Meet the Norfolk architect using VR in her designs

An architect from Norfolk is trying to break the mold when it comes to architecture and design by bringing three services together – and all with the help of the latest technology.

For Sami Lawton, great design is intuitive. “If I see it and I like it and it works, that’s it
all I need to know,” she says.

“What is most important to me is that my clients’ needs come first. A good design will make sure their home reflects those needs – practically, functionally and aesthetically.”

Sami set up her own company, British Home Design, around a year and a half ago, and offers a holistic approach, combining architecture, interior design and landscaping all into one practice. But she says there was always a sense of inevitability to her career path.

“I had family members who were architects and surveyors, so I grew up immersed in that kind of environment,” she says. “I never really doubted that I was going to be anything other than an architect or a designer. I haven’t really thought any other way.”

Eastern Daily Press: Sami Lawton in front of Dunston Hall, Norfolk.  Picture: British Home DesignSami Lawton in front of Dunston Hall, Norfolk. Picture: British Home Design (Image: British Home Design)

She spent 11 years reading architecture, studying for both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Lincoln School of Architecture and qualifying as an architect at UCL in London. After that, she worked “in practice”, including in management roles, but she says she always dreamed of going it alone.

“I set up British Home Design myself, designing the branding, building the website and singing the theme tune,” she laughs. “I’m a one-girl band – although I do have a very talented team of assistants and partners.”

She was highly commended as a G4C Future Leader at the Norfolk Constructing Excellence Awards earlier this year, and was also shortlisted for the Rising Star Award at the London Construction Awards.

Her goal is to create cohesive spaces, to blend the outside with the inside. Her work includes everything from extensions and internal reconfigurations to façade facelifts and garage and barn conversions.

“It’s really important to consider the bigger picture,” says Sami. “When you’re in your home, in your kitchen, you’re looking at your worktops and how they’re designed, but then you look out of your bifold doors and you’ve got your garden there – that vista, that viewpoint , both inside and outside.

Eastern Daily Press: British Home Design offers an integrated approach, combining architecture, landscaping and interior design together in one practice.  Picture: British Home DesignBritish Home Design offers an integrated approach, combining architecture, landscaping and interior design together in one practice. Picture: British Home Design (Image: British Home Design)

“Architecture, landscaping, interiors, it all forms that same perception you have of a home and I think it’s important that nothing is left unconsidered. It needs to be integrated.”

Sami feels that a combined approach like this is what has been largely missing from the sector, and says she’s hoping to challenge and improve it by making it more than the norm.
“It’s about thinking holistically, so my clients will get a really well-considered, thought-out package that thinks about everything. That’s what they’re paying for and buying into. I’m surprised more people don’t do it.”

Sami currently runs the business from her home in Attleborough, where she’s been renovating her Victorian-era property with her partner, Chris. She has a lifelong connection to Norfolk, having grown up in north Norfolk and studied in Norwich, before living in some of the suburbs around it.

“I know the whole of Norfolk really really well,” she says – but it isn’t what defines her or her brand.

Although it is more practical for her clients to be in Norfolk, Sami says she has projects on the go throughout the country from Islington in London to Home Counties Sussex and Hertfordshire. The trend towards remote working has made it much easier to work with clients hundreds of miles away.

Eastern Daily Press: Sami says she has invested heavily in technology to ensure she can offer the best service to her clients and help them visualize their spaces before they commit.  Picture: British Home DesignSami says she has invested heavily in technology to ensure she can offer the best service to her clients and help them visualize their spaces before they commit. Picture: British Home Design (Image: British Home Design)

To do so, she has invested in the latest technology and regularly integrates it into her day-to-day practice, harnessing things like virtual reality (VR) to allow her clients to get
a better, real-life feel for what their spaces might become.

“In this day and age, we can work remotely really comfortably and easily,” she says. Many of her clients have their own VR headsets, so they can plug in and be transported into their ‘new’ space through Sami’s designs – although she admits it can sometimes be
a strange experience.

