You are on page 1of 51



Bathrooms, bedrooms, conservatories,
basements, lofts, cupboards, fireplaces and
much more.
Articles by Ivy Ngeow RIBA MA, London & Sydney

This is a free ebook from and contains

articles of a general nature, suitable for all property owners.

We also have a full BUILDING DIY EBOOK, written by profes-

sionals, with over 350 pages available online.

All of the text from this book can be read on our huge website
which also has an image gallery, videos and a blog.
Articles from Ivy Ngeow Architects

Published 2009 by

Articles were first published in various magazines 2004-2008.

Ivy Ngeow has written for Marie Clair, Cosmopolitan, Wimbledon Magazine and others.
Photos in these articles are by Ivy Ngeow and Geoff Davis.

All rights reserved, text photos and format.

May not be republished or used in any form without express permission.

A full cupboard of life 3

Bathrooms 7

Bedroom scenes 10

Conservatories 12

Decorating walls 14

Home extensions including basements and sub levels 15

Fireplaces 17

Furnished for good 19

Garage as a sculpture studio (with sculptor Sam Loggie) 21

Giving new life to an old house (refurbishment, remodeling) 22

Hard landscaping 25

Home offices 27

Kitchen makeover 29

Lofts - Going up in the world - 1 31

Lofts - Going up in the world - 2 34

Malaysian house - project planning and design 36

Open plan living 40

Saving energy 42

Summerhouses (with author Penny Faith) 44

Ten alternative living ideas 46

Out on the tiles (indoor tiling) 47

Windows 50
Articles from Ivy Ngeow Architects

Shelving is put up first in any kind of

accommodation, even student flats. They are
the most essential and versatile storage
requirement. Gauge what you intend to store by
assessing your possessions. This includes
length, width and height.

For instance, not all books are the same shape

and size. Vinyl records are of a totally different
dimension to any books. Open shelves collect
dust but are easily accessible. Because of the
nature of the possessions, open shelves can be
hard to clean. For example, tiny porcelain
figures and teddy bears in large quantities must
be every cleaner's nightmare.

Timber is by far still the most popular material

for shelving since civilisation. It is sturdy and
naturally good looking. MDF is now more
common, thanks to TV. It is used as a timber
alternative but it cannot take too much loading.
Books on MDF will cause it to become banana-
shaped, unless it was very thick (more than
18mm) and under 900mm in span. For health
reasons MDF must be painted or varnished.
Walnut veneered inlaid audio-visual armoire
Melamine-faced chipboard is the stuff that all
budget kitchens are made of. It is inexpensive, practical and splashproof, if edged properly. It
is tougher than MDF and flatpack bookshelf kits are usually made of chipboard.

Plywood is good for having a wood appearance and being the strongest over a long span. It
can be covered in any veneer to give the appearance of real wood, if the edging is detailed
properly. It can be used in wet areas because some types of plywood are waterproof. Other
types of shelving include glass, which is decorative but tough.

Glass is expensive and usually used for practical reasons, i.e. in kitchens and bathrooms or
when you want to highlight display items in the living room using lighting. Galvanised metal is
ideal for tough utility purposes, eg. office backrooms, garages, sheds and greenhouses. They
usually come as flatpack kits and can be bolted to the wall for extra rigidity.

Like cupboards, built-in shelving can store more items. In normal interior rooms, open shelving
is only good if you have nice matching items to display, and if they are arranged neatly. If your
possessions look messy and uncoordinated, cupboards are better. Consider the practicalities
for all applications: cost is the biggest implication, which is why students have open shelving
and furniture found from tips.

Generally speaking, shelves are good for books and kitchenware which are 'hard' items, and

therefore easy to wipe. 'Soft' items

such as shoes, clothes and the
aforementioned teddy bears, need to
be protected from dust and thus be
stored in cupboards.

Cupboards with complicated James

Bond mechanisms, fancy hand-
finished surfaces, toughened glass
fronts, designer knobs et cetera are
all expensive. This is why you must
anticipate how much you will want to
access these items, because all
cupboards should be easy to get at. If
they are too hard to get at, you might
as well put them in the loft or the
charity shop. If you cannot access
them easily, you will never.

Another factor for built-in cupboards is

whether or not you will move quite
soon. Built-in cupboards are investments to the property, since you cannot take them with you.
If you were renting, you would have freestanding furniture, either yours or the landlord's.

Cupboards can be solid or semi-see-through. Fabric-fronted doors are suitable for kitchen,
bedrooms and living rooms. I was quite keen on these some years ago after seeing them in a
beautiful beach house. The fabric fronts usually come with chicken wire or glass for that
shabby chic or country look. You can take the fabric off to wash, and even change the fabric
entirely for fun.

That way it is cheap to alter the appearance without spending money. Of course if you were
using these doors in the kitchen, the fabric will quickly disintegrate from grease, fumes and
spills, so there is the cleaning costs and hassle to consider. An alternative is glass doors sans
fabric, but it's not for untidy people.

Solid cupboard doors can be retractable, folding or sliding. These take up less space than the
side-hinging normal doors. I find roller shutter doors, i.e. tambours, fun and good to work with
for home offices, or small messy kitchens, for that Alakazam! instant tidy-up. 'Tambour', as in
tambourine, comes from the word 'drum', due to the fact that it is like a thin membrane
wrapped around a tracking system to guide the membrane. Tambours are based on the pull-
down principle of garages and bureaus. They are expensive and need to be tailor-made.

Beech veneer walk-through cupboard

Toe operated lower drawers

Kitchen cupboards

Mirrors with concealed medicine cabinet

Kitchen cupboards, small ones

very useful, high level glass
Articles from Ivy Ngeow Architects

One of my memories growing up in

Malaysia was the monsoon season. As
children, we would run into a rainstorm
with huge banana leaves as makeshift
umbrellas. These are purely decorative,
because resistance is useless. This kind
of power shower is all-drenching and all-
encompassing. It rained so hard you were
left gasping with exhilaration.

There was nothing more invigorating in the

steamy tropical climate. In the dry season,
it was sweltering and sticky. For a
therapeutic salt bath, we plunged into the
warm sea. The water never got cold, nor
ran out.
Traditional copper bath
The modern bathroom imitates nature.
It should be designed as an all-inclusive resort of the mind. Bathrooms at the back of the
house or downstairs or low-pressure showers are no longer acceptable. Decades ago, a
bathroom was no more than a damp utilitarian space lurking with spiders. Bathrooms today
increase the value of the house, because they reflect character, practicality, and lifestyle. The
en suite bathroom is popular because it symbolises privacy and exclusivity, therefore hierarchy
in the household.

Early washing in the UK was carried out in a portable tin tub hand-filled with hot water from the
fire. Family members took turns to bathe and depending on the family, bathing was not
essential or regular. Smelliness was simply masked with perfumed oils. By the middle of the
19th century, bathrooms were installed in wealthy family homes. They were decorated with
grand marble washstands, needle showers with overhead shower rose, dressing tables
displaying the ubiquitous perfume bottles, and slipper baths.

Cleanliness was obviously not next to godliness, because even pious folk could not afford to
wash. The Great Unwashed simply remained so. By the 1970s, there was a glut of fitted
bathrooms, with crazy tiling, wacky-shaped sanitaryware, jacuzzis and coloured bathroom
suites including the infamous avocado suite.

Only clever planning and design can make the tightest of spaces seem large and pleasant.
Bathrooms are expensive to install, and they need to comply with building regulations. Lifestyle
is the most important consideration because it will determine how much time each family
member will spend in it. You need to assess how well you use the existing bathroom, and
whether or not the layout works.

If your wish list is long and complicated, involving moving the bathroom into another room
altogether, or extending the existing room, you would consult a qualified architect. He or she
will discuss your proposed bathroom and provide you with advice on building regulations
relating to plumbing and wiring.

The architect can specify the right sanitaryware for you.

Glossy brochures are misleading. Many people have
bought baths which are too big, showers whose doors
cannot open due to a WC being in the way, taps which are
too big to turn them on without grazing your knuckles. The
architect can also design fitted bathroom furniture such as
storage. He or she will provide you with a scale drawing to
make sure that the layout works and looks good.

An effective shower needs to have at least 2.0 bar

pressure, and 3.0 bar for a power shower. The types of
pumps, hot water tanks and boilers affect how many times
a day you can have a shower, and whether someone else
can have a bath when you are having a shower.

The choice of basins and taps depends on the number of

people using them at the same time, how tall they are, do
they own a lot of lotions and potions and are there Art Deco bath
children. Mixer taps are more practical for people with
children to prevent scalding.

With WCs, how well the flush works

and the length of refilling time are
important. There is nothing worse
than going to someone's house and
the loo cannot flush because
someone else has just been in there.
If space is tight, the concealed
cistern and a wall-hung WC free up
more space and make the room
appear bigger.

People now have seen enough

Vicwardian style traditional
bathrooms in the 1990s. The trend at
the moment is the wet room. The wet
room is originally an Eastern concept, Pool of reflection
and which brings me back to the
monsoon image.

