Published in The Design Society, December 2012 After receiving a shortlist spot in the International Design and Architecture Awards, James King the founder and owner of Oliver James Garden Rooms talked to us about the ‘flow’ of a home, and the garden room extension boom.
What direction do you feel design is moving towards in general terms?
It’s all about designing for the longer term, not ‘here today, gone tomorrow’. Longevity is the watchword of the moment. People are conscious of functionality. Residential design needs to fit in with lifestyle and life stage, whilst naturally making the most of what’s available in terms of the existing property.
What are the key influencing elements at present?
In the 1980s it was all about how many bedrooms you had, but now it’s about effective use of space rather than if you’ve got a utility room or a separate dining room. Cost and practicality are important in the current economic climate. People are deciding to stay put in their homes for a considerably longer period of time than in previous years. It’s not just about bolting on stuff to a home, it’s now about the ‘flow’ of a property and using every spare bit of space in the best way possible. Our clients want to combine rooms seamlessly and be able to open their homes out into the garden.
What sort of projects are you working on at the moment?
I’m working with homeowners that don’t want to move, but need more from their existing properties. It might be those with growing families that need more space, or empty nesters who want to entertain whilst downsizing their property. We’ve got some fantastically exciting projects on the go, working with clients who want real living space improvements that can be used 365 days of the year.
People are coming to me and saying, ‘We want space to be together as a family’, or ‘We want to use all of our ground floor, all of the time.’ It’s not about special rooms for high days and holidays. We are creating Garden Room extensions so that people can have a beautifully functional flow to their living space – areas that can be used all year round.
A designer’s work is so diverse – how do you manage to hold down a career and a life?
With great difficulty! I stutter a lot and comfort eat! But I call it the ‘Business of life’. I find the enjoyment of design is a pleasant curse. My mind’s always turning. I’m constantly looking at things that give me ideas, whether it’s the architecture on holiday, Norman Foster’s work in the British Museum or a visit to the Apple shop in Covent Garden – I’m always thinking about design. But you’ve got to be naturally passionate about it, or you’re in the wrong
Name 5 key essentials for 2012 and beyond
- An Oliver James Garden Room extension!
- An International Design & Architecture Award!
- Space to get involved with friends and family
- Value economics
- Ability to plan best use of our home environment
If you could offer one piece of advice when it comes to design schemes, what would it be?
Put considered thought towards your end requirements and purpose. Think about what you’ll be using it for and its functionality. Clients should get more involved in the design process and designers need to get inside the client’s lifestyle. Knowing the right questions to ask will help unlock the answers to the overall design challenge.
How important do you feel Design Awards are as recognition of designers talents and achievements?
Design Awards highlight the good from the bad. They show what is being achieved and what is achievable in our sector. Demonstrating this to clients is also always a good thing for both parties.
What are your aims and goals for the next twelve months?
At the prestige end of our business, we’re continuing to work on our bespoke Garden Rooms, whilst in our premium range we’ve also got the launch of four new Garden Room designs; The Eden, The Rousham, The Wisley and The Kew at www.oliverjamesgardenrooms.co.uk/design
Looking towards the future, we’re focusing on expansion and currently considering strategic partners and franchising options across the UK.
The car you drive?
I don’t drive as I have an eye condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa which means I have limited peripheral vision.
Your favourite place to travel to in the world?
The Jim Thompson House in Bangkok is beautiful and really quite something to behold. I also love Sardinia, with its turquoise sea, mountains and alfresco Italian lifestyle.
Your favourite hotel/ restaurant/ bar?
Locally I appreciate having the Manoir aux Quat’Saisons not too far away in Oxfordshire. Closer to home, The Betsey Wynne country pub in Swanbourne, Buckinghamshire, is one of my favourite watering holes.
The place that gives you the most energy?
I love art galleries and the Tate Britain has to be one of the best. It gives you so much to think about. I feel we underestimate British artists in this country and they should be much more celebrated.
And the place that enables you to totally relax?
If I’m not in a Garden Room, then I’d like to be in Thailand watching the sun set.
Your favourite food and drink?
I prefer gutsy food like rustic Italian pasta dishes. To drink, it has to be a ‘T&T’ – a Tanqueray and tonic!
Anything else interesting?
There is a massive step-change in home design and home improvements currently afoot. The traditional environmentally unsound conservatory is dying a death. It’s like a white elephant that is closed off from the house and never used because it’s totally impractical – being too hot in summer and too cold in winter. To designers like me and increasingly many homeowners, the conservatory is now equivalent to the avocado bidet of yesteryear. With the glass technology and insulation properties we employ, Garden room extensions are the evolution and the way forward.