but it works brilliantly in practice. He designed the kitchen layout, and ensured the internal measurement of the room would precisely fit the new Ikea kitchen.

Dan also designed the external space to blend the new white render with old reclaimed brick, and a deck with steps down from the bifolds to the main curved deck area. Again, the idea of steps down to the deck rather than having the deck on the same level as the main house is something I would never have thought of myself, and even to the point of having it built I wasn't sure if it was the right thing to do (as we have cellars, the main house is raised significantly above ground level). But I trusted Dan's vision and of course he was right - we absolutely love sitting on our steps outside the bifolds drinking espresso in the morning sunshine. If the deck had been on the same level as the house, it would have looked like a giant fortress and would have felt completely separate from the garden. With Dan's design, it all flows seamlessly and we love it. Clever Dan :-)

Architect and builder reccomendation for south Manchester by Simply The Nest, a UK DIY and renovation blog Gibson Architects and Tipi Construction

Dan designed to the budget we set him, and his prediction was pretty accurate.

We had two sets of drawings done at this stage. The main drawings done by Dan and his team showing the current and future floor plans and elevations, and a structural drawing done by a structural engineer showing the foundations, steels and glass. When the engineer did the glass calculations he told us that we had to reduce the size of an internal window, but the rest of the design was spot on.

Tendering and Costs

Having received planning permission, I wrote down every single thing that we wanted done as part of the project, from the requirement to place architectural salvage from the property in our cellar (instead of removing it and selling it on as some builders do), to the need to level the height of the floorboards in the old building with the cement tiles in the new building. Dan produced detailed specifications for things like windows and bifolds, and an electrical/lighting layout. This all got packaged up into a set of tender documents for builders to quote from.

The downside of this is that the documents went into so much detail that lots of builders simply didn't bother giving us quotes, as we'd provided too much information for them to get away with a 'broadbrush builder estimate'. The plus side is that our lovely builder Tom went through the pack with a fine tooth comb and came up with a provisional quote that was so accurate that we ultimately came in within 1% of the predicted costs.

Architect and builder reccomendation for south Manchester by Simply The Nest, a UK DIY and renovation blog Gibson Architects and Tipi Construction

So overall it was worth going to the trouble of specifying so much in advance, even though it did scare quite a few builders off. I can't imagine going into a project without knowing how much it was actually going to cost, and it was quite an eye-opener to see how much could be priced in advance. We were also lucky in that there were very few unexpected costs (we didn't encounter any problems with the foundations; the house was structurally sound and didn't require any unexpected works; and so on), but we kept a 10% contingency budget just in case.

Project Management

Andre and I both have project management backgrounds but there's no way we could have taken on something like this. Tom the builder acted as the PM for our project (in addition to taking a hands-on build role), which meant he sourced and booked all the trades and materials, made sure everything turned up at the right time in the right order, gave all the instructions, quality-assessed the implementation, and dealt with any problems. I can't even imagine the headache of having to do that yourself. I've done all the procurement for the kitchen installation that we're in the middle of right now, and it has taken up SO MUCH TIME. As a side-note, Dan the architect would also have provided this PM service, or a contract management service, but we felt it was easier to have Tom do it, and for us to deal with Tom directly.

We loved our builders and would recommend them to anyone in the Manchester area - Tom Hiscox from Tipi Construction.

So overall, our approach was to use an architect first, then a structural engineer recommended by the architect, and then a builder that we found independently. Tom the builder used his own structural engineer on site, which I was happy with, as they were both accustomed to working together. I know friends who started with the builder, who then recommended an engineer to do the drawings, and skipped the architect altogether. So there's lots of different ways to go about it, but the choices we made were definitely right for our project.

Any questions, please get in touch via my Contact Me form.


Living Room Renovation Featuring Hannah Nunn Wallpaper

Holy moly, we did it. In just over a month we completely renovated our living room. It now looks like this:

Hannah Nunn Paper Meadow Teal by Simply The Nest, a UK renovation blog

When only last month it looked like this:

We have three kids, three dogs and full-time jobs, so renovation is something that usually has to be done after hours once the girls have all gone to sleep. We both worked from 8pm to midnight nearly every night for a month, and I also cleared out with the kids for 8 hours on a couple of Saturdays while Andre cracked on with sanding the floors (which took ages courtesy of the usual black sticky stuff that those blasted Victorians loved to coat the exposed parts of their floorboards in). Normally a room renovation in our house takes us months of working on it on and off, so getting it done so quickly was fantastic, albeit completely exhausting!

