A low-cost way to consult the architects

The annual Simon Open Door consultation day offers an inexpensive way to get an expert opinion on your project, while helping the organisation that helps the homeless

When David Beattie and Anne Bradley bought their three-bedroom terraced house in Terenure, Dublin, a few years ago they knew it needed an extension but they decided to live in the house for a while before doing anything.

The garden is north-east facing so they tracked the sun through the seasons and played fantasy extensions by moving bamboo sticks around the ground, catching optimum rays.

Both are artists, (Anne also teaches at primary level), so aesthetics were important to the couple and they wanted an architect-designed extension but with a tight budget they weren’t sure they could afford one.

A friend suggested going to a Simon Open Day consultation with an architect as a low-cost way to find out what could be achieved.


While the fund-raising day usually involves people visiting architects’ offices, Michael Frain of Bright Design Architects in Dún Laoghaire lived nearby and so he visited the couple at their house.

The three of them discussed the possible options for a budget of €25,000 and how to capture as much natural light as possible.

While the Simon Open Day meeting cleared up issues about money it also gave the three of them an idea about how they would work together. “As clients go they were excellent,” says Frain. “Being artists they are familiar with the creative process. They were open to ideas, which we gradually refined.”

This process included looking at tear-sheets of other designs the clients liked and the bamboo sticks set out on the lawn.

“Michael’s initial ideas around what we suggested and the way he dealt with us on a personal level were great,” says Beattie. “We just didn’t know what could be achieved within the budget or what would work. He took all that on board.”

Tight budgets are a universal concern, says Frain, and while an architect does cost money, they can also optimise savings. In this case it was a matter of reducing costs by cutting the floor area of the larch-clad extension – which ended up being 25sq m – while keeping life-enhancing details, such as a rooflight, a green roof (which softens the view across the top of the extension) and high-grade timber windows.

“With good design you can reduce the floor area you need and save money,” says Frain. “Sometimes it’s easy to build a vast space and fit everything in. With a restricted site and budget you look at everything more carefully. The space becomes more versatile, for instance having a diningroom that becomes a study during the day.”

The resulting extension is the main living area of the house, including a diningroom and kitchen set around a central stove.

It helped the budget, too, that Beattie carried out much of the work himself, including building the kitchen and shelving (with wood ordered and cut to size) and painting.

Frain, meanwhile, sourced lower-cost “ghost” windows and doors in a warehouse in the Midlands that sells timber windows and doors ordered for other projects and then not used.

While this would not be possible in a retrofit, without considerable building work to resize openings, in a new-build it just required an adaptable architect and builder to accommodate ready-made elements.

The windows bring in lots of natural light to the sun-catching, bamboo-guided extension which is kite-shaped and angled to get day-long sun despite a north-east orientation. It illustrates how good design can expand expectations.

“We are very happy with the result,” says Beattie. “We have a really nice view of the garden; a real connection to it all year round, no matter what the weather is like. With floor-to-ceiling light you don’t feel as if you are stuck inside when it’s raining. I love that.”

The Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI) and the Simon Communities are running their 10th annual RIAI Simon Open Door event on Saturday and Sunday, May, 10th and 11th. Architects nationwide are giving one-hour consultations to the public for a donation of €50, every cent of which goes to the Simon Communities, working with homeless people in Ireland. Over the 10 years that Simon Open Day has been running more than €345,000 has been raised, and 5,836 consultations have been made with thousands of architects. All architects give their time and expertise free of charge. Go to simonopendoor.ie to book your one-hour consultation with an RIAI registered architect in your area.