Thanks to years of experience in the construction industry, Howard Vaughan knew exactly how to transform a rundown Arts & Crafts house into a polished gem for his family to enjoy
Text Rebecca Foster Images Carl Blank
Howard Vaughan has always nurtured a passion for architecture. “I’ve probably watched every episode of Grand Designs,” he says. “I love the idea of designing and refurbishing a property.” Howard, who runs three construction and development companies in North Wales, had always cultivated the dream of creating a bespoke home where he could raise his young family. However, it wasn’t until four years ago that the right opportunity, in a place very familiar to him, came up.
“I used to walk past this 1920s Arts and Crafts house every day on the way to school but I never really knew it was there,” he says. “There was a group of huge conifer trees in front of the building that pretty much obscured it from view.” When the property came up for auction in 2017, Howard went to view it with a friend.
Though it piqued his interest, Howard wasn’t in a position to take on a major project at the time. “At that stage I was more interested in the land adjoining the house,” he says. “We came to a deal whereby we would split the property, so my friend would own the house and do it up, while I would get the parcel of land that came with it.” The pair went ahead with this strategy and planning permission was granted for Howard’s company, Brenig Construction, to build four new homes at the bottom of the sloping plot.
The plan took a drastic change of course, however, when Howard’s friend realised he’d bitten off more than he could chew with the renovation. “It dawned on him that it was going to be too much work. Some time had passed by that point, so I went round to take a look. By then, the time was right, so I jumped at the opportunity.”
CHALLENGES & INSPIRATIONS
Howard knew he’d have his work cut out for him with the renovation. The state of the house left a lot to be desired, as it had not been upgraded in decades. “It was stuck in a 1930s time warp,” he says. There were broken windows with frames falling out of place and some of the rooms weren’t even hooked up to the mains electric supply. “You certainly wouldn’t have moved your family in there! My wife, Leanne, thought I was crazy as we lived in a modern new build at that point – the opposite end of the spectrum to what I was taking on.”
Despite the challenges the run-down house posed, there was one standout feature that Howard couldn’t wait to make the most of in the redesign. “It has one of the best views in Glan Conwy. It looks straight down the estuary and across to the mountains on one side and over Conwy Castle on the other,” he says. “You’ve probably got 270 degrees of amazing views.” The property’s convenient location within walking distance of the village was another major draw.
Howard called on Harry Reece of Base Architecture + Design to draw up plans for the renovation. As well as revitalising the Arts & Crafts house by bringing it up to modern standards, Howard was keen to maximise the views by adding a side extension. “I knew that by extending sideways, I’d be adding more rooms that could take in the breathtaking outlook.”
Howard worked closely with the architect to develop a detailed design brief. “We came up with what was essentially a shopping list for Howard’s aspirations,” says Harry, who’s a director at the practice. “Next, we looked at the footprint of the building to see how we could incorporate those elements alongside the panoramic views.”
DRAWING UP THE PLANS
Initially, the design strategy for the project aimed to create an extension that would be in keeping with the existing house. “However, the conservation team in Conwy had some concerns about that approach,” says Harry. “They said that ultimately, they’d prefer something more contemporary rather than us trying to replicate the style of what was already there.”
With that advice, Howard withdrew the initial planning application and went back to the design drawing board. This time, he and Harry came up with a design for a modern two-storey extension that would contrast from the existing property, making it easier to distinguish old from new. “That’s when we came up with the idea to have a flat roof cedar-clad modern extension bolted onto the side of the existing Arts & Crafts property,” says Howard. “We took all the comments on board, so when we went back into planning with that design there were no objections.”
With his years of experience in the construction industry, it made sense for Howard to take on the project management duties himself. “Although I’ve been involved in construction for years, typically I am offsite running the company rather than the day-to-day work onsite,” he says. “This project gave me an opportunity to roll back the years and get involved in the detail of the build. I got a lot out of it, too – you’re always learning new things when you work in construction.”
