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Ask the expert: Max O’Flaherty – an architect’s guide to property

Max O’Flaherty is one of Ireland’s most well-respected architects with over 20 years’ experience designing stunning properties all over Ireland with Aughey O’Flaherty Architects.

We’ve turned to Max to ask what you should be looking at if you’re thinking of extending or renovating your current home or are moving into a new property that needs a bit of work.

In this Lisney-exclusive interview, O’Flaherty explains why he is a passionate believer in the value of good design and why he believes that it doesn’t just come with a monetary value.

“I strongly believe that well-designed spaces are good for you,” he explains. “You can think of it as a health issue. We’ve all heard of sick buildings. We all know that a dark and dreary space can bring you down and the opposite – a light and airy space is uplifting. I think that design is about maximising that – good design is good for the mind, body and spirit.”

O’Flaherty says that a good architect’s work speaks for itself. “My eight-year-old would know the difference between an architect-designed space versus a builder-designed space. Design is the first move you make and that forms the skeleton that the finish hangs on. And if that first move is flawed, it doesn’t really matter how good the finish is.”

Before you visit an architect

If you are thinking about getting work done on your current home, what should you be thinking of when consulting an architect? O’Flaherty says that it’s not always about an extension – sometimes a lot can be done without extending.

“You need to ask yourself exactly what you need. Is it more living space or more bedrooms or what? Sometimes it’s possible to re-configure a house; to take the layout that it has and use it more efficiently. You can do a bit of surgery to your existing house to make it work better.

“Say it was a matter that your bedroom situation was okay but you needed more living space then there is a possibility that you could re-configure the lower floor to make it flow better, to make it more open or connect with the garden.

“It depends on the plot. If it’s a small house in the likes of Stoneybatter, where the plot is tight, then it might be a case that you are forced to work with what you’ve got – and there is a lot you can do. If it’s a larger property with more space around it – then you’ve got more options. A good architect should be able to advise you well.”

In general, O’Flaherty says that the three questions you need to ask before you visit an architect are:

  • What exactly does your family need?
  • Is there scope to extend your current house?
  • Have you considered the financial factor?

Picking the right architect for you

“The first thing I’d tell people is to remember that the journey of construction can be long so the relationship is really important,” he explains. “There is the design stage, the planning process, the tendering process and then the build itself. That could take two years so it’s a long journey. You need to ask yourself ‘can I work with this person?’ You need to meet them and talk to them and see if they are a good fit for you.

“The second question: is this architect listening to what you want to do?

“The third thing is to look at the work that the architect has done previously. It’s pointless going to see an architect, knowing what they’ve done previously and trying to turn them into something that they’re not. I’d recommend researching their back catalogue and seeing is there a commonality there that you like.”

Do you need an architect?

Let’s not forget that Ireland, as much as anything, is a nation of builders. In many cases, people may be tempted to contract a builder rather than an architect.

According to O’Flaherty, “The reason you go with an architect rather than a builder lies in potential. When an architect walks into a room, they bring their training with them. An architect can see the potential in the thing.”

Most Irish people will be familiar with architects from shows like the phenomenally successful Room to Improve or even Grand Designs in the UK. As one of Ireland’s most acclaimed architects, O’Flaherty himself has appeared a number of times on Room to Improve and overall he thinks it’s been good for raising the profile of architects amongst the public.

“I would say in an overall sense that those kinds of shows are actually good for architecture and design in general. At least now my mum understands what an architect does,” he laughs.

Does hiring an architect make economic sense?

O’Flaherty believes that people are increasingly savvy when it comes to the financial value of renovating their homes and he says that modern architects design with a strict eye on the bottom line.

“An architect is a jack-of-all trades,” he says. “You need to be able to talk to people. You need to design the space and technically make that happen. You need to be able to control the cost of that and get it built too! The vision must take you through the whole thing. It’s absolutely based in reality.

“We would have lots of clients that are mindful of the situation five years down the line or 10 years down the line. What the property will be worth in a few years’ time is absolutely a part of the conversation.”

O’Flaherty says that adding a well-designed space to a house adds more than a purely financial value too.

“There is also the enjoyment factor too,” he says. “If you can transform a house or extend it so that it works better for the family living there, then of course it’s going to be worth more when they sell it – but it also adds huge value to their lives while they actually live there.

“We had one project recently where we did work for a client and they sold the property four years later. We got a lovely note from them there saying that not only did the property sell for the price they had in mind, but it also sold quickly and made that conveyancing process quite pleasant. They were quite appreciative of that.”

Overall, O’Flaherty believes that there is a growing appreciation in Ireland for good design. Home buyers are more discerning when it comes to buying a property and they know what they are looking for when it comes to purchasing a new home.

“In Ireland, we’ve had great musicians for years and great writers too but we have a situation now where some of the best architects in the world are based in Ireland. We are at a stage as a country now where we are developing a real appreciation for a well-designed space.”

Are you thinking about your next move?

If you are thinking about moving to a new home with better design than your current home or even one you can make your own mark on – then get in touch, and remember to follow us on FacebookTwitter or LinkedIn for all the latest Lisney news.

By lisney
11th May 2017