Basically there is no shower tray and this concept is best applied in a very large bathroom, so
that the water naturally runs off. In a small room, you will get the effect that you are in a Hong
Kong bedsit, sitting on the loo, cleaning your teeth and having a shower all at the same time.

The wet room is achieved by tiling over a concrete floor screeded to fall towards a floor waste.
With beautiful tiles such as handmade Balinese tiles or limestone, the wet room can look

magnificent. If you have a timber floor, there are many ways to make the room watertight, one
being glass reinforced polymer tanking which takes the floor and wall tiles.

There is always a risk when converting a timber construction space into a wet room because
timber moves and is not watertight. Nowadays many boutique resorts in hot climates boast
entire wet areas, using outdoor showers.

See also the Tiles and Out on the Tiles articles for more bathroom and tile pictures.
Articles from Ivy Ngeow Architects

When you are asleep, you are oblivious to your surroundings. Therefore all the more important
that the bedroom is comfortable and pleasant, so as to enhance a sense of well-being, both
unconscious and conscious.

When I was a child I remember sharing bedrooms, either with my grandmother, my maiden
auntie or my siblings. This is still very common in extended households of Asian families.

You chat or row with them about your day when the lights are out. In the UK, children sharing
bedrooms was also common only decades ago, and even parents would have had to share
when the need arose.

The 'master' in the phrase 'master bedroom' meant the biggest bedroom, not the room of the
master. This concept has changed and expectations are now different. Having one's own
bedroom is truly a luxury, no matter how small the bedroom is. We overlook this luxury in
today's affluent way of life. The bedroom is considered a personal, individual, private space.
Just ask any teenager! Even in budget housing, fitted wardrobes and en-suite bathrooms are
now de rigeur. In more upmarket homes, where space allows, there are separate 'his' and 'her'
dressing areas.

Always buy the best bed that you can afford. It is the most important and the biggest item in
the room, and therefore will set the mood and focus for decorating the room. Measure up
before you buy your bed, which may sound obvious, but in many 'period' properties, there are
only one or two walls where the bed could be located due to the window wall and the chimney
breast wall. Next you would have to decide on the flooring. Most people would carpet the room
because it is softer and warmer than wood.

Once you have established the basic look and function of the bedroom, you need to plan your
storage. Clothes, books, records and shoes are the 'stuff' of our modern lives. In a student's
bedroom, these items dominate the room because often there is no other choice as space is

Children's rooms constantly amaze me. Children come into this world naked, yet they are
inundated with possessions before they are even born. Therefore you need sufficient storage
to keep (and find) these possessions.

Many people underestimate the importance of lighting in a bedroom, because it is perceived as

a 'darkened' room for resting.

Lighting is not just functional, it creates atmosphere. For a truly efficient bedroom, work out a
combination of lighting for both relaxation and working, if you work in your bedroom. I like
chandeliers in bedrooms. They are spectacular in both modern as well as traditional bedrooms,
like the icing on the cake. When getting dressed to go out, chandeliers make you look

If you have a very small bedroom, which is not unusual in London properties, you will probably
need plenty of built-in storage and shelving. Fitted wardrobes can be unattractive. Coordinate
colours, furniture and prints so as to give uniformity and the illusion of space. Use interesting

pieces of furniture as features, so as draw the eye away from the walls. This will also make the
bedroom appear bigger.

If you have enough space for an en suite bathroom, make sure that the lighting is subdued, or
that there is a combination of lighting controls, so that when one person is in the en suite at
night, the other (asleep) person is not awakened by sudden glaring light. In a spacious
bedroom, a sofa next to a window is a nice touch, because it encourages reading or watching
television in comfort.
Articles from Ivy Ngeow Architects

The word 'conservatory' comes from the

Latin 'conservare' or to keep. They were
originally rooms in which young plants
were nurtured, due to the fact that they
were intermediary spaces between inside
and out, and therefore warmer than
outside but has plenty of light.

The homeowner tends to fantasise about

putting up a conservatory when the
winter is over and thoughts of the last
Christmas dinner are already a distant
memory. One can actually see out into
the garden now. At this time of year when
the weather is still not very warm, the
dream has always been to be 'in' the
garden without being 'inside' it.

It is always better to plan ahead if you

are considering putting in a conservatory.
You may or may not need planning
permission. If the volume of the original
terrace house is increased by more than
10% or 50 m³ (whichever is greater) and
in any other kind of house, more than
15% or 70 m³, than you would need to
apply for planning permission. If the
conservatory is built onto your existing Gleneagles cafe in conservatory style extension
wall and separated by a door, you may
not need permission.

If you prefer the knock-through effect of having the conservatory as part of the existing house
without a wall in the way, then it would constitute an extension and you would be required to
apply for planning permission. If you've already extended, you would have eaten into your
volume limit. It is best to check with your local authority or your architect as the rules are
complicated. If you live in a Conservation Area (no pun intended), even more rules apply.

Conservatories may be constructed from UPVC, timber or aluminium. Timber and aluminium
are expensive options. Timber looks good with a traditional house as all sorts of period
mouldings are possible to be in keeping with the character of your home. Timber is high on
maintenance, because the paintwork or varnish will have to be renewed after a decade or so.

Aluminium will have a modern appearance but can be used in a period property all the same
to provide an interesting contrast. UPVC is the cheapest option. These are easily purchased in
any of the DIY stores. Both aluminium and UPVC are low on maintenance, although white
UPVC can stain in time and appear like well-weathered plastic white garden furniture.

The choice of your ideal conservatory is limited by your budget. UPVC being the cheapest
would cost around £2500 for a 15 m² conservatory, or even less if you shop around. A timber
one would cost approximately £25000 and the aluminium one could be slightly less. These
prices do not include building costs so it would depend on the level of design complexity. If you
decide on putting up the conservatory yourself, keen DIYers have to note that foundations
have to be laid properly to take the loading.

The floor will have to be insulated, damp-proof and level. There is the current trend of
underfloor heating as well. The flooring can be ceramic-tiled, vinyl sheet or timber laminate.
Any flooring is suitable except for carpet. It is not really hygienic to have carpet in the
conservatory as it is almost an outdoor space.

You can buy a UPVC conservatory from a DIY store and get your builder to fit it. The
alternatives are to buy from a conservatory supplier who can supply and fit or just supply.
These would be the more expensive option. The glazing would usually, though not always, be
double-glazed. It is better to have double-glazing so that you can use your conservatory all
year long. Laminated glass is better for soundproofing and safety because it breaks in one

Next to the price, comfort is the most important factor. Central heating, underfloor heating and
double-glazing will keep the conservatory comfortable during winter (but not for plants
ironically). It is important to have manual or automatic roof ventilation for climate control during
the summer.

If the conservatory is south-facing, blinds and light-reflecting glass will prevent you from
scorching. In some cases, people have installed ceiling fans, which look pretty in the colonial
way when they hover over terracotta tiles, parlour palms and cane furniture. In the height of
summer, ceiling fans enable you to sip your gin and tonics in comfort.

In that sense, conservatories can set the mood. They are essentially quite light structures from
which you may admire your estate. As such, lighting is often overlooked but important for your
Somerset Maugham evening soirees. Wiring troughs would have to be cut into the structure
before installation.

As the ceiling is literally glass, recessed lights would be out of the question. There are many
options for lighting such as track lighting, or halogen. A small glass chandelier, or a Moroccan
lantern, looks fabulous on its own. A pendant light, especially used with the aforementioned
ceiling fan, can add a tropical relaxed feel. Some kind of garden lighting also helps enhance
the conservatory, ultimately bringing the outdoors in.
Articles from Ivy Ngeow Architects

Everyone remembers that as a student you will always live in a flat with woodchip wallpaper. In
rented accommodation woodchip wallpaper hides uneven plaster. Wallcoverings determine the
character of the room.

When re-decorating a space, you will have to make sure that the walls are flat and smooth. Or
else you will have to go back to textured wallpaper. You can also line a room with very heavy
gauge lining paper prior to painting. Whatever the case, the objective wou be to make the
walls smooth or else there would be no point in decorating.

Deciding on colour and texture are both considerations you have to make, because it is not a
style issue. Room use, room orientation, temperature and lighting all affect the choices you
make. For instance, wallpaper is not suitable for bathrooms or kitchens, which are warm and
humid. For these spaces, hard surfaces are more durable and practical.

Paint is the most versatile and the cheapest of wall finishes. In fact you can do so much with
paint (including hiding bad plaster) that there is no reason why you cannot find the ideal colour
to cheer up even the worst room. You can even make a bad wall attractive using paint effects
such as 'bare plaster' effect. Architects normally have an aversion towards paint effects and I
must say I am not so keen myself. However it is still an option, especially if you are on a tight
budget (eg in rented accommodation).

Wallpaper is now popular again. There are so many colours, designs and patterns nowadays
to suit everyone's budget and taste. My favourites are those on a botanical theme, a la flock. In
Merton Abbey Mills you can see the different William Morris patterns which will look right if you
live in an Arts and Crafts house or Edwardian house and you want to show off the period.

