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Refurb to penthouse standard - need a designer?

(29 Posts)
newbieLdn Thu 18-Jun-15 09:58:00

In short. Bought a 1500 sq ft, duplex apartment. It’s in a bad state internally, but no structural problems. It definitely has the potential to be turned into a penthouse style apartment.

I’ve found good builders – been shown around their completed projects, I liked the quality, they come recommended by a friend.

There aren’t any structural works to be done, just knocking down some stud walls, other than that new kitchen, bathrooms, floors, repainting, in-ceiling recessed lighting, etc.

I’ll be spending around £70k on this refurb, the flat isn’t super central so we paid £800k for it - crazy amount I know, but 1500 sq ft in London near Tube stations is rarely found on this budget. My dream is to accomplish the sort of “Canary Wharf penthouse”, modern look in it that is normally found in £2mln properties. Floating stairs, artwork on walls, hotel-style bathrooms. I’ve seen quotes of £100k for such work but our builder says it can be done for £70k.

Should I hire a designer or architect? If so where do I get them from? Are there websites with reviews/ratings/testimonials? I was recommended a “sensibly priced designer” who would cost about £7k, but her portfolio hardly impressed me, her projects looked like regular neat flats with Ikea furniture. I have a good sense of aesthetics and I’m pretty sure I could achieve a “normal”, neat look without a designer. It’s that wow factor that I think I may need professional help for. For example, the flat has double-height ceiling in half the living room, then really low ceiling in the other half, so I’d need to accentuate the former and draw attention away from the latter somehow. It’s these sort of problems that I’d need help with.

The builder says we can work out the design between two of us but I’m sceptical. What do you think?

EvaBee Thu 18-Jun-15 10:42:04

I'm confused. A penthouse is only a top floor flat. What is "penthouse standard"?

EvaBee Thu 18-Jun-15 10:43:36

PS This sounds far more than a 70k job to me. We've just done what you're doing and spent more than double that.

newbieLdn Thu 18-Jun-15 10:50:55

Sorry for causing confusion. Penthouses are normally the most expensive flats in a building and therefore tend to be done up to the nicest standard. Basically I'd like standard that is normally found in more expensive properties - we saved by buying a large place in a cheap area, we can spend the rest on refurb.

newbieLdn Thu 18-Jun-15 10:55:42

EvaBee, did you use a designer?

EvaBee Thu 18-Jun-15 11:09:49

We didn't - we didn't have scope for that as we bought a 60s house. Square rooms. In your case I think I would. Would be worth it if you get someone good. Why don't you try architects offices. They wouldn't charge too much for a newly qualified architect.

newbieLdn Thu 18-Jun-15 11:39:27

how do I go about finding the right architect though? googling "architect london" will be a bit vague, no?
I'm so unfamiliar with all this, I don't even know whom to look for. Is it an "architect" I'm after or an "interior designer"?

shovetheholly Thu 18-Jun-15 11:44:24

I think you're after an architect. And for this kind of project where you are undertaking structural work it will REALLY pay to use one - it is, quite literally, the difference between an amateur and a professional job. They will come up with all kinds of ideas that you would never think of. An interior designer is far more limited.

Start on the RIBA website, then look at individual practices til you find one whose style you love.

EvaBee Thu 18-Jun-15 11:44:55

Personally, I would find some small architect companies and check out their websites. That will tell you a lot about their work ethos and their design process. Architects (unless famous) don't make huge amounts of money so they aren't completely unaffordable.

Once you have a short-list tell them what you are looking for and ask them for a graduate architect. They are often very keen as they are new in the workplace. They often still have lots of experience.

newbieLdn Thu 18-Jun-15 11:49:06

great, thanks for the tips. And is it the case (I read about it somewhere on a US website I think) that they would charge about 12% of the cost of total project? Would that be builders' fees plus all the stuff I buy (bathroom, kitchen, flooring, tiles, floating stairs, etc)?

newbieLdn Thu 18-Jun-15 12:10:43

just to expand on my last question - I'm browsing through some of the RIBA architect sites (great tip, BTW! thanks!) and I sometimes see "construction value" mentioned next to the projects in their portfolios. Is it the total cost of builders' fees + all materials, and is the architect's fee calculated as a % of that, normally?

Madamecastafiore Thu 18-Jun-15 12:44:02

I know s fantastic architect who has been in Times property supplement for one of his designs if you are interested.

His v v modern and a complete perfectionist.

