Making Space: Creating home around us
I'm going to start with a little disclaimer: I'm getting a bit deep on the blog this week thinking on a slighter more philosophical level on how we make a home around us and how by editing our space through renovations, we can potentially feel more connected and have well-being through the actual design of our houses.
As many of my dedicated readers will know my training and background is in dance and I'm quickly discovering that there seems to be a quite a few dancers who have made the leap (pun intended!) into interiors. Why would this be? Well after many chats and discussions I believe that performers but especially dancers have heightened spatial awareness in the way they are able to sense others and things around them. This proprioception is hard to explain and is often likened to as a sixth sense. Strange thing is, in day to day life I am an inherently clumsy person (and those genes have been most definitely passed on to my first born who has ended up in A & E too many times in his short life) but I have come to realise that I still have a sensitivity to the space around me and an aesthetic preference to where things should be to look balanced (similar to perfecting the arrangement of dancers on stage). I have exchanged designing bodies and limbs in space for choreographing the play of light and colours in rooms now and in order to shed a bit more light on the subject of 'space' who better to ask than Agnes Horvath from Room to Grow.
Agnes has over 15 years of experience in building, more if you count filching her father's building blocks at age two. She started going around building sites and peppering everybody with questions at age ten and tackled her first renovation project at twenty. There has been no stopping ever since. Today she owns and runs RoomToGrow London a residential building consultancy, working with homeowners to save them time, money and stress with their building projects by providing advice and project management services. From my first conversation with her I was fascinated with how she had such a interesting concept of space which isn’t always conveyed when talking to builders and architects. I loved her philosophical approach and thought you might too...
Tell me about any important childhood memories connect to being at home.
I grew up in a classic town house - think parquet floors, julienne balconies and cast-iron radiators. Running up and down two flights of stairs, skidding on carpets over lacquered floors, carrying all the fallen leaves across the house from the back garden in the autumn… these were all parts of my childhood. One of my first conscious memories (I would have been three years old or so) is dancing around the room as my mother plays the piano. Incidentally, the long overdue renovation of that house when I was ten years old was also my first foray into building and renovating. It was fascinating to see the transformation of a well-loved, if slightly worn down, place into something new but still familiar.
Where do you start with designing space - the flow of it and the relationship to the people who inhabit it?
I always think about how that space will be used, who will use it and what for. I’m quite practical with it. I think all spaces within a house should have a function because if you don’t use a space for anything, it becomes a millstone around your neck and just another area to clean, dust and tiptoe around. So when I think about space I always think about function too.
In a home, that function is up to the people who live there. Different people use spaces in different ways. I always ask my clients about what they want to do with their extension or new loft and what it has to be like to make them happy with the result. The answers vary a great deal and no two projects are the same. For example, I opened up the back of my house not only because I like larger spaces but because I have two very active boys who need a lot of space and movement. They were going crazy inside on dark winter evenings without enough space to move around in! On the other hand, I know someone who walled off part of her extension because she felt more comfortable in a smaller, cosier space. It’s all about the people in the space.
When you are snuggled up in an armchair with a favourite book, your living room has a different feel to it than when you are entertaining friends. Still, it has to work for you both when you are sitting down and when you are moving around in it. Magazines like talking about ‘dynamic space’ and the ‘flow of space’, but space itself isn’t static or fluid; we make it so by what we put in it and what we do in it. I aim to help my clients create spaces that work for them in a variety of ways.
Do you think that similar to interior design that people have a unique style that can be incorporated into the build?
Definitely. Although planning guidelines and building regulations limit a homeowner’s freedom somewhat, there is still a lot that can be done.
In case of a new build there is obviously a lot of room (pun unintended) for infusing a house with one’s own style. But even a fairly standard loft conversion gives you quite a few opportunities. The floor plan, the number and size of windows, the size of a bathroom, the amount and positioning of storage is determined not only by regulations, but also by choice. You also have a choice of building materials, insulation, outside finishes, roof styles, windows and doors that will play a significant part of what your new space will feel like. I always advise my clients to think about the fabric of their build carefully as it will have an impact on their options for the interior. Interior elements and finishes are, by and large, easier and cheaper to change than window frames and roof tiles.
How important are proportions to you?
I am a great fan of Georgian architecture, in part because of its focus on getting proportions right. And yes, there is such a thing as right (or wrong) proportions of a space. We have all been in rooms that feel “off”. Very often this feeling is due to the room’s proportions being skewed either too narrow for its length, too low for its size, or even the furniture being too big (or small) for the space. I find that whether a room or house feels comfortable doesn’t really depend on its size, but rather on its proportions.
As a trained dancer I feel very connected to my home and the space around me. Is this important for your work?
We all exist in the space around us and our everyday life is very much influenced by it. If we feel good in this space, be it a workplace or our homes, we are more relaxed, more productive, more content. When that space feels strange, “off” for want of a better word, a back corner of our minds is constantly occupied by it: the homo-sapiens needed to be very aware of and connected to the space it lived in if it wanted to survive. When I work with a client on clarifying their brief, we always spend quite some time on discussing what kind of space they feel good in, what it is they expect form their new extension or loft, because regulations notwithstanding, a new space only works if you feel at home in it.
Are there any commonalities across your clients or a similar process or starting point for their renovation?
Most of my clients are families with young children, who want to either overhaul or extend their existing space (sometimes both). Many have outgrown their homes, or their needs have changed over time and some have been planning on doing some work since they had moved in. They often cannot afford or simply don’t want to buy another house, so they go down the extension/conversion /renovation route. It is a very exciting opportunity that allows them to shape the house they live in, to make it more theirs and I admit that this excitement is probably what I like most about my job!
If only I'd met Agnes before our building work began I might have been able to enter the process with a lot less trepidation! I love that thought from Agnes that a renovation is creating something new that still has some sense of familiarity. Please visit her website for more information on her services and to find out more about the amazing workshops that she runs in the Bromley area. Also why not follow her on Facebook to get some insider tips and tricks and watch out for her blog posts which are super useful and informative. I always love reading them when they pop up on my feed.
It's so refreshing and exciting to reflect with Agnes on the mindset and approach that we can enter into a renovation project with. Yes of course it comes with it's stresses (and I've blogged about mine here) but it is also a really exciting and rewarding time and with the right help you can create something you can be really proud of and that will bring well-being into your home. The sky is the limit!
As always I love to hear your thoughts so please comment below with any thoughts or ideas and wherever you are in your renovation journey, good luck for the road ahead of you (here are my top survival tips if you need them)!
Yours in colour and creativity,