With strong patterns, you don't have to use it in the whole room. It can look de trop and
claustrophobic, like a B&B. In fact these patterns are not suitable for small rooms at all. You
can just highlight a wall, such as either the chimney breast or the alcoves. You can use it
under a picture rail for that turn of the century look.

The disadvantages of wallpaper are obvious: tears or damages are hard to mend, it is
expensive compared to paint, and it may peel, especially near windows or radiators. With
paint, it is simple to retouch the room where it is scuffed or damaged. The good news is that it
is quicker to cover walls in wallpaper than paint, if time is an issue.

Paint is not suitable if the walls are bad, because it is too smooth and cannot hide these flaws.
Wallpaper can be very thick and textured (think kitchen towels) so the walls don't have to be
perfect. Also you can get insulating wallpaper these days whereas insulating paints are rare
and probably very rough to touch.
Articles from Ivy Ngeow Architects

Home extensions are synonymous with

improving the quality of life, especially
in the affluent Western world. We take
space for granted and when we have
filled it, we need more. People find it
less drastic and costly than moving.

For centuries, and even as recent as

forty years ago, many families, often
more than one generation, remain in
the same house throughout their lives.
Some families even remain in the same
room in the same house all their lives.

Interestingly, before 1962, extensions

were built without planning laws. The
style of the day determined the
extension. Homes were extended to
add a room. This was the main
purpose. The very poor never added
rooms. They were lucky to have a roof
over their heads. Craftsmen added Conservatory at rear of house, retaining original wall
rooms for workshops, but it was also
rare, unless they were very successful.

Craftsmen and their pets usually slept in the same room as the workshop itself, on a makeshift
bed against a wall. Therefore only the very wealthy added rooms for servants' accommodation,
or if they fancy it, 'folly' rooms, to show off to guests, fantasy spaces to define their status in

Today, the demand is not for follies or

servants, but for a less formal and more
flexible space. This space can be a living,
bedroom or office space. Also, the dense
concentration of urban homes and the
escalation of consumerism, means that many
people live in smaller spaces than the last

Each new generation has more 'stuff' than the

generation before, you only need to look at
your child's room and compare it to yours.

The brick-built extension is no longer the only

of adding to your house. Some of the most
exciting building techniques include entire
prefabricated rooms that can be loaded onto

the back of an articulated lorry, and then onto your roof top, connected to your house by a
flight of stairs.

These prefabricated pods are usually made of timber. Balconies, rooms, sun decks, and other
spaces can also be add-ons, and be literally bolted onto your basic room.

Alternatively, if you are extending on the ground floor, the timber building arrives flatpacked
and brought through to the back of your house. The whole building is bolted together in half a
day, and after a week of fitting out, it is ready to decorate. These extensions are quicker and
cheaper to erect. Planning guidelines will govern the materials you use for cladding your
extension, especially so in a conservation area. Always check first with your local authority or
your architect.

Basements and sub levels

Subterranean extensions in the basement, or by creating a new sub level, are extremely
expensive to carry out. This is due to the amount of excavation and often structural
underpinning of your house. It is also very messy and time-consuming as the excavation can
only be carried out in the traditional way - digging. Sometimes there is no alternative if you live
in a listed building because you need to protect the entire appearance of the building.

Sub levels are also becoming popular in central city locations due to high square area prices.
Media rooms are suited to the rooms which will obviously have a lack of natural light.

Basements will usually need tanking. We recommend using a specialist basement builder, or
check that any general builder has underground experience. There are a lot of contingencies
with excavation and water proofing, quite apart from requiring good light design, perhaps using
sun tubes or light wells. So they are an interesting mix of full-on engineering, hard labour, and
intelligent space and lighting design.

Ideas come from everywhere. A small change can make a big difference. Before spending any
money, you should consider if extending is necessary and if you can afford it.

Instinctively, you may feel that you absolutely must have a loft extension, when in reality a
garden room is more practical for you and your family's needs. An extension is the most
expensive way of spending money on yourself and your house and you should keep a
notebook and sketchbook of all your ideas first.
Articles from Ivy Ngeow Architects

All rooms need a focal point. The living area

is often the largest and most public room in
the house, therefore would benefit from an
interesting and more formal display.

Traditionally, the most impressive and

expensive paintings, furniture and
ornaments are saved for this room. If you
live in a pre-WWII property, every room
would have been built with a fireplace.

It is a traditional symbol of the home and

the family. Also it is the heart of relaxation
and entertaining because firstly it provides
heat and secondly it is central to the room,
and therefore a feature.

In most homes nowadays, the television is now a focal point. This does not have to be
unattractive, as it is an honest reflection of modern lifestyle. However, most 'period' homes
would benefit from at least one fireplace as the chimney breast is so dominant. In many
houses the original fireplaces were removed during the early to mid twentieth century due to
the drive towards modernism.

Fireplaces and panelled pine doors were considered the height of bad taste. Only in the
nineties did they regain their popularity. The opening where the fireplace used to be was
simply boarded up. Many people discover that their fireplaces are still intact under

If your fireplace is missing under the hardboard (i.e. there is a gaping black hole of raw
brickwork), it is relatively simple to install a new fireplace. The fireplace should match the
character of the room. If not, it will be very difficult to decorate and the fireplace will be an
eyesore rather than a beautiful object. This does not mean that it has to be old-looking, or
reproduction. The fireplace design must be conceptualised with that of the room. You can
scour salvage yards and antique shops if you want a real antique. However, reproductions and
modern designs are all as attractive.

You will also have to consider the type of fuel your fireplace will use. The four most common
types of fuel are gas, solid fuel, oil and electricity. The first three will require a flue but electrical
fires will not. There is now a gel fuel as well, which makes it possible to move a fireplace or
tray from room to room without the need for flues, cabling or plumbing. However, this is a very
expensive way of having a fire.

Real flame gas fires come with or without heat exchangers. Modern designs conceal the heat
exchangers and look like a real coal fire. You can have pebbles, coal effect or log effect fires.
These are usually gas-powered. In most modern designs, you can have electronic remote
control to operate or control the settings of your fireplace.

If you have an old chimney breast, you

are required to have the flue lined and a
smoke test carried out before you fit a
new fire. This is because the brickwork
or pointing may be defective and the
exhaust may enter the internal rooms
above the fireplace. If a chimney breast
does not exist, you can have a gas fire
with fanned or balanced flues.

This means that the burnt gas is

extracted to an external wall. In any
case, you will have to box in the flue
somehow. This can be hidden in joinery
within a carefully planned interior design.
If not, the overall appearance could be
like an industrial kitchen. Of course it is
also possible to build a chimney breast.

Fires should have a hearth for safety and

a fireguard to protect children and the
elderly. However, most people do not
want this effect as the whole point of the
fireplace is so that you can see it.

It is recommended that you purchase

your fireplace from a reputable company
with full safety and warranty certificates.
The gas fitter has to be CORGI-
registered and you will be required to
submit a building notice to the council if
you are building a flue and chimney
Articles from Ivy Ngeow Architects

My parents are still using the furniture that I grew up with and that they grew up with, left
behind by my grandparents. They were from humble origins and the furniture was simple and
straightforward, bought from local shops. The furniture was looked after and used with care, as
though they were antiques (they are now, but of course, not then).

We still have, for example, a small round dining table, with a marble top and carved wooden
legs, which my grandmother bought for five dollars in 1934 when she was seventeen after she
got married. In those days that was a lot of money. From my childhood, I remember that she
made noodles or dumplings by rolling the dough out on this marble top dusted with flour. Even
today all of the family furniture is in excellent condition.

Every piece of furniture has a story. Nowadays it is common to 'upgrade' furniture after a few
years. If broken and irreparable, I can see why. But to throw out furniture just because the
colour is wrong is wasteful and pointless. The world already has enough rubbish to cope with.
If you have no space or use for it, put it in your garage, give it to charity or sell it on. Do not
leave it on the street. It is selfish and stupid to do so.

Furniture is an investment, a part of the family, and we all have our memories about certain
chairs, tables, sofas and so on. Furniture used to be built for life, and for living. If broken or
worn, it would be repaired, and used for another lifetime. Modern lifestyle has changed our
needs. People move out of home and hometown, and people get divorced and re-settled a lot
more now. Therefore, the need for furniture and accommodation has increased.

If you need new furniture, measure and plan the room first. The sofas, dining tables and beds
are big objects, and they can fill the room to the brim such that there is no space for anything

Firstly consider what sort of people would be using the room, whether you are formal or
casual. These large items of furniture would set the scene and would be a semi-permanent
fixture as they cost so much.

Then make sure that you choose a material that is practical. Brochures and magazines are
distracting because they only sell an image. Common sense would tell you that a bedhead
which is made of metal rods is obviously going to be uncomfortable. So is a sofa made mostly
of twigs.