Hannah Nunn Paper Meadow Teal by Simply The Nest, a UK renovation blog

We had installed insulation from the cellar room before a couple of winters previously, so at least that job was taken care of. So all we had to do was rip the wallpaper off and replaster the dodgy patches, demo the old 80s fireplace out to reveal the soot-blackened original Victorian opening, replaster around the curve of the fireplace, rip the carpet up and repair, sand and oil the floor, rip the 80s curtains down, prime and paint 20m of skirting, 20m of picture rail, a massive bay window and a multi-panelled stained glass side window, paint the cornice and ceiling, and finally wallpaper the entire room from floor to ceiling. Phew.

We used the incredibly gorgeous Paper Meadow wallpaper from UK designer Hannah Nunn that I have been dreaming of ever since I picked up a sample from Hannah at a design show in Manchester over three years ago. I knew that using a paper this lovely for a feature wall only would be doing it an injustice. No, the entire room had to be papered on all four walls, above and below the picture rail, in order to truly experience the sensation of lying in a meadow on a warm summer's day surrounded by waving cow parsley and grasses.  

A couple more after (and before) pictures:

Some tips on wallpapering. I am no expert in wallpaper so these well may only apply to Hannah's paper, which is of a particularly thick and luxurious quality.

Don't worry about getting paste on the front of the paper - it wipes off without a trace with a damp cloth.

If you are papering a wonky Victorian room, don't rely on a tape measure to take a measurement and then transfer it to the paper. Our picture rail and skirting are all uneven, meaning a piece of wallpaper sometimes had to be 2cm longer on the left than the right. We found that the easiest way to avoid mistakes was to physically hold the roll in place against the wall, match the pattern, press the end against the picture rail or whatever we were cutting against, mark with a pencil, lay the roll on the floor, and then rule a line in pencil about 1cm above the mark.

We initially tried to make all our pencil marks on the reverse of the paper so the front didn't get damaged, but quickly realised this was leading to errors and that the pencil rubbed off with an eraser very easily, so we switched to marking up on the front.

I initially tried making paper templates from a roll of brown paper for the fireplace, window, power sockets and so on. Having got the template right, we then transferred it to the wallpaper. This didn't work - because we had a long drop of paper the top would be right but the bottom wouldn't. So we just used the actual roll of wallpaper, pressed it against the opening, marked it up with pencil, cut to roughly the right size, pressed it against the opening again, cut it to 1cm, and then pasted.

Hannah Nunn Paper Meadow Teal by Simply The Nest, a UK renovation blog

To accommodate corners like the top of window frames or the side of a windowsill, I used a pair of fine nail scissors and made lots of tiny cuts into the wallpaper that feathered round the corner or angle. These were then very easy to press into place and any overlaps were so small they couldn't be seen.

We left about 1cm of overhang at the top and bottom of the walls. Any more and we found the paper didn't stick properly at the top. I then waited until we'd papered the entire room and the paste had dried, and then went round with a stanley knife and a steel ruler cutting a precise line above the skirting and below the picture rail and cornice. I've tried cutting wallpaper before when it is still damp and it tends to tear - waiting until it's completely dry seems to work better.

By our standards, this room is now 'done'. Yes we still need to add the last couple of bits of skirting, tile the hearth, make and hang curtains, install a new fire surround or beam, buy sofas, side tables, cabinets and cushions, hang pictures and mirrors... and so on. But those things are all details that can come later - the room is definitely 'finished' enough to live with for a good while.

I was not sorry to see the back of the fireplace, let me tell you.

Hannah Nunn Paper Meadow Teal by Simply The Nest, a UK renovation blog

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Theme for 2017 - Organise

I'm writing this post sitting in a (new to us) love seat that my husband's friend donated to us on New Year's Eve, as you do, in our newly wallpapered living room, with our Christmas tree lights twinkling away because it's not Twelfth Night yet so I'm stubbornly clinging onto it, dropping pine needles and all. I'm also slurping on a prosecco cos my husband just passed it to me; there goes my vague plan to do dry January. Oh and I have a four month old puppy on my knee, three daughters sleeping away upstairs, and the Instagram Rug of Dreams on the floor in front of me. So all is good.

