The house that added up

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Simon Powers combined his skills as a number cruncher and his passion for property to transform a dated house. Sharon Dale reports.

Project managing a major conversion is demanding and stressful, especially for a novice, but Simon Powers’ career in accountancy certainly helped.

His number crunching prowess enabled him to keep control of the budget, while his organisational abilities and attention to detail also proved useful, plus, his passion for property.

“I have always been interested in property and I am obsessed with programmes like Grand Designs so the chance to have a project was great,” says Simon, 31.

His challenge was a dated, redbrick 1960s detached in North Leeds that he and his wife Rosie bought as their first home.

“It wasn’t what we were looking for but I was really excited. I knew we could do something special and if planners didn’t agree then we could just rewire, redecorate and stick a garage on the side,” he says.

He engaged architect James Butterworth, who shared his own enthusiasm and love of modern design, but planning proved contentious and took well over a year.

James says: “Negotiating through the planning process was a bit more difficult than normal but it was worth the extra effort. It was an exciting project to work on and it turned an old-fashioned house into a sleek modern home. One of my favourite aspects is how we opened up the ceiling above the stairs and installed a Velux to give lots of natural light and a spacious feel to the central space.”

As well as reconfiguring the existing layout, they were allowed a side extension with integral garage and a rear extension. They more than doubled the original 80 sq metres of space and also got permission for a separate single garage at the other side of the house.

Work started in July 2011 and took 10 months. The couple, who stayed in Simon’s flat until their new home was ready, are thrilled with the result. What was two rooms and a tiny kitchen downstairs is now a sitting room, utility room and large living kitchen with stunning bi-folding doors onto the garden. Upstairs, the two bedrooms and box room have become four double bedrooms, two bathrooms and a walk-in wardrobe.

The original property was modelled on a 1930s design and Simon was keen to keep elements of art deco style, while creating a contemporary home with all mod cons, including underfloor heating, rainwater harvesting and smart home technology. So outside, the redbrick was covered in Stolotusan self-cleaning render. Instead of a lawn at the front, they have created a vegetable garden and boundary hedges have been replaced by rendered walls.The drive is permeable resin that looks like gravel but without the chippings. This also helped win planning approval as it minimises water runoff.

“Another thing that can help with planning is making sure there is a designated space for storing bins. It sounds daft but it is a little thing that shows you have thought about the planning from a practical point of view,” says Simon, who took a career break to project manage the work. “I looked into employing someone and they got paid the same as I did so I decided to do it myself.

“The main builders, LM Contracts, were really helpful, as was the tiler, who had done his own self-build. I also went to two Homebuilding and Renovating shows, which were really useful. I found the bi-folding door company there.”

He adds: “It’s amazing how intensive project managing is. It took a month to get the electrics in the right place and I spent a lot of time sourcing and negotiating discounts.”

His work paid off. He cut costs and found some interesting new products, including Britlock recycled roof tiles made from slate dust. He also had time to design the staircase himself after being quoted £12,000 by a specialist company. His own version, made by his builder, cost less than £2,000.

Even so, the budget was pushed over its limit and the total cost of the build and finishing touches was £370,000. Added to the initial £240,000 cost of the property, the total spend was £610,000.

Opening up the space above the stairs was an extra £2,000 thanks to the steels needed but the rooflight has made a big difference to the look and feel of the hall and landing. Quality fittings, like the solid oak doors and the bespoke kitchen and dressing room from Little London in Rawdon, Leeds, also added to the cost.

But says Simon: “You get to a point where you could buy cheaper but you don’t want to compromise.”

The decor was dictated mainly by Rosie, who didn’t get involved with the project until the end. “She didn’t come near for the first six months, which was fine. She trusted me,” says Simon, who made sure there was plenty of wow factor. The statement light on the stairs is from Flos, while the low hanging pendants instead of bedside lights add boutique hotel style.

The whole experience has led to a portfolio career. As well as freelance accountancy, Simon now offers property services ranging from concept mapping and finding architects and builders to product sourcing and project management.

Simon’s Top Five Tips

Get an architect you like and is on the same wavelength you are.

Spend time putting your project out to tender, meeting the contractor and sign a contract.

Attend Home Building and Renovating shows or Grand Designs show. They are useful for contacts and ideas.

Use the internet to search for products and never buy anything until you have checked the internet for a cheaper price, which can save a considerable amount.

Be as hands-on as you can with your project, especially on-site. If not, employ someone you are comfortable with to oversee everything. This may be your main contractor.

Useful Contacts:

Studio J Architects, Leeds, tel: 0113 244 9905,

Simon Powers property services,

LM Contracts, main contractor,

DJM Electricians, tel: 0798 2529326

CG Decorators, tel: 07727 125961

CJ Ceramics, tiling, tel: 07966 463054

Yorkshire Flooring, wood flooring, tel: 01924 445944