If you have children and pets, consider their needs, i.e. light coloured materials would not be
suitable for you no matter how tempting it would be to your minimalist inner self. I keep seeing
awful sofa ads on the telly. Sofas in wacky colours like purple and orange are very hard to
match if the interiors change, so consider having changeable covers.

It is important to choose the lighting at the same time as the furniture. Sofas and televisions go
together, and the lighting would affect watching TV. Plan the room layout having measured the
dimensions of the intended piece of furniture. Make sure that there is still room to move
around it, get access to doors, windows and power points and that cupboards or drawers can
still open. A quiet corner need not be a dead space. With comfy chair and light, someone could
use the space for reading or studying.

If you already have furniture, it is best to use existing furniture to furnish a space. If your bed is
sagging or tired, you can get a new mattress and bedhead without getting a new bed. The
same principle applies to the sofa. Most sofas can be recovered, with new seat pads and
covers made. Renovating an old object makes it new again. Otherwise everyone's homes
would look the same-a high street furniture warehouse.

The most important factor when choosing furniture is cost (as you know, a sofa can cost
anything from £5 if bought from Loot, to £5000 if bought from Kings Road), followed by
comfort. If you feel comfortable, you will know straightaway that the piece of furniture is right
for you. Never buy furniture that you have not seen or touched.

To save yourself and the world the bother of having to throw out or upgrade furniture, always
do your legwork and homework. Whether you are buying new or old furniture, buy the best
quality that you can afford, in a classic style that fits your lifestyle. In this way, they will also
become antiques in the future and still be in the family for years to come.
Articles from Ivy Ngeow Architects

You don't necessarily have to park your car in your garage. Garages of the 20s and 30s are
actually not wide enough for today's cars.

Most people use their garages for storage and for washing and drying. People who work from
home can use the garage as a studio or office with minimal financial outlay. This is because
the garage is connected to the house, so you don't have to extend or to put in new foundations
or roof or extra security. The most work you will have to put in are basic services like lighting,
powerpoints, heating and water supply.

Sam Loggie is a sculptor who uses her garage as a studio. The space is very light and well-
ventilated. It is also warm without the central heating because the boiler, hot water tank,
washing machine and dryer are also in this space. Sam makes her clay figurative sculptures
here, with water supply taken from inside the house. It would be not difficult to have a water
supply put in because there is already a washing machine in this area.

According to Sam, self-discipline is the key to working from home, especially as an artist. Sam
is a mother of two and she focusses on her art twice a week, from 9:30am to 2pm. Parents
who work from home have to take into account that very little work can be carried out during
school holidays. This refers to one parent being at home rather than both. During school
holidays, Sam would not be able to devote so much time to her art as she has to spend time
with her children. Creative work is one that demands complete attention and focus, and any
distraction must be avoided.

For artists and sculptors, Sam advises that the garage space should be comfortable and
appealing. This doesn't mean that the space should be equipped with luxury finishes or fittings.
Comfort is all about the senses. If a space is bright, airy and warm, it would appeal to any
artist. Shelves can be fixed for storage of art materials, and the floor can simply be painted.

Working at home can be lonely for anyone as there are no colleagues or fellow artists to
discuss and critique work. Sam has a fellow sculptor whom she meets up with on alternate
weeks in each other's studio. It is mutually beneficial for artists to establish regular contact with
other artists. Another point to consider is that the garage space needs to suit the purpose, the
kind and the size of the art. For example, Sam's studio is too small to have a foundry. The clay
sculptures are taken to a foundry in North London and cast in bronze.
Articles from Ivy Ngeow Architects

“The proper function of man is to live, not to exist.”

Jack London

It is our natural instinct as human beings to improve our way of life. That is why we have
moved on from the cave. Even in the cave our predecessors drew on the walls, just to have
something nice to look at. Sometimes I feel like the Cary Grant character in Rear Window as I
observe the lives of my neighbours, who are making a killing! They are seriously increasing the
value of their property. Without exception I see them in the middle of some kind of building

From DIY-ers to those who call in the professionals, there are no limits or boundaries to the
level of home improvement. 'You can't change the location but you can change the house' as
the estate agents would chime.

Refurbishment, renovations, or remodelling (as they call it in the States) all mean the same
thing: our approach to improving our caves. As housing grew since the reign of Victoria, so did
aspirations. Today many of us still inhabit these so-called 'period' homes.

The first stage of refurbishment is carrying out what is absolutely necessary. This first stage is
loosely termed modernisation. Putting central heating in, repairing all windows and external
walls, dampproofing and installing an inside and upstairs bathroom all constitute
modernisation. Of course, all these works add value to the property.

Nowadays, refurbishments are not often so mundane. Domestic architecture is going through a
very exciting and creative period at the moment. Some people may find throwing out an
avocado suite or skimming over Artex ceilings therapeutic, especially in properties which have
already been modernised (just). Most would go further, and with the help of an architect or
designer, find a cohesive design concept for their complete refurbishment.

There are many reasons for this.

Firstly, the large positive equity on owned homes means that the owners can have the holiday
in Barbados as well as have building works done. Also, it could be more expensive for people
to move.

Secondly, the glut of TV programmes and coffee table books have made lay people aware of
design and house pride.

Thirdly, changes in lifestyle dictate that these 'period' homes must be adapted for modern
living. For example, people entertain, work, exercise and relax a lot more at home, which in
turn feeds the national obsession with house renovations.

In the second stage of refurbishment, additional uses of space may be incorporated by altering
layouts, creating new rooms from old or renewing old rooms if the house is satisfactory in size.
For instance, a higher quality new kitchen can be redesigned into an existing space. Dead
spaces may be used too, for instance, the ubiquitous under-stair cupboard as WC. A utility
room may be conceived from a broom cupboard, on the first floor landing. There is no reason

why utility rooms should be on the ground floor next to the kitchen.

If the house is not spacious enough, which is often the case, then it is worth considering
extending. This is the third stage of refurbishment. There used to be only loft and kitchen
extensions, but nowadays there are countless. Anyone with unused outside space has a
potential to extend. For example there are rooftop conservatories for people without gardens,
there are home gyms and luxury spa baths converted from cellars as well as playrooms from
disused conservatories, music rooms from garages and home offices from summerhouses.

Enthusing about renovating your three-bedroom house for months, even years, is not enough
to turn it into a three-dimensional reality. It is best to enlist the assistance of an architect or
interior designer. This is because every building project, even to experienced DIY-ers, is
tedious, exhausting, stressful, disruptive and of course expensive. That's enough negativity for

Your architect or designer will help you to visualise a project from start to finish, whether it is a
little Moroccan fountain or a two-storey extension. He or she will provide you with ideas about
space configuration or layouts, often in more ways than one, and help you work within your
budget no matter how small.

They are also used to dealing with builders and may take the pressure of you. It is not easy to
juggle builders at home as well as having to go to work. Architects are able to advise if you will
require a structural engineer. You will also be able to ask your architect about local authority
issues like whether you need planning permission (the most popular question), party wall
award and building notice approval.

Finally, the finished product adds more value to your property specifically because it has been
'architect-designed'. You will read these words with satisfaction in the estate agent's blurb
when selling your house.

Successful refurbishment leads to a more enjoyable and relaxed home life. However, home
renovation is a continuous process. Stainless steel worktops may be to the future what the
avocado suite is to us now. It is easy to overlook that trends play a part on every level of

The general rule is that a simple, classic design statement should outshine any of the more
faddish treatments of your home. I personally do not entirely agree with this (although I have to
say that it is eighty percent true). Sometimes you would like something to look dated just so
you could date it. If everyone steered clear of the creative paths, there would be no great
designers of the modern movement.

There would be no classic Sixties design, or Fifties, or even Edwardian. Of course there were
brown-paper-bags-over-heads blunders, but nothing that was invented would have been
invented if everyone played hide and chic.

Making a personal and intuitive design concept based on the user is to me more special and
valid simply because we live in 'me' time, with little luxuries for the individual. Life would be so

bland if everyone was fashionably homogeneous. How little delight we would experience when
looking into our neighbours' or friends' newly-refurbished homes. And of course, not everyone
likes to be trendy. Quality speaks for itself, and in a high quality refurbishment, what you get
out of your property far exceeds what you put in.

Therefore ultimately, it is the people who make the home, not the other way round. As the
Chinese proverb goes: may you live in interesting times.
Articles from Ivy Ngeow Architects

The proportion between paving and lawn is the key to good garden design. Too much paving
makes a large garden look harsh and bland, and in fact, not really like a garden at all. If your
garden is very small or quite shady, interesting paving can complement plants.

Real stone is very expensive but readily available. It can be from York, Devon or as far away
as China and India. They vary in thickness between 30mm and 70mm. You can use an entire
slab for the tread on garden steps, for instance.

Cast concrete paving slabs are manufactured by casting in moulds or hydraulic pressing.
Pigments and aggregates are added to the mix to create the appearance of natural stone's
hues and textures. You can combine two or more types of paving slab to produce a realistic
stone effect. Standard or modular sizes are available to help you produce a pattern to suit the
area. A cobbled appearance is pretty.

