Musician Dave Nicholls wanted to make more of his terrace home, so we called in the architects.Stephen Lewis reports.

HOME makeover is all the rage these days. Programmes like House Doctor and Changing Rooms have opened our eyes to how simply changing colours and textures and placing your furniture in a different position can leave a home looking brighter, lighter and more spacious at a touch.

But what if your home needs more than a cosmetic once-over? What if the problem is structural - cramped, narrow rooms, odd-shaped kitchens or bedrooms - even a loft you'd like to convert but haven't because you can't see anywhere to put a staircase?

That's when an architect could come in handy.

Jean Sauvary of Selby-based architects DWA (David Ward Associates) says the public image of an architect is of someone who spends their time dreaming up grand projects but has little connection with the ordinary man in the street.

However, she believes that if you want to make the most out of the space in your home, an architect could be just the answer.

To mark the Royal Institute of British Architecture's (RIBA's) National Architecture Week we challenged Jean and her colleague, DWA interior architect Heidi Smith, to bring their skills to bear on a York home in need of a little TLC.

The firm does not normally work on projects as small as domestic home alterations - but in this case made an exception.

The challenge

York musician and composer Dave Nicholls has been considering moving, and wanted help in making better use of the space in his Victorian terraced home in the Bishopthorpe Road area: either as an aid to selling it or in case he decides to go on living there.

Dave's home is structurally sound and in very good repair. Thanks to a home improvement grant in the late 1980s it has a new roof, new wiring and new kitchen extension. The solid, brick-built home comprises entrance porch, dining room/study leading through to lounge, enclosed rear yard, kitchen, three bedrooms, upstairs bathroom/ WC and a converted attic.

The study/ dining room, both Jean and Heidi agree, can't make up its mind which it is. A piano faces the door from the porch, and a corner of the room is filled with a jumble of musical instruments. The room is a 'through' room with doors at opposite ends, making it easy to treat it as an extended hall.

The lounge is large, with feature fireplace and French windows onto the yard. The most distinctive feature is the metal spiral staircase taking up one corner. Jean and Heidi agree it is a lovely feature. "But maybe a bit misplaced?' Jean asks. Heidi says the metal of the ornate staircase has a cold feel out of keeping with the rest of the house and with the patterned lounge carpet in particular.

The yard, both agree, has potential - a sun trap, very private, with beautiful ivy on the walls. At the moment, though, it is cluttered with everything from metal sculptures to children's toys. The impact, says Jean, is 'builder's yard'.

It is upstairs, though, that the real problem presents itself. The landing is very cramped, with a sheer view down the vertical spiral stairs. Worse, the only access to the loft - converted by Dave into a mini home recording studio - is by a shaky pull-down metal ladder. This comes down onto the landing, making it even more cramped. Anyone climbing the ladder to the loft is suspended above the vertical spiral stairwell - not recommended for those nervous of heights. The loft itself is lined top-to-bottom with carpet to act as soundproofing: but because there are no windows or ventilation, it is, Dave admits, stifling in summer.

The solution

The main problem, Jean and Heidi agree, is lack of space on the landing and access to the loft. One solution would be to build a new bathroom on top of the flat roof of the kitchen extension, allowing the existing bathroom to be used to mount a staircase to the loft.

That, though, would be expensive. Jean's ingenious solution is to 'rotate' the spiral staircase through 90 degrees, freeing up more landing space because the stairs would end at a different point, and also reducing the sense of dizzying space above the steep vertical stairwell. The rotation would also create room for loft stairs to be installed as a continuation of the main stairs - improving access to the loft and making the whole stairwell seem safer.

Other suggestions: paint the metal stairs a warmer colour, carpet the lounge with a natural-coloured rug so lounge and stairs are more in keeping, and install some plinths to mount the garden sculptures and make a feature of them. Ventilation in the attic, and if possible a soundproofed skylight.

Total cost: around £2,500, says Jean.

The verdict

DAVE says: "It's good advice. It's just affording it, really. If I had that money, I would do it."

DWA Architects don't normally work on small domestic alterations. For details of local architects who do contact the RIBA's Clients Advisory Service on 0113 245 6250.

Picture - Room at the top: Dave converted his attic into a mini recording studio, but there is no ventilation