The designing phase started for Marjolein and Rik-Jan even before they bought a property. This way they were able to decide on priorities and preferences before the stressful whirlwind of viewings and paperwork.
Let’s set the scene. Two busy parents, three young children, one lovely home in the leafy Driebergen. Before this property became a home, though, everything had to be ripped out. And even before that, a vision had to be established, mood boards created and, perhaps most importantly, a connection had to form between the homeowners and the professionals turning their property into a family home.
We talked with Marjolein and Rik-Jan about their renovation and kitchen extension, about how important it is to have a clear idea for your project before starting and how to choose the right architect.
What was the scope of your project?
Marjolein: We redid everything – changed the disposition of the rooms, moved walls, new electrical plans… and of course built a new kitchen extension. At first we didn’t plan to move the walls but we changed our minds during the process. We started in November 2017 and we moved in in January 2018, when the extension didn’t exist yet. Then the builders started building the extension and in the end of April 2018 we began working on the outside.
Which place is now your favourite in your home?
Marjolein: The sitting corner on the ground floor because it is very light. I’m also fond of the whole kitchen, it is a very special place for us. The children love to play here or sit and read a book in the hanging chair.
Rik-Jan: I enjoy the sitting corner especially in the morning with the sun coming in through the window. I also like how it connects with everything in the kitchen. We are planning to add a fireplace here as well, hopefully it will make this an even nicer place to spend time.
With three small children a kitchen and dining area that would be a family space were important. During the design phase not only the amount of space was considered but also how practical the kitchen is and easy maintenance of materials.
Did you encounter any surprises during the process?
Marjolein: At first we wanted to close the beam in the kitchen but during the process we decided it would be nice to keep it open so we can put something in. I’m still very positive about it and I enjoy it very much. A lot of people look at it when they walk in and wonder – ‘Is this such a large beam? Wow!’
Also the exterior façade – at first we wanted a different material but it proved too expensive so we opted for a zinc lookalike. I really like it this way and when looking in from outside it works very well with the concrete flooring inside.
What did you find most challenging about the renovation process?
Marjolein: To make the right decisions at the right time.
Rik-Jan: If you are doing a renovation for the first time, you don’t know exactly what you are starting. You need to choose the partners to work with. They might have subcontractors that you don’t know so you have to choose wisely. It’s a difficult situation as you depend on other parties and once you start you can’t go back. You can think of all the consequences of your choices but it is not possible to change everything during the process. So you need to know exactly what you want in the early stages.
You might not know whether your decision is good or not. We already had a long list of things we wanted and we were looking for a house where we could get all those things done. With this house we could see that we would be able to materialise many of our wishes.
Of course it is difficult to assess whether you can stay within the budget. We didn’t want to do things halfway – either we don’t do them at all, or we do them properly. You also depend on the experts’ opinions so you have to trust them and trust that they work to your priorities.
What do you think would help build that trust?
Rik-Jan: The time you spend with an architect in the preparation stage can give you a good idea of the person and how they work. In the end you have to judge on their portfolio, their communication and whether they are confident about what can be done. You can ask previous clients about past projects but it is not something people usually do.
A good first impression helps. We were looking for someone around our age so they would be familiar with the way we live – both working, small children, know what we want for them… We found Richel by looking at his past projects but we also looked at his background. Another thing we considered was location – we wanted the architect to be close to our home so we could bike to their office to discuss things in person.
What worked well for me was spending time with the architect before we even started. Actually, Richel was surprised when we called him as we didn’t have a house yet. We wanted to select an architect before buying a property. Otherwise it would have been very stressful, trying to bid on a house without knowing what the renovation could cost.
That way we would have never made an optimal choice. I found it very helpful to have a first meeting before we even started. To see their office, team members, learn about how they work and who would be working on our house and see how enthusiastic the architect is about our project.
The kitchen extension is light and airy thanks to the generous spatial design and light, natural materials.
Did you have any favourite materials you wanted to use before starting the project?
Marjolein: Rik-Jan wanted to use resin flooring but we found out it is very shiny and everything shows easily – dirt, scratches, everything. So we decided for poured concrete instead. I like it because it is not too shiny or perfect. We have three children so it is important that the flooring is easy to maintain and it looks nice.
In the beginning we looked at a lot of books and magazines for inspiration. We knew that we’d love wood and concrete for the kitchen. Although the concrete counter top is quite delicate, things like lemon juice stain it quickly so we have to be careful.
In the rest of the house we have vinyl flooring by Novilon. I like having Novilon also on the walls instead of plinths. Besides liking the look it’s also practical, especially compared with our old house in Utrecht where we had a lot of plinths.
What was your vision for the house before the renovation?
Marjolein: We made some mood boards to find out if our taste was the same. We already knew a lot about what we wanted in the house, like the concrete and wood. We wanted separate floors for the children and us and we also have two bathrooms now which is very nice.
What about your long term plans with the house? Would you like this to be your forever home?
Marjolein: It’s too early to tell. But once the children are grown we might move back to the city. With just the two of us we will not need such a large space. For now it suits us very well and the location is great. I like that the children can play outside when it’s sunny and I don’t have to watch them every second. I miss the city although the train to Utrecht takes only six minutes. We both work in Amsterdam and can be there in 30 minutes by train.
For the owners it was important to have a separate floor for children and a separate one for themselves – complete with a hotel-style en-suite bathroom.
How would you describe your experience working with an architect?
Marjolein: Working with an architect can add more value as they might have a different view on things. I really enjoyed the process of choosing the materials. The architect was also helpful in small things, like painting the beam in a high gloss colour. We thought about a matt finish at first but the high gloss turned out better. And also with the window sitting corner – it was the architect who advised us to put wood on top for the seating.
Rik-Jan: It’s nice to see and hear how architects look at a project and think about the materials, what could work and what could not… The angle they perceive things is different than yours as an end user. To have an expert insight can enrich a project, especially when building a house. It was good to hear about options they were considering and also to see the references they used. I actually enjoyed that part even more than building. During the building process anything can go wrong. The planning phase is more enjoyable.
Any tips for people who are considering a renovation project?
Marjolein: We decided to do our project in phases, partly for the financial reasons. Sometimes I think it might have been better to do everything at once though. You really have to make a plan of what to do first and what can be done later. This is also something an architect can help you with. To set the priorities, the choices you have to make and so on.
Rik-Jan: My advice would be to start very early without even having the property. Get the mood board done and make a first round of questions to get the idea of how an architect would work with you. Make a couple of sketches to see what could be possible in your project. Later in the process you don’t have much time to make big decisions and this way it will be much less stressful.