Hemel Hempstead – Episode 2 – 2018
October 16, 2018
This week is the second of our three episodes presenting ITV’s Love Your Home and Garden. Alongside, Alan Titchmarsh, Katie Rushworth and Kunle Barker, we transform the homes and gardens of deserving people across the country.
For this project, we were in Hemel Hempstead and the home of Anne and Mike Taylor, their daughter Helen, grandchildren Clara and Louis and dog Harry. The family moved into their 1920s semi three years ago to support Mike, when aged just 55, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. For 17 years, Anne has selflessly devoted herself to Mike’s needs. Now, to help her continue this care, the house and garden need to be adapted to accommodate the progression of Mike’s condition and provide a refuge for the expanded family.
To set the scene, the layout of the house was like most typical semi-detached properties. However Anne and Mike had one side of the ground floor as a self-contained living unit, with their own living room facing the front driveway, a bedroom facing the rear garden, with direct access to the family kitchen and a fully equipped mobility access shower room in between. At the back of the property was a large kitchen dining space that the whole family used and off that was a small ‘snug’ for Clare and the children, with their bedrooms and bathrooms upstairs.
The challenge was to instil in this home some tranquillity for Mike and Anne, create some space for Helen and the children and accommodate the needs of a Parkinson’s and dementia patient. In one design. Easy eh?
Let there be light
In addition to Parkinson’s disease, eight years ago Mike was also formally diagnosed with dementia. Dementia is one of the largest health issues facing our society today, thousands of people across the UK are caring for people they love with this condition.
We consulted Dr Claudia Cooper and Dr Penny Rapaport, Dementia Researchers at UCL. On their advice, we made two really practical changes to the house to support Anne and Mike.
Firstly, we infused the house with as much daylight as possible. Claudia and Penny told us that daylight stimulates melatonin levels, which in turn can help regulate the body clock to promote better sleep. This can minimise time spent in bed during the day, which we hope would help Mike – and therefore help Anne get a better night’s sleep. Therefore we rearranged Mike’s bedroom to get more light in through the existing big window, placed a big new roof window to bring more natural light into the kitchen and made it much easier for Mike to get out into the garden by raising the deck.
Secondly, we understood from our research that people with dementia can find it very difficult to navigate, often making them anxious and frightened. In our interior design, we used colour and contrast, so that Mike can identify key features in different rooms. So, for example, we used accented skirting boards painted in an aubergine colour to clearly differentiate the floor from the wall designed a clear. We wanted to avoid patterns and changing materials in the floor so we designed a painted timber floor throughout and installed Birch Plywood timber panelling in the circulation areas, to give a nice natural surface for the added daylight to bounce off.
Creating a family hub
Unlike in previous episodes that we have filmed, the kitchen in this house was actually quite big and the kitchen table was used as the main hub of the house, the one place where all three generations of the family got together.
This kitchen was a good example of how reconfiguring is sometimes better than extending or restructuring your house. If at all possible, you should always exploit the space you have to its full potential – but sometimes you need an architect to show you how!
The layout of this kitchen was restricting access to the garden and with the sink, oven and fridge spread over the opposite ends of the space, when everyone was in the kitchen together they were in each other’s way!
So to create more space, light and access to the garden we moved the kitchen to one side of the space and designed a new working triangle. This should be the key starting point of laying out any new kitchen. It represents the working movements between the three most frequently used areas: the sink, oven and fridge. Too big a triangle and you will easily clock up your 10,000 steps a day just making breakfast, too small and you will have no space to breath or surface area to prep food.
To create a more efficient triangle, we relocated the existing door to the snug away from the kitchen and into the entrance hallway, which freed us space to locate a tall fridge freezer. This gave us space to create a peninsula layout kitchen, meaning that the family wouldn’t be getting in Anne’s way when she was cooking up one of her legendary family roasts. The peninsula part of the kitchen created a subtle separation between kitchen and dining whilst keeping an open plan and rotating the sink, so it faced the garden.
We created a cosy hideaway for the younger generations of the family to have their own space. We clad the door to blend with the plywood wall and create a ‘secret’ door. Although we had no scope to change the size of the room, we gave the room an expansive focus by creating a feature wall with the use of forest-themed wallpaper.