I have seen some slabs which have the cobbles 'built-in'. They look like giant Cadbury's bars,
so they are already 'spaced' in a pattern. You can grout the gaps or alternatively fill them with
gravel, which creates a nice contrast.

Crazy paving came and went, like the infamous avocado bathroom suite. The random effect is
achieved with irregular-shaped paving stones. I'm not crazy about crazy paving, but I know that
if you use small pieces to form a large mosaic geometric pattern, it looks very striking and
frankly, quite artistic. Also, it is eco-friendly because it uses waste materials and random
offcuts. You are helping to recycle these materials. In Italy, it is very popular to use marble
offcuts in crazy paving.

Unlike brick walls, brick paving can be laid to any pattern. You should sketch some geometric
patterns on grid paper, or look for ready-made patterns if your maths is rusty. If designed and
laid well, brick paths, patios and driveways can be coordinated to give an overall pleasing
scheme. Brick paving looks cottagey and in keeping with everyone's houses, which are usually
in brick. There are so many textures and colours so you will need to make sure they are from
the same batch.

Slightly imperfect bricks are great for paving, because they wear well and look good when
there is slight frost damage. These would of course not be suitable for parking your car on.
Light human traffic is all they can take.

Real cobbles are large flint pebbles, which suit both modern or traditional designs. They can
be laid loose or in a dry concrete mix. You can buy the pebbles in bags, usually quite costly.
They are not practical because they are very hard to walk on, a pebble beach being the more
pleasant equivalent.

They only exist to look pretty. If you are planning a large paved area, you should use cobbles
decoratively and sparingly, for example in a circle, in alternate slabs, between flowerbeds, or at
the base of a fountain.

In any of these paving options, the substrate and the drainage are most important. Normally
you would need hardcore on the ground, topped by sand blinding, before the paving is laid.

Sometimes you would need edging (eg for driveways) and these may have to have a footing
on concrete to prevent the driveway from cracking at the edges from the pressure. Paving is
laid to fall, so pay attention as to whether there is a natural slope. If there isn't, you will need a
soakaway (a trench 1 m by 1m square) or U-section drainage channels. If there is a slope,
then it's grand. The rainwater will drain naturally, and water your lovely garden.

(Incidentally, planning permission will soon be required in the UK to put in hard surfaces for
parking, to encourage people to use permeable surfaces. This is due to flooding problems.
See other articles on Water)
Articles from Ivy Ngeow Architects

Working from home has not evolved from the nineties change in work practices, i.e. greater
pressure on family commitments, increase of 'sick building' syndrome and ease of
telecommunications due to mobile telephones, email and fax machines. Working from home
was the original way to work. Artists, writers and tradesmen have converted spaces out of their
abodes for working in.

One of the images which springs to mind is Ernest Hemingway's "tower" in San Francisco De
Paula, Cuba. It was simply an elevated platform in a room, with desk and chair, telescope and
mug of pencils. George Bernard Shaw also worked from home in a garden shed. It shows that
you require very little in order to have an office at home. In fact, the fewer distractions, the

You should choose the right space in your home, and this will depend on the sort of work you
will be doing. If you are a musician or computer programmer, gloomy light is quite acceptable.
If however, you are an electronic musician, you will not mind being in the basement. In most
professions, the lack of light and ventilation can be depressing and tiring. Architects, illustrators
and designers require even, abundant natural light.

A spare room would make an ideal home office. As space is a premium in London, many
people do not have the choice of quiet rooms but looking onto a busy street is not good for the
concentration. In this case, it would be wise to install blinds. In general a home office should
not be too much like a home, or too comfortable, in other words.

For instance, if there is a chaise lounge, TV or bed, you will probably lie down and watch telly.
This is why the choice of furniture is very important. Today, the trend is for freestanding office
furniture. Built-in office furniture shoehorned into the space under the stairs is rather passé,
because the whole point of the home office is flexibility, mobility and cost-cutting. Choose your
furniture by making sure that the piece of furniture has a dual purpose.

If you do not have any rooms spare, you will have to look outside the house; for instance the
aforementioned shed, turning your garage into a useable space, or extending your property. All
of these require substantial budgets. This sort of home office would need professional advice,
from interior designers, builders or architects.

Creating a home office, no matter how small, would increase the value of your home. This is
because home offices are an in-between space between personal and work life. People see
the home office as somewhere to dump the computer, printer and files, even if no one works in

You can save yourself money by finding pieces of furniture around the home which are little or
not used, before buying new furniture, which tends to be expensive. For instance, tables and
lamps which you may have forgotten about can easily be recycled. If you do intend to splurge,
there are no shortage of shops, and you can get yourself a luxury leather exec chair and put it
towards your tax expenses.

The eclectic look is very stylish at the moment. I tend to favour antique furniture, mixed with
modern accessories. For example you can have an old school desk bought cheaply from a

second hand shop, and you can finish it with a chrome anglepoise desk lamp and a flat screen
monitor. Very chic.

Colour scheme, stationery and office filing should be in keeping. Many people keep to black or
white because it is easier and cheaper to keep track of all your work. This is quite true. Garish
colour schemes lend themselves to chaos and distraction. You can also put up your own
shelving to save money, and make sure there is spare space for when the number of files and
other office paraphernalia increase.

Label your files as soon as you get them. It will increase your efficiency and free up more time
to do other things. If you cannot use typed labels, there is nothing wrong in writing them very
neatly. At least all of the labels will be in the same handwriting - yours.

If you need meeting space, consider how much room is required. Perhaps you could fit it in
another more formal room elsewhere. If there is no space in the house whatsoever, you could
always meet elsewhere, for instance in a business centre. If you do have the space at home,
ensure that the furniture is easily put away after the meeting, and that home items such as
family members and pets do not encroach into the space.

The home office is a lifestyle choice. You should be able to control the entire environment. I
have added to and subtracted from my office as I see fit. Decisions should not be rushed. For
instance, to have an espresso machine or not, is a question that you have to ask yourself
when you have already done at least one tax return.
Articles from Ivy Ngeow Architects

If your kitchen, which is only a few years

old, looks worn due to your cooking,
children or pets, you may be hankering
after a new look. It is easy to change the
colour of the walls, but paint colour alone
is not enough to change the look of a
room. There are, instead, some quick
revamp ideas which Domestic Gods and
Goddesses would prefer.

The first thing I would suggest to a client

is, if you have a curtain, get rid of it.
Curtains in kitchens are unhygienic and
impractical because they gather grease
and grime. Like stale colourless dried
herbs, curtains should be discarded.

If you must have some screening due to

privacy from the neighbours, hang a sheer
curtain which you should wash every
fortnight. Or better still, choose a
hardwearing material, like a venetian blind,
or timber louvred shutters. You can wipe
these down less often, and they last

You can also hang up new pictures. Try to

steer clear of pictures of fruit and
vegetables unless they are giant-sized and
painted on canvas. I usually suggest something non-culinary, such as black and white
photographs, or drawings of fish in the sea rather than fish on a plate. This will create interest
and variety, so as to prevent the kitchen from looking stale. Children's drawings should be
changed every now and then for the same reasons.

You can save yourself money by re-arranging tables and chairs, if they are in good condition.
You will be surprised how many dead corners there are in rooms, which have poor furniture
layout. Use different table-runners and placemats for change of colour.

If you would like to change the kitchen unit doors, in general, you would be better off with pale
wood units such as maple, beech and birch. Dark wood finishes are more suited to city pads
and very large urban kitchens.

Any wood finish would look good with chrome and glass, so don't be worried about matching
accessories. Worktops usually get worn out first, unless you have already invested in granite.
Even Corian, which is more expensive than granite, gets nicks and cuts in it after time.
Laminated worktops are cheap to replace, but of course they will not last more than a decade.

Many people have found it easy to prime

and paint their existing kitchen cupboard
doors, if they choose to keep them. You
need to use a wood primer first, which costs
about £11 for 750 ml, followed by the
satinwood or eggshell paint of your choice.
Use good quality paint as the doors take a
lot of wear and tear.

Clients often ask 'what colour should my

kitchen be?' I would suggest that bold
colours be restricted to walls and
accessories, and neutrals or metallics for
tiles and flooring, which are more permanent
and therefore harder to change. Many
designers feel that red is a colour not
suitable for kitchens because it encourages
gluttony! (But I would leave that up to you to

To ensure your kitchen lasts a long time, you

will need to look after it. Items which are
frequently used, should be on display. Firstly,
it is more practical and secondly, it prevents
the kitchen doors from wearing out.

Other items should be in cupboards to keep

worktops clear. To extend the life of
worktops, make sure you always use
chopping boards. Obviously, the more you
cook, the more the kitchen wears out. Either
you stop cooking altogether as though you
are in a show flat, or wipe down your kitchen
everyday, especially the microwave, hob,
sink and the worktops. This way you will not
need to revamp it again for some time.
Articles from Ivy Ngeow Architects

The roof space, traditionally used for storage, can now be transformed into quiet and bright
rooms, perfect for an extra bedroom or office. People would rather convert lofts than move due
to the rising property prices and high population densities in London.

