Andrew Clague looks back with pride on a long career in architecture, which began as a boy colouring plans for his father’s business.
“I was about nine when I started helping around in the office in my spare time, colouring in the plans by hand and doing some of the lettering. It was very good basic training,” he recalls.
Andrew’s father John started Clague Architects in 1934 and resumed it after war service, but certainly did not expect, or even encourage, his son to join him in the business. “He told me to think about doing something else,” Andrew says frankly, leaning across the boardroom desk in his splendid Georgian office in the centre of Canterbury to emphasise the point.
“Actually, for a year or so I had an ambition to join the RAF because I wanted to fly Harrier Jump Jets – such a wonderful, cleverly designed aircraft – but eventually I decided my primary passion was for architecture.”
Seven years later, including a year working in London, Andrew joined the family firm in 1975, after his father told him: “Come now, or forget it”. Father and son worked alongside each other for 10 years, Andrew picking up the company reins in 1980. Clague now employs 65 people in three offices and Andrew is still very much hands-on, with no ambition to retire in the near future. His particular architectural passion is for converting historic buildings in keeping with their surroundings. His face lights up as he lovingly describes various projects across the South East. “I am a great believer in place-making – ensuring that new buildings are not just plonked into an area, but that they absorb the vernacular of where they are. This requires thought and master planning, but it is vital,” he said.
In line with this philosophy, Andrew and his staff specialise in converting churches for community use, giving them a new lease of life potentially for generations.
“At a time when many congregations are dwindling, parishes are looking for new ways to use what is sometimes the only social building in the area. We have the support of the Church of England and Historic England and use the best materials to ensure sustainability.”
Another pet project for Clague’s is the newly dubbed “Graddy Annexe” – a conversion, or extension, to a family home enabling parents to provide their older children with a step on to the property ladder. Statistics show that across England and Wales, more than 9,000 such annexes were built in the last two years. The 39 per cent rise is partly attributed to a ruling in 2013 which allowed 50 per cent discount on council tax if independent annexes are occupied by a family member.
Andrew says: “We have converted outbuildings, designed self-contained annexes and built extensions for existing homeowners looking to find space for their graduate children returning from university but unable to afford to get on to the property ladder.”
Annexes are increasingly becoming essential for young adults living with their parents while they save up to buy a home. It typically costs around £20,000 to build a graddy annexe – less if you are converting a garage.
Insurance company account manager Lucy Fermor is typical of the young professionals who have persuaded their parents to adopt the Graddy Annexe idea.
The 20-year-old from Maidstone decided to move back with her parents after realising she could not afford to save for a deposit while paying for her rented flat. Her parents agreed to spend £10,000 to convert their garage into a self-contained annexe, with en-suite bathroom and small kitchen.
Lucy said: “After enjoying the freedom of living away from home, it was not ideal to move back, but like many people my age I didn’t really have any choice. My annexe has its own front door, floor-to-ceiling wardrobes, a little patio at the side and enough space for me to have my boyfriend over.
“My dream is to own my own home, but with the high cost of renting this is the only way I will ever be able to save for a deposit.
“Every month I give my mum and dad £500 in rent, but they are putting that aside for my deposit. I’m very lucky to have this as an option and I have many friends my age that have done, or plan to do, the same. When my parents were at this stage in their careers they could afford to rent or buy, but I am in a generation that simply doesn’t have that luxury.”