Monthly Archives:September 2014

A page from history – bubble houses

11 Sep 14
Michelle Gaffaney
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The really breaktaking thing about architecture is just how much is possible if you have the creativity and determination to do it. The story of the bubble house shows just how innovative architecture can be.

If you haven’t already, I would recommend checking out the podcast 99% Invisible with Roman Mars. It’s always interesting and it investigates the little elements of design and architecture that are easily missed but make a huge difference to our daily lives. You can check it out here

I recently caught up with a 99% Invisible story from a while back about bubble houses. Back in the 1930s an architect called Wallace Neff hit on the idea of building houses using giant concrete bubbles, made by pouring concrete over a semi-spherical balloon.

A solution to a problem

As a quick and cheap building method, bubble houses seemed like they might be the solution to America’s post-war housing shortage. A whole village of them was built in the US and communities were also built around the world as far apart as Senegal, Brazil and South Africa.

Of course, we know bubble houses didn’t really take off – but they are interesting because they were an experiment in finding new exciting ways to use materials differently (i.e. concrete) to meet a need (i.e. post-war housing shortage). Apparently living in one of the houses was a bit of a challenge – they had very strange, echoey acoustics and it was difficult to find furniture to fit or hang pictures.

What’s your dream house?

Can you imagine living in a bubble house? Maybe you’ve always wanted your own turret, or dreamed of having an underground shelter. Perhaps you’re passionate about a particular material and want to see how it could be incorporated into your dream home. With architecture, so much is possible and we want to help you make your dream a reality.

Make an enquiry about how we can help you achieve your ideal home. If you’re interested in the full story of the bubble house, the podcast is available here.

How to brighten up a dark room

04 Sep 14
Michelle Gaffaney
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There’s enough gloominess in the world without letting it into your home – kick out the shadows with these top tips on how to brighten up a dark room.

Let the light in

It sounds obvious but if there’s a way to let more light into a room, that could resolve your problem! Knocking through walls, adding extra windows or enlarging existing ones, even adding French doors – it all helps to let the lovely light flow in.

Just give us a ring and we can scope out the potential for giving your property a new window or two. It doesn’t have to be as much of a headache as you might think – we can advise on planning permission and our considerate and professional approach means you’ll barely notice the works.

Get glittery

You don’t need to have a big mirror ball (unless you want one!) – simple tricks can help reflect light to give your special place more oomph. Firstly, watch out for curtains hanging over the windows and blocking out light. Thermal window blinds can be a brighter solution while also keeping you snug. It sounds obvious, but dark surfaces look dark! White paint works wonders if your dark walls, ceiling, woodwork etc are dragging you down.

There’s also the mirror option. A few strategically placed mirrors can help brighten up a dark room, not to mention adding style and elegance. We can help you pick the best spot for your glittery new friend. Using glass, shiny metal and reflective fabrics can also help to lift a room.

Lamps, lamps, lamps

If natural light and bright reflective surfaces still aren’t cutting the mustard, it really pays to take a good hard look at your lighting system. So many of us still have a single lamp hanging from the middle of the ceiling, creating shadows and a glaring light. Think about your favourite pubs, hotels and cafes – they use lots of smaller lights to create ambience and comfort.

In many dark rooms, spotlights can be a real miracle. They add sparkle and brightness without hanging down from an already low ceiling. Think about having lights at different levels – fitted under kitchen cupboards, or a standing lamp in a dark corner. Wall lights and fairy lights can also give a lovely glowy feeling.

If you’re ready to brighten up your dark room, check out Theresa Gonzalez’s tips on Apartment Therapy about how to transform your dark space then give us a call to get started!

Straw bale classroom: Lime render and clay plaster

02 Sep 14
Michelle Gaffaney
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Our straw bale classroom at Castle Hill School is really starting to take shape now!

The walls are up, the roof is on, and it’s time to start covering the walls.

The naked straw walls, before rendering.

Externally, we’re using a lime render to protect the building from the elements.

Lime is often used on straw bale and cob buildings and is a traditional building material. It is particularly suited to our harsh Yorkshire weather, as it has a sponge-lique quality, absorbing rainwater in bad weather, then releasing it, rather than allowing it to soak into the inner wall.

Here’s Arthur, our plasterer, tackling the first coat:

Lime render

Arthur lime rendering

The difference is astounding, and it’s so exciting seeing the classroom start to look more like a ‘real building’!



Internally, we’re using clay – the oldest and simplest building material of all.

Clay is applied to the wall much like regular plaster, except that more coats will be needed. We start with layers of rough clay plaster, mixed with coarse sand to grip tight to the straw walls. Once this has built up, we apply a final layer of fine clay plaster (made using a finer sand) to give a nice smooth finish.

clay plaster


INNO-THERM / Metisse recycled denim insulation

01 Sep 14
Michelle Gaffaney
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Our straw bale classroom has all kinds of eco-friendly features on top of the straw itself, from non-toxic clay plaster surfaces to low-impact cob reading nooks.

Another way we’re reducing the classroom’s impact on the environment is through the floor and ceiling insulation:


INNO-THERM/Metisse is a unique insulation material which is made from recycled denim and cotton.

It can be used just like regular building insulation, but has a number of features which make it a much better choice for our eco-classroom:

  • It’s non-toxic, ensuring a safer environment for children and others using the classroom.
  • It’s non-itch and chemical-free – much safer for builders working on-site who will be handling the insulation.
  • It’s made from 80% recycled waste, reducing landfill
  • …and it can be recycled again after use if needed!
  • On top of this, it takes 70% less energy than regular insulation to manufacture.
  • It has an excellent U-value of 0.19 – this means that its insulative properties far exceed building regulation requirements, so it will keep the classroom warm in winter and cool in summer, in turn reducing energy bills for the school.

Find out more about INNO-THERM/Metisse on the website:

INNO-THERM in the classroom floor

INNO-THERM in the roof