Post Brutalist Renovation for Beginners

The Decision
Sat in my office in Regus on Bramall Lane this time last year I started to wonder if there was something better I could do with the rent I was paying. The office was fine but functional and dull. The location was acceptable but pretty congested. Regus are a serious operation who are a very dominant player on the small business rental market. Rents were unlikely to decrease. So I decided to look around. That was pretty depressing. There simply aren’t that many properties for the small entrepreneur. Sheffield is a little behind the times when it comes to properties for sale for businesses – unless you fancy converting a terraced shop that is!

Anyhow when I saw Park Hill had commercial units that were flexible in layout and affordable I thought I would look around. Tim from Fernie Greaves showed me around a concrete box. Urban Splash were basically doing the heavy duty work and then selling off the units as a shell or blank canvass for tenants to do up themselves. Nice model, I thought. All I had to do was fix it up myself. I am town planner who’s only done a house extension but I still thought ‘there can’t be that much to it can there?’ Little did I know.

Planning
Park Hill does have its sceptics. It had taken ten years to get this far. But despite the risk I liked the look and feel of the place and the location. I decided to proceed. I got myself a commercial lawyer and secured an offer towards the purchase and the refurb from my bank, who incidentally were very helpful. Yes, they were getting some business but went out of their way to guide me through the process. I then got quotes from some well known commercial fit out contractors and hired an interior design advisor, Sally from Flude Interiors. Sally helped me draw up a specification using the Urban Splash commercial fit out guide.

The process of speaking to the fit out guys was illuminating. These guys are clearly very professional and used to dealing with companies in the £1m plus bracket. To be honest the two quotes I got were eye-watering. I couldn’t understand it. It was only 500ft2. It looked like a no go. I couldn’t pay more for the refurb than the asking price! I simply could not afford these guys – a turnkey solution was out of my league and way off my agreed budget. After some thought I chatted a friend – a chartered surveyor – who reckoned I could do it myself for half the price. Eek I thought that will be a right pain. Anyhow the interior designer and I worked up some plans.

It would work perfectly for Kada – some desks to expand, a meeting room, a kitchen point and WC. Designed around my business and personal requirements. The designer also looked at the history of the building and drew up a mood board. I’d never had one of those before! It did look good though and challenged me and embraced the buildings features and history. Park Hill is the largest Grade Two listed structure in Europe!

Urban Splash liked the mood board but wanted me to move my toilet to the middle of the office. This would block out the dual aspect and segment a small unit in half! A compromise too far my team thought. After some discussion, Urban Splash came up with an alternative that might work – coreing through the thick concrete into a redundant waste pipe in the service tunnel. After a few site meetings and several weeks they said it could be done and were willing to do it. Fair play to Urban Splash the one major thing we asked for they accommodated.

Implementation
I had wasted a fair few months by this time looking for quotes and agreeing on the plans. I was beginning to wonder whether it was all worthwhile. I then rang my old builder who did my extension and said ‘I had a bit of money for trades but not much does he fancy taking it on?’ He said ‘we don’t do that much commercial but we’ll get it sorted for you ‘no probs”. There was still an awful lot of other stuff to get sorted but this was a breakthrough. John could cover electrics, plastering, flooring, tiling, bathroom fitting etc. So I went out to get quotes for everything else and hired a storage unit. I needed somewhere to stash all the gear and materials I was about to buy.

Quotes came in steadily for alarms, acoustical flooring, M&E planning, vinyl flooring, tiles, a kitchen, blinds, lights, WC fittings, radiators, data points, the internet, phones, plumbing, refrigeration, glass partitions, fireproofing, health and safety etc. I had to keep a record of everything. I asked everyone to give me their best price. If I wasn’t happy I went elsewhere. I tried to source everything from Sheffield where feasible. As I was was managing it could put the investment where it counted – a Karl Benz Italian Kitchen for instance rather than a magnet corporate one.

The Refurb
After some legal delays I got the keys from Tim before Christmas. Great timing Karl. Ok I thought let’s get going in January. It would take about eight weeks. I got the fireproof guys in to spray the ceiling with Mandolite. This would avoid the need for a suspended ceiling and save me some valuable height. Blimey that was a big job – a huge trailer just for power! These guys had interrupted spraying the Liverpool underground to sort my small unit out!

Next flooring. Damn it was delivered to the unit one hour before I had a client meeting. No choice I had to get it all in quickly on my own. One of the many times I found myself lugging gear and meeting deliveries. Deliveries were coming to Big Yellow Storage on an almost daily basis. This was getting hard to manage at the same time as a full-time job. I was having to nip out at night and before and after work to let people in and out, make decisions and handle deliveries. One thing I learnt the hard way – was to check everything and everyone all the time! And don’t let people take the path of least resistance when trying to meet your brief. I was quickly learning to be a client and to plan out a job and get the sequencing right.

The electrics were the next big job and took a couple of weeks – we needed cables for heating, lighting, alarms, data and general power sources. This bit is really worth getting right and luckily my M&E guy Dick Bradford (ex-Barnsley MBC) helped picture where everything could go. Next bit flooring – noise insulation and boarding. Another week. Plumbing then the bathroom – the designer wanted hidden taps, sliding doors, floor to ceiling tiles etc. That took john and his crew some doing. We also had some plastering done to partitions – and just left the exposed concrete.

I had to get the building inspector in to check progress – he was happy apart from a few details. Next stop kitchen – it looked great. Then data points, second fix electrics, WC fittings, heating, data points, plumbing. There were a few points that were quite stressful – arranging visits, deliveries, dealing with broken orders. We had our share of problems. But, it was starting to come together.

The Move
The designer had chosen a special paint from little green that needed five coats. I couldn’t find a painter anywhere. So I started myself in the evenings and then got my friend Ian in. But I was moving in in a week. I decided to get more help this was interfering too much. I managed to get some painters to do the last bits and removal people to help me bring all the furniture items I had been acquiring via the interior designer from various Sheffield mid-century specialists. We decided to take the vintage route. The removal guys from up the road were great – I paid them for a few extra hours to help me assemble furniture.

I had gone with a local internet firm who had only just received the wayleave agreement from Urban Splash the week before (this took as long as the actual purchase). They turned up at five pm to get me on-line. That Friday about nine weeks later I was in. I must admit it looked great. The interior designer was invaluable. After I moved in there was a fair bit of snagging and we got the glass partitions in (though the door was cut wrong and had to be replaced).

Today
I moved in about five weeks ago and it has been well worthwhile. It was harder work than I had anticipated but I had good advisors including Jan my wife, John the builder and Sally the interior designer. We have since had a launch, an after-party and two photography shoots (Amy and India). If you are in Sheffield why not pop in for a cup of tea and see a small part of one of Sheffield’s most iconic building brought right back to life.

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