“Yesterday I went to see a client in their home and I’ve been designing their house in virtual reality. I went back to the house as it was when I first surveyed it and it was so weird to go from experiencing it as it is proposed to going back to how it is currently.

“I can picture really accurately how it’s going to look because I’ve been living in that 3D model – but to be back at the house, as it was, it’s like time had shifted. I’m always in different places and times – in the past and the present and future. It’s really strange but I’m getting used to it.

“It is great to share that experience with my clients, as they get to experience and literally see their homes from a whole new dimension of reality. With build costs at an all-time high, this acts as an insurance for my clients to make sure that they are 100pc satisfied before they invest.”

Eastern Daily Press: Sami's projects include property renovations and conversions.  Picture: British Home DesignSami’s projects include property renovations and conversions. Picture: British Home Design (Image: British Home Design)

For a while, Sami says that interior design had been, to her, “the other little sister”. Because she trained in architecture, she wasn’t able to devote as much time to the interiors side of what she does, but now she says she’s embracing both with equal passion.

“There’s something about interiors that really intrigues and excites me,” she says. “Just because you’re inside it and you’re immersed by it. But at the same time I love the idea of ​​curb appeal and creating that lovely beautiful exterior as well.”

Since starting the firm, Sami has also set up a digital magazine on her Instagram profile (@britishhomedesign) and has more than 8,000 followers on Twitter, where she posts daily home inspiration.

Despite the ‘British’ in British Home Design, she says she’s inspired by trends from around the world. “I don’t feel the need to post only content that is quintessentially ‘British’,” she explains. “The design world is blurring – most of what we think of as British trends are influenced from across the pond.”

Eastern Daily Press: Sami says she's inspired by design across the globe.  Picture: British Home DesignSami says she’s inspired by design across the globe. Picture: British Home Design (Image: British Home Design)

She loves sharing the work of other designers, internationally or otherwise, and says it’s crucial for learning from each other.

Recent trends have included Japanese and Nordic styles, as well as mid-century interiors and sustainable design, which Sami says has been around since she started her career. She doesn’t think it will ever go out of fashion and says that when it comes to creating ‘the next big thing’, a sense of timelessness is important.

“At the end of the day, if you’ve got a design eye and you’ve got good taste, you can’t go wrong,” she says. “There’s a lot of big things happening in the design world and it’s always shifting. I think it’s important that you specify fixtures and fittings that are timeless, but then have the decor and things that you can change, that see through the seasons and through the trends, so that it always stays current.”

Staying current is also part of the “fresher” approach Sami says she wants to bring to the field, and as a female architect in her mid-thirties, she’s already breaking the mold.

“The stereotypical notion of a principal architect with their own practice is probably a 50-year-old male,” she says. “I want to go against the grain.”

Eastern Daily Press: Sami has big dreams for the company and says she's not tied to Norfolk as different technology allows her to work further afield.  Picture: British Home DesignSami has big dreams for the company and says she’s not tied to Norfolk as different technology allows her to work further afield. Picture: British Home Design (Image: British Home Design)

Sami’s passion for what she does is clear. She is fast-talking, enthusiastic and says she treats her clients’ properties like extensions of her own. “It’s a vocation for me,” she says. “I think of my clients’ projects all the time. They’re always going around my head – I’m eating, sleeping, breathing, dreaming it, and I don’t think there are too many like me who really go that extra mile for their clients.”

Going forward, Sami says she has big plans for the brand. She has invested heavily in the latest technology to offer a cutting-edge service and hopes that will help the brand become national – but any growth will be organic.

“I’m reinvesting all the profits that I make back into the business again and I think that the real, hands-on approach I’m having at this stage, and will continue to have, will help its growth.

“It will be slower, it will be more organic, but it will be higher quality. Ultimately I want it to be a larger brand – British not just Norfolk.”

To find out more, visit britishhomedesign.com

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