Converting the loft increases the value of the property but only by the amount that the loft cost,
which would be between £15,000 and £45,000, depending on these factors: type of roof,
number of rooms, inclusion of bathroom, and the specifications.

Having said that, a poor quality conversion reduces value from the property. People these days
are very house savvy. They will simply not want to accept a badly built and low specification
extension because it will cost double to improve it.

You can only convert a loft if you have headroom of about 2.4m at the highest point. In
properties built after 1965, this is unlikely because they tend to have very shallow roof pitches
due to trussed rafters, leaving only a crawl space fit for storage. Houses built before 1965 have

rafter and purlin construction where the ridge beam spans between the side walls and rafters
carry the roof loading down towards the front and back walls.

Steel joists and new flooring add about 180mm to the level of the existing floor joists, thereby
further reducing the headroom inside the loft. When you get up a loft ladder and poke your
head through the access hatch, the space may appear very large but a new staircase and
landing eat in to the space thereby causing loss of usable floor area.

If you are thinking of converting your roof space, there are two options. First, the cheaper
option would be for you to contact a loft conversion company who will provide the entire
shebang of services from design to completion. They will take care of all the local authority

Make sure that you get at least three detailed, specified and itemised quotes. To do this you
must make sure that you yourself know what fittings should be included; for example radiators,
power points and light fittings. You must also visit at least two of their previous conversions to
avoid being on BBC Watchdog. I cannot stress this enough.

Secondly, the more expensive option would be to appoint an architect. When finding an
architect, make sure that you view their portfolio and that you can communicate with them.

There are different fee scales, which you should clarify with them: flat fee, an hourly rate or
percentage basis, depending on the project. You can hire the cheapest architect but you can
never ever make a bad design good. Therefore a strong mutual understanding between client
and architect is key to the project. It is a relationship of trust and respect.

An architect can advise you on planning issues. For example, there are many roof forms that
are not acceptable to the council. There are numerous possibilities with regards to
configurations and design options. Most people have a budget in mind.

An architect will be able to sketch and demonstrate several layouts to you based on your
budget so that you will be able to use the space most efficiently to suit you and your family. He
or she will produce drawings for submission to the council for both planning and building notice
applications, and also detailed schedule of works and specifications for going out to tender.
These enable different builders to price to the same requirements. They will then go through a
fair and square competitive tendering process.

Without plans, schedules and specifications, the process is vague and you will never find out
what was priced for and what wasn't. The cheapest builder may just have excluded a lot of
essential items, and the most expensive may take you to the ceiling of your budget so that you
may be out of pocket during emergencies. If you seek out a builder that you already know
previously or through your neighbours, he may be able to advise you on ball park costs. These
are highly inaccurate fluffy figures for the purpose of borrowing enough money from the bank.

It takes about eight weeks for the council to consider your application. Once you have received
permission, you have a choice of running the project yourself or to hire an architect as a
project manager. The advantage is that you have an independent contract to the building

works because the architect will be employed by you and be working in your best interests.

Therefore there is more quality control. The architect's fee for managing the project is usually
15% to 20% of the contract sum (building cost). The larger the building cost, the lower the
percentage. If you choose to manage the project yourself, it is of course more stressful as it is
a job in itself unless you are an advanced DIYer or you are already in the building industry.
Also you have to have organisational skills and a lot of spare time on your hands.

All buildings are made by human beings. This is what everyone forgets. Each is unique. There
are inconsistencies and irregularities in every old building. Unforeseen factors like structure or
plumbing renewal work cost dearly and cannot be ascertained until opening up. Therefore
there is a degree of inaccuracy in terms of cost, time and quantities in any works to existing

If you run the project yourself, there is always a risk that you can specify wrong items or not
notice defects, odd fittings, mistakes or unresolved junctions, what we in the trade call 'bad

Basically, you have to ensure that you inspect the building works regularly, specify fittings and
finishes correctly, check the contractor's programme, materials and workmanship such that the
entire building project is on time and on budget. As the mantra goes, 'do not accept cheap

In the next part: roof forms, stairs, services and local authority issues.
Articles from Ivy Ngeow Architects

In part one of this article, we discussed the possibilities of converting your existing roof space
into a new usable room. We discussed planning permission, employing an architect and
approximate costs. In order to submit your application, there are three basic roof forms which
your new space will take:

Existing roof pitch retained: This is the cheapest of the three options because it facilitates the
use of the floor space and roof area by inserting rooflights like Velux windows and a new
staircase. However, you can only opt for this form if you have a steep pitch to begin with, for
example 40 deg and steeper.

Existing roof pitch retained with new dormer windows: This is the second cheapest option.
Dormer windows are those wedged-shaped windows with a roof and sides fitted into an
existing pitched roof.

By creating full head height areas in a pitched roof construction, it is a good option for those
who cannot have the first option. Dormer windows help increase the usable floor area. Many
houses in conservation areas are required to have dormer windows when converting their lofts.

Existing roof pitch retained on front pitch with mansard roof on back: This is the most
expensive option, but it creates the most usable space, because it maximises head height on
the entire back half of the house. The back pitch of the existing roof is removed, a new flat roof
and mansard back pitch is added, into which windows are fitted.

The mansard is often 70 deg in pitch in some councils, depending on the existing streetscape.
In all the three roof forms, a front escape window of a minimum size of 450mm x 450mm is
necessary for escape during a fire. This window size should generally be a tenth of the floor
area as a guide.

Staircases most commonly continue over the existing stair direction. Staircases in the first and
second roof forms have to 'wind' more. This means that a straight flight is out of the question.
This is because as you are ascending, the roof pitch is getting closer because the roof is
sloping down towards the back of the house.

Therefore the disadvantage of retaining your roof pitch is that the staircases eat in more into
the usable floor area of your new room. The minimum head clearance is 2m in domestic
applications in order to building regulation requirements.

Some people have used spiral stairs, but it is much more impractical when moving large items
of furniture (eg mattresses) up and down. In the mansard option, a straight flight is possible, if
the mansard is almost vertical, i.e 80 or 90 deg.

When you increase your accommodation, it is normal that the loading on your existing services

would increase. Your new services such as plumbing and electrics should be connected to the
existing supply, therefore you may need to increase the capacity on your mains.

If you choose to have a new bathroom in your loft room, it can increase the price by five to ten
thousand pounds depending on the size, design and the specifications of your bathroom. If
you have not budgeted for this aspect of the construction, it is best not to embark on it unless
you do not mind the cost implications.

Bathrooms should always be thought of at the beginning of the design process, not at the end.
This is because altering and adding to existing plumbing, sanitary fittings, and tiling are very
expensive if they are of any quality.

Also, another reason why you should design the bathroom into the scheme at the earliest
stage is the issue of head height. The shower and handbasin, for instance, can only be where
there is full head height, whereas the WC can be at points where there is lower head height, if
needs be.

The first issue about plumbing costs is that if the new WC cannot be located near an existing
soil vent pipe, you may have to install a macerator. This is an electrically powered waste
disposal machine, chopping up and pumping waste through a smaller pipe to the nearest soil
pipe. They are not that noisy these days but still you should install them only when the normal
soil pipe is not possible. Your architect, builder or plumber will be able to advise you.

The second point to mention about plumbing is that shower fittings are expensive. Make sure
that another shower or bath being run elsewhere in your property will not affect the water
pressure. There are numerous ways of ensuring that the high pressure is retained for modern
showers, for instance, pumps or a higher capacity tank. Again, seek advice from the
professionals. There is no point in installing a new shower that has poor pressure because it is
a complete waste of money.
Articles from Ivy Ngeow Architects

New house, Malaysia

Role: Architect. Completion in January 2004.

Site inspection and photos

By examining existing site conditions it is possible to ascertain sun angles, noise, level of
vegetation and location and extent of existing infrastructure and services. These also assist
clients in formulating their requirements. The client brief was for a family home for a retired
Malay couple and their three grown-up daughters.

Existing North East elevation - road access Existing North East elevation - back door view

Existing South elevation Existing South West elevation - front door view


Initially I looked at the justification of the spaces based on the concept, in order to produce the
sketch design for discussion with clients. As the house was surrounded by orchard land, and
therefore with view on four sides, it was vital to facilitate cross ventilation and daylight by
taking advantage of the natural siting.

Ideas sketch

We started looking at concepts for laying out the spaces. I think that separating the private
spaces using a communal space not only achieves direct line of view to the orchard, it also
aids natural cross ventilation. Therefore by keeping the western sun to the utility areas of the
house, we maximise heat loss for life in the tropics. The wide verandah which wraps around
the western face of the building helps keep cool. The concept is the most important aspect of
an architectural project. If the concept does not work, none of the house will work.


