Top architects tell all: Jane Duncan

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The Independent Online

Jane established Jane Duncan Architects in 1992. She has been vice-president of RIBA since October 2007.

What should I look for when buying?

Always ask yourself if the property has enough light, space and rooms to suit your lifestyle. Does it have extension potential? Is it of sound construction and are the services up to date?

And what should I avoid?

Avoid buying at auction unless you have seen the property and an architect has checked it out for you, both in terms of local planning constraints and the building's condition. If you want to make major changes, ensure that the house is not listed or in a conservation area, as this may restrict what you will be able to do.

When should I consult an architect?

If you are planning to spend a lot of money on a property, you should discuss the project with an architect. Architects can assist with a review of the property, investigate the local planning constraints, help you determine your brief, programme the work and set a reasonable budget, and then manage the project for you.

Can I knock down walls without an architect's advice?

For very small alterations and extensions, you may not need an architect – a good builder will be able to help you. Small structural alterations, such as knocking out a wall between living spaces, should be done with the advice of a structural engineer. For anything bigger I'd recommend employing an architect or surveyor.

How do I bring more light into my house?

The average terraced or semi-detached house can usually be completely changed internally. The creative use of free-flowing space by opening up rooms both horizontally and vertically, and letting light penetrate through larger windows, strategically placed roof lights or well thought out use of glass and mirrors can make a big difference to the way a house feels.

What's popular at the moment?

A current trend is to make properties more sustainable. This can mean a number of changes, from adding renewable energy hardware to reviewing and improving insulation.

Jane Duncan's golden rules:

*Be honest – tell your architect how much money you have to spend, what your "priority" list is and what your "wish" list is, and be prepared to compromise on quantity to achieve quality.

*Look through magazines to see what you like, and show your architect – pictures can speak a thousand words about personal taste.