Howard’s company, Brenig Homes, was brought in to build the extension and tackle the refurb of the existing house. “They were already working on the adjoining land that had been split off from the house, which was a bonus,” says Howard. Although a lot of work was needed to bring the existing property up to standard, Howard was keen to keep as many original elements as possible to retain the house’s charm. New double-glazed windows were installed throughout, as well as an efficient central heating system.
Relatively little work was needed to bring other exterior elements up to standard. “The original property has an ascending roof, which means it has small tiles graduating up into larger tiles across the whole surface. The roofer said we’d do more damage in trying to alter it, as it was still in fantastic condition,” says Howard. “We did the re-leading in some areas. We also jet washed the roughcast stone exterior to clear away years of grime. Then we added a lick of paint to freshen everything up.”
One of the most challenging parts of the construction was tying the original property into the new extension, which is formed of a block structure on the ground floor with a timber framework above. Some robust structural steelwork was required, too, to support the large open-plan family area on the ground floor of the addition. “We got the blockwork up on the ground floor and then punched holes through into the existing building that we could rest the steelwork on,” says Howard. They then built “about three quarters” of the upstairs structure before knocking down the original gable end wall of the house to tie the new extension in. “We had to support the roof as well, so it was a case of getting the steels into the right place before we could take down the walls below.”
THE FINISHED PRODUCT
Despite some of the construction challenges the team faced along the way, the build was completed swiftly and without any major issues. Part-way through the build, Howard decided to take the plunge and incorporate a variety of smart features. “It did take me a bit over budget, but I knew I wasn’t going to be doing a project like this again for a while, so I may as well put the smart tech infrastructure in while I could,” he says.
Howard opted for a Control4 system incorporating audio-visual, music, home security and lighting. “Everything is controlled from the same hub, which links to our voice assistant. You tell Alexa whatever you want to do, and the system will do it,” he says. “If we want to wake up the kids, for instance, it’ll open their blinds automatically and turn on music and lights in their bedrooms.”
In terms of the interior fit-out, Howard was keen to create some distinction between the original parts of the house and the extension. Though the revamped Arts & Crafts side of the house comes with buckets of traditional charm, the open-plan family area in the extension is the star of the show. “As you come round the corner into the kitchen-diner, you’ve got huge aluminium framed sliding doors that really bring the outside in,” says Howard. “It is truly the heart of the house.”
Hardwearing Dekton countertops have been paired with handless kitchen units to establish a sleek, unfussy finish. Grey oak engineered timber floors have been laid atop underfloor heating. However, the highlight is, of course, the view. “Being able to cook, turn around and have that view right there is incredible. We’ve captured the feeling that we wanted in that principal family space,” says Howard.
Sitting above the kitchen-diner on the first floor of the extension is the master suite, which is connected to its own balcony for Howard and Leanne to make the most of the far-reaching vistas. “We wanted to create the feeling that we were on holiday in a hotel, in one of those rooms where you have the luxury of more space than what you really need,” says Howard. The ensuite also exudes an opulent, hotel-like feel thanks to the spacious walk-in shower and elegant freestanding tub.
Now the project is complete, Howard is ecstatic with the results and has no regrets about taking the scheme on. “Looking back, one of the best days was when the kitchen went in,” he says. “Once the plaster was up on the walls I could really see everything starting to come together. Being able to see what the heart of the house would look like was a special moment.” Aside from a couple of aesthetic details here and there, there’s very little Howard would change about the finished house. “Overall, it’s everything we wanted. In terms of the whole build and the layout, I think we cracked it. It’s as good as we could have done it.”
Having worked with Base on so many projects through his construction firm, Howard enjoyed the experience of working with Harry on his own project. “We’ve got a good relationship, so it was fun,” he says. “The advice Harry gave was very good throughout.”
Though Howard loves living in the house, he hasn’t ruled out the prospect of doing another project in the future. “Next time I’d like to build a home from scratch – Leanne goes mad at me because I am always looking for the next opportunity,” he says. “To some extent, a renovation always holds you back somewhat in what you’re able to achieve. However, it’d need to be a showstopper of a plot to beat what we’ve got here.”