The definitive and accurate client presentation plans are called the schematic design. They are
developed from sketch design. These may be developed into a more technical version for
tender purposes. However, for the client and architect, the schematic shows the relationship
between the house and its context.
Articles from Ivy Ngeow Architects

Open plan living is more commonly found in flats and situations where accommodation is tight,
for example in London mews houses. The general concept is derived from confined spaces
such as houseboats and cruise ships.

Open plan need not mean loss of usable space. There are many advantages, for example, it is
more economical to heat and to light. However it is more suited to couples without children
and the Bridget Jones and Mr Darcys of this world. For many city dwellers, there is no choice
but open plan accommodation.

No space is truly open. This is because accommodation has to protect the privacy of its users.
Bathrooms are nearly always with walls, for obvious reasons such as hygiene and flood
prevention! Even an open plan bedroom would still have screens, either permanent or sliding.
The most applicable open plan would be living and kitchen areas. In yuppie flats, the users
have no time to make three-course meals. When they come home from work they would prefer
heat and eat their TV meal and watch digital telly. The open plan living area would enable
more than one yuppie to achieve all of this simultaneously.

The most important issue about open plan accommodation is "less is more", to borrow Mies
van der Rohe's phrase. Space is manipulated by increasing natural light, the most valuable
and malleable tool for changing the character of an open plan space.

If you look at any art gallery, which is really an open plan space, you will realise that the art is
made alive by the distance between the artwork and the quality of light. Increase your light
source by having large windows, or if that is not possible, rooflights. If both are impossible, fit
good quality light fittings, mirrors and other shiny objects.

Align two spaces such that they are on a major axis. Since there is no solid wall interrupting
the view, light can travel in a straight line and the room will appear ordered and symmetrical.
For your dining area, you should consider folding tables and chairs especially if the space is
limited. Use screens to separate spaces if required. They can be in the form of sliding glass
doors, bamboo blinds or papery Japanese panels. If you simply have to have walls between
spaces, keep them to half-height level. This way, you will not hinder light penetration.

Space can also be divided by changing the floor levels. For example, a workstation or home
office can be on a raised platform, with two or three steps leading up to it. Bathrooms can be
sunk, and bedrooms and dining areas can be raised. When changing floor levels, use all the
interconnecting spaces for underfloor storage such that no space is wasted.

For example, the steps can be used as drawers, or storage with lift-off tops, and handrails can
be completely lined with bookshelves. Steps can store tools or toys. This also helps to keep
the space visually interesting. The houseboat has many such features.

You can also increase your space physically, if you have the luxury of very high ceilings, by
installing a mezzanine floor level. This is one of the most successful design recommendations
for open plan living. The mezzanine can be used for numerous purposes, a spare bedroom or
home office being the usual.

Generally, as a guide, ceiling heights should be at least 4.1m before you can even consider a
mezzanine level. Otherwise you will not be able to stand up. The mezzanine can be connected
via a spiral staircase, or a ship's ladder, which is basically a very steep, straight staircase.

Finally, keep the open plan interior coordinated. Use compatible materials, such as natural
colours and finishes so that the space appears warm and peaceful. Fabrics and paint colours
should match, and as a rule, strong colours should only be used as an accent.
Articles from Ivy Ngeow Architects

Energy comes from power stations, and fossil fuels are burnt to generate energy, which in turn
releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. These gases cause the greenhouse effect
which causes global warming, and ultimately climate change. If we can reduce our energy
consumption, the amount of gases can be reduced too and we save energy in the meantime.

The most basic and most important way of saving energy is the insulation of your home,
including the walls, roof/loft and pipes. Heat loss can be reduced to half with the correct
amount of insulation. The house is then warm in winter and cool in summer, and additional
means of heating and cooling such as radiators and air conditioners can be minimised.

It is actually easier to save energy than to talk about it. It's all commonsense and based on
what your gran or mum told you, such as 'don't leave taps running' and 'switch off lights and
the telly when you leave the room'. Ten to fifteen percent of your electricity bill is attributable to

Open the curtains or blinds fully to that you can have natural light for longer in the day,
especially in summer when you should aim to minimise your energy consumption. It may be
worth it to use energy saving light bulbs for example in areas of high lighting usage. The
disadvantage of these bulbs is that they may not always work with dimmers so hallways and
landings are perfect because they are spaces that do not need dimming.

If your boiler is more than 15 years old, a new condensing boiler with the right heat output can
save you a third on your heating bills straightaway. Radiators can have thermostatic valves so
that each room can be adjusted.

Also most boilers have timers too, to control the period of water heating and space heating.
Another tip for hot water heating is setting your thermostat at the lowest temperature that will
give you the hot water required. This way you are not over-heating excessive amounts of

Get rid of all dripping taps as soon as you can. They waste almost a hundred litres of water
per week. Imagine that quantity as a hundred bottles of those 1 litre Coke bottles. You could
have a party. A fast shower lasting no more than two minutes (!) uses only a third of water in a
bath. Water your garden with greywater (water from baths) or collecting rainwater using a
water butt, adapted to suit your downpipes.

Choose and use energy-efficient appliances, if you are replacing your existing ones, with those
rated 'A'. For example, a separate oven and hob always work out more expensive, even
though convenient, because they count as two appliances. Another example: if you have an
Aga that is turned off in the summer, you will still need a back-up oven and hob.

Lastly, if you are looking to live somewhere new or designing a new home, choose to live in a
sustainable building.

What is sustainable architecture? It is architecture based on the following principles:

Site layout - buildings are facing the sun to reduce energy costs

Building design - materials used, insulation, double glazing, natural ventilation - such as
using timber that is renewable (regrown) or Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) approved.
Tropical and African hardwoods are to be avoided. uPVC is a no-no: the production and
disposal of which releases 6 of the 15 most hazardous chemicals listed by European
governments for priority elimination.

Heating, lighting, ventilation systems.

Water use in construction and use - to be minimal, ie. building is constructed off-site, plus
water-saving features for taps, WCs, showers.

Local, renewable or recycled sourced materials. The less distance the material has to
travel to come to you, the less time, money, energy you are wasting. So goodbye to Chinese

Renewable energy such as wind, solar, biofuel.

Transportation - roads, use of cycles. Cut down on your commuting and save yourself
time, money and energy.

Waste and recycling strategy.

Rainwater harvesting, as previously described.
Articles from Ivy Ngeow Architects

If you are lucky enough to have a large garden, you can enjoy the comfort and flexibility of a
summer house. It is one of the most viable options for increasing space without moving or
extending. It is also less stressful as it is outside the house.

The summer house is a stand alone, detached structure in your garden which means you will
not need to live with plastic sheeting, tinny radio music or plywood boarding while waiting for
(or enduring) builders to complete an extension. As the structure is completely new, it is also
much quicker to build. In fact most summerhouse manufacturers build the entire building as a
flatpack construction so that it is just assembled on site.

The summerhouse is a timeless favourite with people such as artists and writers. Penny Faith,
London author of two books, Hello Mr Magpie and From a Past life, is a novelist who works
from her summerhouse. 'One of the best things about a summerhouse is that it feels like going
to work somewhere else, rather than at home,' she says.

Her advice for people like artists and writers who are considering building a summerhouse is
that they have to think carefully what its purpose would be, and what space they actually
require and can afford. 'You should also decide what kind of lighting you need,' Penny says. In
effect the summerhouse is a mini-house, and its lighting is affected by its siting and orientation,
just like any building.

Penny's summerhouse is designed with her in mind. It is painted in dream-like Caribbean

colours both inside and out and she has decorated the interior with prints of palm trees and
decorative bird cages. It is an inspiring space that really feels like you've made a journey
somewhere else.

There are also two sofas for when her creative writing students come around and read out
their work. Outside, a covered timber painted verandah the full width of the building gives the
summerhouse that Somerset Maugham quality. On a clear evening, one can toss one's straw
hat aside, sit in a white wicker chair scribbling a new chapter in a leatherbound notebook and
fantasise about Whisky stengahs amidst orchids and birds of paradise.

And now the reality. You should enquire with your local authority regarding what is allowable,
especially if you live in a Conservation area. There are some general guidelines such as it
should not be more than 50 cubic metres or within 5 m of the house. It cannot occupy more
than 50% of the garden or be more than 3 m high (flat roof) or 4 m high (pitched roof). If you
make this sort of enquiry first, it will save you a lot of trouble and waste of time later on.

Once you've determined what is allowable, you may contact a designer or a summerhouse
supplier. If it is a bespoke structure you may like to contact an architect. You need to consider
where you would like your power points and lighting, for instance. Running water from the
mains will not be easily achieved without the protocol and written consents from Thames

This would make the project very expensive and and not to mention time-consuming. This is
because mains connection makes the shed a proper habitable room. But if you are an artist
you will probably need water supply, and you can achieve this via a bib cock tap (external tap)

from anywhere outside the summerhouse. You may already have a tap on the outside of the
back of your house, for instance.