With the installation of a new roof light and back doors to the garden, we created a friendly space for all the family to eat together, relax and restore.
Family snug, with secret door clad in plywood and feature wallpaper.
Access to nature
When we started the project, the garden was physically and visually a long way away. Mike was unable to access it in his wheelchair, Anne could not be outside and be close to Mike and the family were unable to see the garden from inside. Anne said herself, they might as well be in a flat with no garden!
We weren’t proposing to extend the house so what to do? Well if the house won’t come to the garden then bring the garden to the house, so we raised a new deck all the way up to kitchen level and installed a new platform lift. Once we had established a strategy to access the garden, next was making sure we reconfigured the kitchen and dining area so that the family could see and enjoy it. When you’ve got Alan Titchmarsh designing a garden, you want to make sure you can see it right?
We had to make Mike and Anne’s bedroom slightly larger so that we could reconfigure the layout, which meant moving and re-building the wall that separated it from then kitchen. This provided us with the opportunity install a sliding wall that, when opened, effectively makes the whole back of the house open plan. When standing in the dining area, the effect of opening the sliding wall is like placing a wide-angle lens on your camera. It widens the view out the garden.
A new family home
We are really happy with the results, it was a tough challenge to work with a garden and a house on different levels to each other. Having a bedroom directly next to a kitchen and working with three generations living together was a new one for us. The house is now completely transformed and provides a space for them altogether as well as refuge for some peace and quiet.
We hope you enjoyed this week’s episode, we really loved bringing some light and space into this home and finding out how we could use our skills as designers to better support Anne in caring for her husband. We wish them every happiness in their new home and garden!
Design Tips for your home
- Place roof windows against a wall. Light levels are much higher through a horizontal window than a vertical window. Use the horizontal to bring light into your home and enhance it further by placing the window directly against a wall which will act as a reflecting surface to bring more light into the space. Check out our London Fields loft project http://b-vds.co.uk/projects/london-fields-loft/ where we have done exactly this and placed a roof window against a wall. It was for a bedroom so to ensure good darkness at night we also installed an in-built electronic shade.
- Make your kitchen triangle compact. The kitchen triangle is an imaginary shape drawn between your fridge, sink and oven. Use this as your starting point when laying out your kitchen and play around with different configurations, you might surprise yourself!
- Sometimes you don’t need to extend. On this house, we focused on making simple internal alterations to move kitchen units and a bed away from the rear wall onto the garden to completely open up the house onto the garden. It can save you a lot of money and precious garden space.
- External wall cladding is a great way to make a house feel new. The back of this house was quite tall and imposing and covered entirely in pebbledash. Did you know that pebbledash can dramatically reduce the value of your home? On this project we reduced the impact of the pebbledash by cladding the ground floor of the back of the house, which was a very cost effective way of making the whole rear feel like a new extension.
- Sliding walls can add flexibility to your living spaces. Having the bedroom next to the kitchen was unique to this project. The wall facing the garden in any home is prime space and we wanted to add flexibility to make the most of this by installing a sliding wall that when opened created more views out to the garden. See how we used sliding walls to great effect in a tiny mews property to open up the spaces and add flexibility in our ‘Studio’ project http://b-vds.co.uk/projects/the-studio/ We are very proud of it because we not only designed it but both built it together!
- More daylight during the day and less light at night. Sun exposure affects our sleep and melatonin production, get it right and you will get a restful night. The amount of daylight you get during the day is as critical as the amount of darkness you get at night. The existing flat roof provided us with a great opportunity to install and roof window, which means Mike can benefit from daylight even on a rainy day!
Check out our company website www.b-vds.co.uk for examples of other homes we have transformed, including photos of Mike and Anne’s new house http://b-vds.co.uk/projects/love-your-home-and-garden-itv-hemel/
https://www.call-to-mind.com/ is a playful communication game that combats boredom and agitation in people with dementia and can be played with all the family.
To find out more information about the charred timber cladding (Shou Sugi Ban) we used on the back of Anne and Mikes house, visit the supplier’s website http://shousugiban.co.uk/