Sign up to our Newsletter. Subscribe to access your free Build Cost Calculator to help start your project journey. Subscribe now

Rookery Dell: How bringing light into the home inspired reflections on theory & practice

In his first blog, Marcus discusses working in practice after studying at the University of Sheffield for the last three years.

A month ago I hit a milestone: Rookery Dell was my first project to begin construction. It sparked a reflection of the relationship between theory and practice.

The original kitchen at Rookery Dell

The project brief

Our clients Matt and Sophie wanted to make some improvements to their detached house in Sheffield, which felt impractical, dark and disconnected. They wanted the kitchen to become the hub of the home, and to be better connected to the living spaces on the lower ground floor below.


The kitchen was landlocked by another room; it had no windows to the outside and received extremely low levels of natural light.

We drew up plans to open up the kitchen bringing in natural light, and widened the stairs creating a vertical connection. Before anything was built, this preliminary work felt similar to university. The reality of it hit me when I read an email from Matt in response to my drawings  for the home:

“the void space has been cut and the staircase opened up which has a great effect and makes the two floors feel less distinct.”

Work begins on the staircase

Woah – it’s real. An actual person has just been affected by some lines that I drew. No longer imaginary, no more ‘oh that’ll be cool, but it’s never going to happen’. Real people will engage with the space that we have altered, and be affected by the decisions we’ve made.

Doing, not thinking

To affect the real world in this way is the nature of practical work, and it carries with it a great sense of satisfaction. I believe this direct reward gained from the act of doing, is notably missing from the university education of many architects.

For me, the lack of practical application at university was stifling. Why aren’t architects taught to lay bricks, mix cement, or work with timber? After all these skills enable an architect to actually make their ideas a reality.

At an inter-disciplinary workshop I attended in the summer I was shocked at my lack of constructional knowledge. What’s a mortise-and-tenon joint? Which way up do I use a chisel?

The extension offers great views of Sheffield

Inter-disciplinary working is eye-opening, and more representative of practice. On this project, Matt and Sophie were involved with many decisions, working closely with the structural engineer and the builders.

Project progress

The building work started about six weeks ago, and the kitchen is currently being installed. It’s refreshing to see a project progress into the construction stage very quickly, and they’re already noticing a big difference:

“We have a house which has a much better sense of flow. Opening up the staircase means that our ground floor and lower ground now feel less distinct and separated. “

The kitchen is taking shape

“Working with yourself and Paul gave us the confidence to proceed with the work and opened up new possibilities.  For that, we are very grateful.”

Working in practice is part of the longer education in architecture; I’ve found it to compliment studying well, yet 3 years is a long time to wait before anything ‘real’ happens. The boundary between theory and practice is permeable. I believe more practical projects at university would help students understand how they can engage with the real world.

Thanks to Matt and Sophie letting us share their photos. We’ll be sure to keep you posted on their progress.