Our giant tree beast plus rug on Christmas Eve.

I like to pick a theme for the coming year. Last year's theme was 'Expand'. More on that later. Andre voted for this year's theme to be 'Relaaaaax'. Sorry to manage your expectations, darling, but there isn't going to be much relaxation going on round here, at least not until we install the kitchen and I no longer have to run down to the cellar every time we need an extra prosecco glass, which happens a lot cos we drink a lot of prosecco (dry January was never realistically going to be a thing, was it).

So, this year's theme will be 'Organise'.

We've expanded the family and now need to juggle three daughters and three dogs. And after living in our house for nearly five years we've finally built our long-anticipated extension and can now put in place some permanent solutions to deal with the chaos of busy family life with two full-time working parents.

I think it's important to understand what each of us needs to feel a sense of inner peace. Apart from the obvious things, for me it's having an alphabetised spice rack (or possibly by cooking genre? Decisions, decisions), a clear dining table with no random crap littered all over it, and not having to run upstairs at the last minute to grab a cardigan/pair of socks/dog when you're trying to head out the door for the event that you're inevitably late for. I'm sure there are some people who are happy with a mountain of shoes at the front door but I am not one of those people.

So, the plan is to implement systems (betraying my day job here) that allow our family life to run smoothly with the minimum of fuss. No lost book bags, no texting the parent hosting the party that the kids are due to attend that afternoon to ask where the venue is cos we've lost the invite, no having to sacrifice my 30 minute daily exercise slot cos I haven't found the time, no piles of junk lying around cos we don't have anywhere to store that massive stash of Ikea paper napkins and tea lights.

No, in our house the teaspoons and the sugar will be stored next to the kettle and the coffee machine in the new kitchen that we'll install for the purpose. We won't run out of dog food and have to feed them pasta (apparently this is normal for Italian dogs?!) cos we will have an Amazon repeat order set up for it. We won't have to spend a romantic evening a deux wading around in the cellar baling out a foot of swamp water cos we'll have a calendar alert set up to check the drains every month. We will never again have to go upstairs to get a pair of socks for Natalia after heading out the front door to leave for school at 08:53 and realising she is barefoot because WE WILL FREAKING WELL STORE SPARE SOCKS IN THE NEW BOOT ROOM (because obviously this is some kind of revelatory solution). Note - I originally typed this as Space Socks which would be even awesome than Natalia's Paw Patrol and Spiderman numbers.  

Anyway, quick recap of Expand 2016.

From this:

To this:

Gibson Architects and Tipi Construction South Manchester - by Simply the Nest, a UK renovation blog

The house was gorgeous before but we like it even better now. it's not just the blending of modern and Victorian that we like so much, but the internal remodelling that has given us a Party House.

From two daughters to three:

From two dogs to three:

And in terms of expanding my own abilities? I can now say that I am A Runner. Coming from someone who hadn't run so much as 50m since I was forced to jog round a much-hated cross-country course at school, this feels like a huge deal for me. The first time I ran in April 2016, I managed about 1.5km before I had to stop and have a lie down. I now run 10-15k a week - a 5k during the week, and 5-10k on weekends. I'm not always very fast, but I absolutely love it, and as Andre will gladly confirm, get pretty cranky without it. Running releases endorphins and is scientifically proven to clear your head. As this article says: "it's hard to run and feel sorry for yourself at the same time".  

Oh and I also developed superhero skills. Want to see a picture of me in a Spiderman costume? Well, if you insist...

Back to organisation - first on the list is finishing the Boot Room to store all our coats, shoes, umbrellas, scooters, summer gear, wet weather gear, FREAKING SPARE PAIRS OF SOCKS and so on. Then we're tackling the big kitchen renovation. The floor tiles are being delivered in a few weeks and then we will be on it like a car bonnet. I've managed to get my New Year theme post up on the first of January for a change so we're off to a flying start.

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