HollyMaingate Thu 18-Jun-15 12:57:16

I'd highly recommend Jon Beswick at WMOR. Small firm but could be what you're after

mandy214 Thu 18-Jun-15 13:10:01

I've just discovered - you can search by area and by property type and then look at photos of say "penthouse renovation" and it says on the righthand side whether designers / architects were involved. It also shows various reviews.

I did this yesterday and have scheduled an appointment with the architect who did a house I found which I liked and was local.

TheWildRumpyPumpus Thu 18-Jun-15 13:12:31

Is it to live in or sell on?

If it's to make a profit then I'd find out from local estate agents what the top price in your 'cheap' area would ever be for a same size apt.

If the area isn't nice then people aren't going to spend 2mil on the flat regardless of the fittings and finish.

If it's for you to live in and enjoy though, then I'd definitely hire an architect to give you ideas of best use of space. Ours has been invaluable in coming up with a great layout for our plans.

newbieLdn Thu 18-Jun-15 14:14:16

it's to live in.

I may have confused you here a bit: I said I wanted the flat to look like a Canary Wharf £2m penthouse, not that I wanted to turn my £800k purchase into a £2m flat;) Realistically, I'll plow (architect+builders+materials) £100k or thereabouts into the place, and if it adds £50-70k to the value I'll be fine with that.

newbieLdn Thu 18-Jun-15 14:16:36

it's to live in.

I may have confused you here a bit: I said I wanted the flat to look like a Canary Wharf £2m penthouse, not that I wanted to turn my £800k purchase into a £2m flat;) Realistically, I'll plow (architect+builders+materials) £100k or thereabouts into the place, and if it adds £50-70k to the value I'll be fine with that.

Lollipopgirl8 Thu 18-Jun-15 14:32:32

Oohh could be a loft style apartment what sort of building is it in

newbieLdn Thu 18-Jun-15 14:56:56

it's in a school conversion building, loft style would be one option to consider for me for sure. There are 3.5m tall windows, and mezzanine level which I'm hoping to open up onto the living room area.
But I don't want anything remotely pretentious, just simple, clean lines, maximise the natural light coming into the flat. I've been browsing through websites of RIBA architects, I liked projects such as or (the latter a different style of property, but it's that sort of style that I'd like)

How much should I expect to spend for design like that? Is it just the set of detailed plans that I should be buying, or the whole project, including communication with the builders, some oversight of what they're doing, all the way up to end of works?

SheEvelyn Thu 18-Jun-15 15:16:13

We used an architect and an interior designer. I can PM you the interior designer details - they are not as expensive as many as they are based outside London but do do projects in London. Let me know and I can send their website and some pictures of what they have done for us if you are interested.

prepperpig Thu 18-Jun-15 15:16:30

I would recommend Oneplan. Fantastic designer there called Karen who has helped me no end and can provide you with the plans and drawings you need. You can find her on Houzz and she also comes on here occasionally. I will PM you her details.

newbieLdn Thu 18-Jun-15 15:20:36

SheEvelyn and prepperig, please do send over the contact details. thanks!

shovetheholly Thu 18-Jun-15 15:27:54

newbie - It depends a bit how much bespoke stuff you're putting in. Most builders will project manage something fairly simple for you, and by 'simple' I mean something with reasonably standard construction and clear plans. However, if you want to start adding individual features that are unique to you (and this will be £££££) you might want oversight from an architect too.

You can even project manage it yourself with individual tradespeople if you have the confidence (and time) and the knowledge to check quality. You will save money if you do this, but if you do it badly, or get something in the wrong order, you could also end up spending a lot of cash unnecessarily.

newbieLdn Thu 18-Jun-15 15:46:52

shovetheholly - thanks for the explanation. So I have to admit here, I know nothing about the whole process.

Individual tradespeople - I don't think I want to go down the route of separate teams doing my bathrooms, flooring, painting, etc. I trust the guys I've chosen to do a good job on all these. I guess that means the guy will also "project manage" the whole thing. He'll know what needs to be done in what order, etc.

What I don't necessarily want him to do is design the place. I'm fairly confident I could come up with something neat and modern myself, but it's the little touches that I need help with. Where exactly do I position the little LED lights on the floor? Or: what can be done to accentuate the beautiful, tall sash windows I'll have? Etc.

I don't think any of the features will be particularly individual though. Floating stairs with glass railing will probably the most funky bit, and I don't think that's something that my builders can't deal with.

So it's an interior designer I need? Is RIBA website ( still a good place to look for those?

prepperpig Thu 18-Jun-15 15:48:14

Oneplan will be ideal for that type of input.

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