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Like to hire an architect for an hour? You can!

Like to hire an architect for an hour? You can!

Thinking about an attic conversion or an extension in your home?

The second episode of the podcast will certainly be of interest to anyone thinking about an attic conversion, an extension or rethinking the space they currently have in their home.

Talking to Eva Byrne who set up in 2005. Eva is an architect, who stopped working full time as an architect when her children were born. However, people she met socially continued to ask her advice, so she realised she could manage some work on a part-time basis.  With that in mind she began offering consultancy services to help homeowners navigate the initial stages of house renovations and property developments. She works by the hour to help people address issues they have with their current space: with one room or more.

Insight into how a family uses a space

Her work in the home has proved invaluable to her. It has given her an insight into how a family uses a space that she doesn’t think she could have got without that time in her own home.

Breffnie adds that this makes Eva more approachable, knowing that she has real life experience.

Eva goes on to describe some of the issues she has tackled. For example, a house might have a problem room, which she loves, because there is always a solution. She describes a room that might be cold or unused or poorly and unimaginatively furnished and decorated. With a room that no-one wants to use, you are not getting the maximum value from your property.

Saved from an extension

Another problem is that someone might think they want to extend but Eva always starts with asking them what their issues are in terms of space, light or storage. There is never an assumption on her part that there will an extension. Eva recounts how, twice in the last week, she saved people from an extension. Saved because of the time, the expense, the disruption it can cause a family. Eva believes in people spending their money wisely.

In one case, the family were planning an extension, right down to the dimensions of it, but Eva was concerned that by attaching the extension to the rear they would create this dreaded interior room, dark and gloomy, and destroy the very aspects of the house that they loved. By re-configuring the internal space, removing walls and making better use of existing rooms, they avoided the expense and the destruction of the best loved features of the home.

Start with a blank canvas

Eva’s process usually involves hearing from clients about their issues with their home. Then she walks around the house with them, taking measurements. She will then sit down and draw a scale drawing of their house, there and then, and talks through the options. She normally doesn’t say much at this initial consultation, until she has the drawings. She firmly believes that the owners need to start with a blank canvas, they can’t let existing features, radiators, doors, fireplaces, put them off. Imagine if removing a fireplace reconfigured a room to give you what you wanted and avoided you spending a fortune on an extension? While she doesn’t give advice on cost, she is very interested in how people spend their money and spending it wisely. Knowing exactly how much something costs is valuable information but it’s as valuable to know where best and how best to spend your money.

More space for visitors

In another example, an Italian-Irish family, had an existing kitchen-dining area but it was a little cramped. They enjoy entertaining and wanted more space for visitors. Eva admits that, although it may seem harsh, sometimes the man of the house wants a project and this was certainly the case in this example. However, when she explored the structural work that would be required for the extension that they had in mind, the difficulties just added up: large pieces of steel would be required, a crane would be needed, for example. By simply removing a wall and fitting in a door, she was able to fit in a three metre long table which seats 12 people comfortably. The side of the house was tweaked: borrowing space from a garage for a kitchen and utility, making a front room smaller. They were thrilled, says Eva, no extension required! And as the family’s children were heading to the teenage years she knew they had a home for life. Breffnie comments that the man of the house can take on host with the most as his project!

Space, light and storage needs

Breffnie asks Eva whether people always clear about their space, light and storage needs? Eva says that they are very aware but describe it about what’s in the way: the laundry is always out, the ironing is always out, the kids have nowhere to do their homework, there are bags everywhere, the kitchen is dark, the bathroom is dark.

People are very articulate. Sometimes she has to haul them back from what they want, what they think the solution is and get them to articulate the issues and she can propose her solutions to them. She can’t do magic but she can propose an optimal solution based on their home, budget, lifestyle.

She works up the scale drawings on her initial consultation, using tracing paper and carbon paper. She leaves the scale drawings with the client, taking photos for her records. It’s an instant solution. She has gotten very quick at it and with all her experience it is easy for her to pull together these sketches. Most people are well able to read a set of drawings and there are standard sizes for most things. She draws in all the details: rugs, televisions, dining room tables and chairs so the clients get a real feel for the possibilities.

