In Conversation With… Vic Johnson, Johnson Design Partnership


Many of us dream of building our own home one day, while others love where they live but think it could be improved through an extension or remodel. It’s little surprise that with such vision, questions often follow. And although every project is different, there are certainly queries that crop up more frequently than others – from the best ways to combine architectural periods in your design, to choosing the right architect for your works, not to mention where to start in tackling your home’s energy efficiency.

To help answer these questions, we sat down with Vic Johnson, Managing Director of Shropshire-based firm Johnson Design Partnership to get the expert perspective on where to start and engaging with an architect, right through to future proofing your design.

Hi Vic. What do I need to consider if I’m looking to build an extension on my home?

When approaching a project on your own home, you need to consider what you want to achieve from the outset. Is it all about gaining more space? And if so, is it a combination of indoor/outdoor space or just indoors? Do you want to address any concerns you have, such as privacy or natural light? Inviting an architect to visit early on will very much help with this, as they will take into consideration the site context, orientation, and views, amongst other things, to give you a larger picture.


We also often encourage clients to commission a digital survey of their property and site so we can accurately evaluate where their spatial opportunities are - it’s amazing what sometimes comes to light with the results here.


It’s important to be aware of complications around Planning or Listed Building consent too. Where the home’s Listed, you will need to get permission from your local authority for any alterations, including extensions, and this can sometimes be quite bureaucratic. An architect can help you with your Planning consent by creating designs that still excite you but that the planners will allow.


Lastly, it’s easy to get caught up in the vision and plans, but make sure you think about the practicalities too. Will you be able to live in the property while the work is taking place, or will you need to temporarily move out? This may of course affect your overall budget, so it’s worth taking this into consideration early on.


I live in an older property but would love to have a more contemporary extension. Will this work aesthetically?

We often find that contemporary extensions can bring old buildings back to life and make them more useable for modern living.

A new extension can be thought of as a picture frame for an old masterpiece. The original painting is of huge significance and has much artistic importance, but it’s in fact the frame which positively focuses your attention on the painting and complements it.


There’s also an argument to opt for a design which is wholly different to the original style as it shows imagination and stops the newer side detracting from the old. There’s certainly some ‘pretend’ Georgian extensions which stick out like a sore thumb and can often end up ruining the beauty of the true, Georgian architecture. For clients who are nervous about being too modern, we’ve previously created design interventions which are very passive and provide a blank canvas for the existing historic building. Such features can add to the property without competing with, or compromising, the existing style.


There are of course practicalities to consider with older properties, so it’s necessary for an architect to carry out an extensive analysis of the site context, materials, and existing forms before starting to develop ideas for new proposals.


 Extension to an historic property by Johnson Design Partnership, as featured on Channel 4


Is there a best time of year to start building works?

There isn’t necessarily a best time to start a project. And whilst mid-winter is not necessarily a good time to be digging foundations, once they are out of the ground, you can work on projects all year-round in the UK – we’re very hardy! It’s also possible to erect temporary coverings when works are required to the external fabric, or there’s big holes in a roof.


While Brits are known to be weather-obsessed – and poor weather can of course have a short-term impact on construction projects – contractors are more concerned about fluctuations in material cost than they are about rain.


Aside from weather and building costs, it’s also worth taking into consideration if there’s a specific date or event that you want your home to be ‘complete’ by – particularly if you’re having to move out of the property for the works to take place. Lots of our clients start their project in the summer months, setting themselves the target of being in by Christmas!


What is the architect’s role in a building project? What should you look for when choosing an architect?

At Johnson Design Partnership, we see our role as interpreting the existing building to create a high value space. And by ‘high value’, we don’t mean in terms of cost, but rather high value in that we want to create spaces which our clients love to use and be in every day.


It’s worth remembering that not all architects are the same. To paraphrase the famous architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, “God is in the details”. There are plenty of architects who are incredibly talented at creating beautiful designs, but don’t think about the need to achieve Planning consent to make their vision come to life. So, what you need to look for is an ‘all-rounder’ – an architect who can be creative and listen to your needs, but also have the wherewithal to effectively realise them.


Undertaking an extensive project such as an extension can be a big investment and tastes change. How can I futureproof my extension, so it doesn’t fall out of style?

It’s important to start with a full and proper historic analysis of the existing building’s form and function, as this allows you to create a genuinely respectful and specific response to it. One size certainly doesn’t fit all! As well as helping to ensure a successful Planning application, this analysis will aid the design process to ensure what you’re doing is sensitive.


If the design is clearly original, respectful to the existing building, and is energy efficient, you are onto a winner as these are things that don’t go out of fashion. Ignoring these issues is often what leads to the need for correction down the line.


Comprehensive remodelling and extension to an historic house by Johnson Design Partnership


You mention energy efficiency. What are your recommendations here, in terms of design and materials used?

Architects will often have to achieve certain sustainability criteria for their projects. And there are now several ways to measure sustainability, from Passivhaus and Carbon Neutrality, to other methodologies which are supported by the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method. It’s important to work with an architect who has an understanding and experience of these systems.


It's not always that the most sustainable option will be the most expensive either. For example, for a recent extension we created on an older house, we simply used stone which was dug out of the site to build the lower walls – also helping to save money for our client on materials.


An important consideration is also how the space is going to be used, as this allows us to create passively comfortable spaces which limit the need for heating, cooling, and lighting systems. A passive structure is one that is adequately lit through natural light and doesn’t get too hot or cold.


A sketch by Johnson Design Partnership considering ventilation and lighting


Finally, quick fire: what are the most frequently asked questions architects receive?

Do you take students on for work experience? I’ve got a friend whose child is interested…

Do you use a drawing board?

Can we get Planning Permission for this?

How much will it cost?

How long will it take?


Johnson Design Partnership was founded in Shropshire over twenty years ago. To see their latest residential projects or to speak to one of the team, click here.

To find out more about period property restoration, read our tips from Alexander MacFarlane in our Building Consultancy team here.

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