Press March 2010 – 31 / 03

Evening_Standard_Editorial_-_31.03.2010-BIG

Publication: Evening Standard

Publication Date: 31st March 2010

Article title: Very Cool Parents Get It Sorted

Article content: “When the Durant family ran out of room, they built an ‘ecospace’ – the perfect place for the kids to take their teenage friends.” Ruth Bloomfield reports

“Nobody could describe the Durant family home as pokey, yet with three teenagers with busy social lives and a business to run, the seven bedroom house was straining at the seams. So Andrew and Louise Durant began to eye the hotchpotch collection of buildings at the bottom of the garden in south-west London: a shed, garage and play fort that Sam, 18, Olivia, 16, and Jack, 14, had outgrown. Their solution was to build a self-contained garden suite, with an office, garage and a studio flat large enough for the children to hole up with friends. The project cost six figures, no-one knows what value it will add to the Wimbledon house, but in terms of liveability it has proved priceless.”

“We would rather have the children at the bottom of the garden with their friends, than wandering the London streets,” said Andrew, 52. “We make it attractive enough for them to want to be at home and invite their friends round. It is a honeytrap, really.”

“Andrew and Louise, 49, enlisted the service of Ecospace (www.ecospacestudios.com) to build the garden hideaway and were impressed by its slick design and green credentials. The firm, founded in 2002, is a collaboration between a group of architects and engineers to design free-standing “pods” as cheap and sustainable alternatives to conventional extensions. They are also simpler, quicker and less disruptive to install. Over the summer of 2008 Ecospace designed a long, low complex of buildings for the Durant family, with a total floor space of just over 60square metres. The walls are clad in low-maintenance cedar wood, the floors are hard-wearing rubber and the grass roof means that the neighbours look down on greenery. To accommodate the mature trees in the garden, the back of the building has been stepped to give them room, and the deck as the front has a circular hole cut for the eucalyptus tree. The design included skylights to maximise natural light, as well as the neat built-in desk in the office and kitchenette in the studio, which is large enough for a sofa, TV and pool table. Two mezzanine bays give sleeping space for up to six, at a bit of a squash, and there is a toilet and shower room. Planning permission went through at the start of last year.”

“We had to do a bit of a charm offensive with the neighbours. If you show them what it is going to look like they are generally all right. People just don’t like surprises.”

“Before Ecospace could start the main build a contractor laid concrete foundations, and installed services such as electricity and water. This took about a month, and a cost of £6,000. The work proper started last July and took about 10 weeks. Bespoke features include soundproofing to the studio so the children can play music without raging the neighbourhood. The garden escaped harm and the real damage was to Andrew’s wallet. The build cost £120,000 and Andrew suspects it will not have added anything like that to the value of the house. But they have no plans to move so adding value isn’t an issue, and it was undoubtedly cheaper than upsizing. Andrew spent 20 years in advertising but sold his stake in Souk, the firm he helped launch, in 2007. He now runs Oz Bus (www.oz-bus.com), which offers 92-day trips to Sydney and New York – by bus.”

“There is a great psychological advantage in having an office at the bottom of the garden. I am not interrupted, it is easier to work and it just feels different to working in the living room.”

“The project was designed by Numan Oguzcan, who says you can pay much less for an Ecospace. More modest studios cost from about £20,000 and take up to 10 days to install, and the firm has recently introduced an off-the peg work space, £10,000 plus VAT, and preparation work will add about £1,000. Their heat performance is similar to a new-build home, thanks to the grass roof which keeps it cool in summer and traps heat in winter. All the timber used is sustainable, and Ecospace says the exterior wood cladding can be left untreated for 50 to 60 years. Estate agents say that a well-built garden room will certainly increase property’s saleability, and that generally, the smaller the main property, the more extra floorspace will add to the value. Unsurprisingly, Oguzcan is confident an Ecospace will, at worst, hold its value.”

”One client invested £20,000 in a studio in the garden of a two-bedroom garden flat in west London” he said. “Its value was increased by £50,000 after the agent saw the studio and it made its asking price.”