Moves the furniture to show the possibilities

Breffnie wonders was Eva always  interested in houses? Did she always want to be an architect? Eva says she didn’t even know what an architect was, she started out as an engineer but struggled in first year without physics and applied maths so she went to work in a firm that had both engineers and architects and thought the architects’ work looked much more interesting. But she was always interested in property, perusing the Irish Times, changing the layout of her own bedroom. She still does this with clients: moves the furniture, right then, to show them the possibilities.

One of the first questions Eva will ask client is what way does their house face, where does the sun come from and she’s amazed that some people don’t know. Breffnie comments that she found, as an estate agent, that viewers would come to houses and ask about the aspect because they felt they should not because it was necessarily important to them!

What one thing, right now, could improve their space

If someone listening to this podcast feels unhappy about the space they are in now, Breffnie wonders what one thing could they do right now, apart from picking up the phone to Eva, to improve their space? Or to clarify their thinking?

Eva says she has lots of information on her website about that.

  • What they should focus on initially is finding their starting point, their blank canvas.

  • If the kitchen isn’t working for them they should magic away the kitchen units in their mind and consider the space without them.

  • It’s a challenge because most people are completely entrenched or wedded to what’s there, not because they like it, but because it is there and it’s all they have ever known.

  • Eva says people are often shocked to the core by her suggestions not because they are radical but because they never thought of it before.

  • With new houses, there is a formula to how they are built, things have to be a certain way, Eva always challenges that.

Mediating between a husband and wife

Breffnie inquires whether Eva ever finds herself mediating between a husband and wife at a consultation. Eva keeps the conversation practical, non-emotional but has found she generally deals with women, that they are the ones that shape the home. Breffnie refers to Eva’s experience of working in the home and Eva reveals that this has enlightened her understanding that every family has three stages.

  1. The preschool stage when there are lots of toys in the house and they want to be by their parents’ side all the time;

  2. the primary school stage when there are still lots of toys and they are happy to be by your side but also happy to be in a playroom or bedroom playing with friends

  3. Secondary school stage, when they are young adults, they need somewhere they can gather safely together, maybe even enjoy a drink when they turn eighteen and somewhere they can study.

As a parent you have to make these spaces available. Eva often has to point this out to expectant parents or parents of young children that this too shall pass. This comes from her own experience.

Breffnie comments that she too sometimes has to make this clear to young families looking at properties. Certain properties are better suited to family life even based on location.

Eva will be thinking through all of these stages, even when meeting expectant parents, so that the house, the rooms in it, are future proofed.

A collaboration between her and the homeowner

Most of Eva’s consultations happen during the day. It’s essential that she sees the property in daylight. She does chat on the phone initially because occasionally the changes require different expertise. She will usually see new clients within a week and session will usually be 2 - 2.5 hours. (She even shares her fees in the podcast!) She describes a typical home visit and comments that really it’s a collaboration between her and the homeowner.

Breffnie asks about the service that Eva offers to first-time buyers where she will view potential homes with them and wonders what they are looking for in a house. She allows an hour for that visit, discussing the house on site with them and examines how the house can work for them, whether it will meet their needs, now and into the future.

Breffnie comments that she has often been struck that many people don’t live beautifully or joyfully in their houses and wonders has that been Eva’s experience. Eva describes how the way we live in our homes has changed so much over the years but the houses pre-exist modern styles and ways of living and have to be dragged into contemporary lifestyles. She believes that for every property there is hope and she can bring the vision. A vision that spans all stages of family life. She quotes Dermot Bannon who is wont to say “The “good room” is gone.” and she agrees. A growing family needs a number of social spaces, an inspiration to Breffnie!

Once her consultation is done the client will have enough information to get a ballpark from a builder or Eva works with a quantity surveyor. This is a service she highly recommends.

Ultimately, when whatever project you embark upon is completed, it is a great feeling to see the needs of everybody in the family being met in your own home.

Well put, Eva! Thanks for your time.

You can listen to this whole conversation at your leisure on iTunes (opens iTunes) or Podbean.

Buying  a home after divorce: a case study

Buying a home after divorce: a case study

My own home (nervewracking but fun!)  Feature in The Irish Times June 2018

My own home (nervewracking but fun!) Feature in The Irish Times June 2018