Good security is also a key point. There is no reason why you shouldn't use 5-lever locks for
top security, and high quality doors and windows. Good security also makes the building more
valuable. Penny uses a laptop which she takes to and from the house every day (on her one-
minute commute to work) so as not to leave it in the summerhouse. Very important if you have
written a novel!
Articles from Ivy Ngeow Architects

In between holiday periods this summer, you may like to consider some ideas in which you
can improve the way and the style in which you live.

If you have the space, you can create a room within a room, just for dressing. Dressing areas
are often found in larger bedrooms like loft bedrooms. In this way, the bedroom can be kept
relaxed and neat, while clothes chaos can be confined to the walk-in wardrobes

Choose wash basins with tops, or simply add a under basin cabinet to your existing basin.
You'll find it much easier to tidy bathroom things and store bottles and loo rolls, especially in a
small bathroom where there is always the risk that toothbrush or paste may fall into the loo.

Get and electrician to install more lights where it's needed, such as in the kitchen and

Get solar powered water heating, if you have at least one pitch of your roof facing south. It's
expensive to install but it's worth it in the long run. The heating system can spply 50% of hot
water use. You can save £50 to £100 per year on your bills.

Treat wood floors to varnish. They will be slick, revitalised and look new again. Similarly, get
your carpets cleaned. Often the entire room looks different with clean carpet - you don't need
to change the carpet in fact.

Get your loft insulated. It is the easiest and cheapest way of saving energy. The thicker the
material (at about 250mm thick) the greater the saving. Wool is the best insulation, because it
is eco-friendly and natural, but it is the most expensive and it's like making your house wear a

Cut flowers and pot plants look fantastic indoors during summer, due to the quality and
quantity of light. A beautiful display brings a pleasant ambience to any room, old or new. Also,
there are plants particularly good at removing pollutants out of the air. For example, the spider
plant removes formaldehyde. Water your plants with greywater (eg water from baths).

Get your bedhead covered in new upholstery material. This will make it more comfortable to
stay up late and watch telly or staying in bed longer on weekend mornings. The padding
should be thick enough to be comfortable when leant against, like being on the furthest back
seat of a bus.

Paint an old piece of furniture, such as a chair or a wardrobe, and use it for something else.
For example the painted chair could be a bedside table in a spare room, and the wardrobe
could be fitted with shelves for filings and office stuff.

Go out more.
Articles from Ivy Ngeow Architects

Marble marquetry in old house being refurbished

Tiles have been around as long as people have been baking bread. Tiles baked in the kiln
were used as a basic building material and had a variety of applications, from roofing to
flooring. Nowadays, tiles are mostly used in kitchens and bathrooms due to the fact that tiles
are hard-wearing and waterproof.

The most hardwearing and impervious of all tiles is the glazed ceramic tile. They are almost
indestructible; a point to note when having them removed. They are mass-produced and easily
obtainable in such a variety of colour, texture and size that you are not really limited by
anything but time. You can certainly find one to suit your budget. They are unfortunately
slippery when wet and cold to the touch.

The grout can be unhygienic as it discolours or stains in time. Underfloor heating can be used
to counteract the effect of cold tiles but could be an inefficient way of heating the room. Glazed
ceramic tiles are popularly used for walls due to the thin grouting and therefore ease of
cleaning. As they are also heat resistant, they are suitable for cooking areas.
The key to using glazed ceramic wall tiles is colour. Darker colours are less hardwearing. This

is because they contrast more with the grout lines, and

darker colours show up irregularities and damage more.
Too much wall tiling can look offensive and detract from
the character of a room. Wall tiling should be used as an
accent in a practical area.
Hand-made Balinese tiles
The unglazed ceramic tile could be used for floors in wet
areas such as bathrooms and swimming pools. They provide slip resistance and tend to be
less garish. They may be used for a larger expanse of floor area. Unglazed tiles may require
sealing so that they would not stain easily.

Terracotta tiles are warmer than stone and come in a variety of interesting shapes (such as
hexagonal and rectangular) but have to be sealed to be waterproof and stain-resistant. Old or
reclaimed tiles have a natural beauty, but are quite hard to match. New terracotta tiles, which
although look dull due to their uniformity, will acquire the aged patina in time if you have the

Mosaics were fashionable with the Romans, who used ornate marble mosaic decoratively.
Today's glass mosaic tiles, when used creatively, add character and appeal not just to a
surface but to a room. They can be incorporated into the overall interior design. They are hard
to lay if the surface is not perfectly level, but it is very rewarding to see a completely well-laid
mosaic pattern.

Mosaic tiles are very popular in the bathroom, but due to the hard nature of London water, the
grout can harbour soap, limescale and dirt. An entire room tiled in mosaic can look municipal.
Once again, less is more.

Natural stone tiles such as limestone, marble and granite are the most expensive types of tiles.
They have the timeless quality of excellence and glamour. They are also low maintenance and
hardwearing and their natural beauty is enhanced by age. Marble and limestone tend to stain,
so they would need to be sealed. All stone flooring is cold to the touch, therefore many people
would consider underfloor heating.

Granite and marble are slippery when wet, but you could have alternate finishes like honed or
waterjet finish rather than a polished finish. You would need to make sure that the floor is
strong enough to take the loading. Your architect or marble supplier can advise you before you
purchase your stone flooring. Slate has always been a bone of contention. Although it gives
the impression of good colour variation, the rough surface makes it hard to lay. Even the
smooth finish tends to be slightly textured, therefore hard to clean. Having said that, slate is
long wearing if you don't mind the ingrained dirt.

The trend at the moment is for glass tiles, which come in many wonderful colours and sizes.
The rules for wearing see-through clothes and matching underwear would apply: make sure
the adhesive is laid well and is in a compatible colour. The tiles are quite thick so they could be
used for the floor as well as the walls.

The simple rule when tile shopping is that large rooms suit large plain tiles and small rooms

suit small patterned tiles. If you only have small rooms to tile, don't despair. The good news is
that there is currently a craze for everything ethnic and global. Think Hideous Kinky in a Smeg

Handmade tiles, such as Moroccan or Spanish, are very popular for celebrating pure geometry
and colour. Marble mosaics, laid in Greco-Roman style, are also painfully fashionable, so there
is never a better time to design your own unique flooring pattern.

See the Bathrooms and Tiles articles for more tiles pictures
Articles from Ivy Ngeow Architects

Traditionally, sliding timber sash

windows in period properties were
painted all sorts of colours. They are
now usually painted white. The sash
window is the most popular and
practical form of glazing. Firstly, you
can allow ventilation without opening
the entire window. With added security
bolts, you can lock the window in
position for continuous ventilation.
Secondly, you can easily escape when
there is a fire because the half the
window area can open fully.

The minimum opening size that people

can climb through is 850mm high by
500 mm wide. This may seem
generous, but bear in mind that uPVC
double-glazed windows have pivoting scissor hinges,
which reduce the effective window opening size. Also,
they project out and are less secure.

If you have uPVC windows, which have small opening

areas, for example, large fixed panel below and small
openable fanlight panel above, it will be impossible to
escape during a fire. It is also very difficult to break
the glass of a sealed double-glazed unit unless you
are incredibly strong.

Safety is the most important aspect of window design.

In French windows or glazing within 800mm up from
floor level, the glass will need to be safety glass.
Laminated glass is the most secure of safety glass
against intruders. It is made by laminating two panes
of double-glazing with a clear plastic interlayer. The
glass will crack without any sharp edges. Toughened
glass is less secure because it shatters into small
pieces, which can be knocked through afterwards.

Older properties are draughty. If you have old

windows, they will need renovating. If they are too
damaged, you can replace them. New windows would
have to comply with British Standards and Building
Regulations Part N - Glazing - safety in relation to
impact, opening and cleaning, and Part F - Ventilation.
You will need to check with the council if you require
any permission to replace your windows, because if

you are in a Conservation Area, you will need

Conservation Area consent first.

Bay windows are popular because they allow

a lot of daylight. They are now notorious
because of the ignorance of the uPVC window
replacement industry. Traditional timber bay
windows contain timber posts, which form the
structure of the bay. When these are removed,
there is nothing to support the opening.

UPVC windows are not structural, so what

happens is the window fails under the load of
the brickwork above, and will collapse with
time. If you look carefully at properties with
uPVC bay windows, take note of the sagging Window with seat and shelves
of the window opening. If you must have
uPVC bay windows, always remember that
structural support is necessary.

Steel windows are often seen in architecture of the Thirties and Forties, and many
warehouses. There are still companies which manufacture them so replacement is costly but
not difficult. Casement windows are preferable for the same escape reasons.

The traditional British access to the garden is via a solid timber door. The only view is via the
cat flap. The trend is now to widen the opening of the door, and to replace the solid door with
full length windows. They give the illusion of space just through abundant daylight and view of
the garden. This is a continental idea hence the term French windows. There is now the very
modern term "window wall" which is essentially a glass wall to allow the garden to be fully

If your window is deep, you can have window seats built in. These can have toys or bedding in
them, so space is not wasted. A good interior designer can find creative ways of addressing
and dressing your windows (especially if the view is not good).