Professional Builder talks to Master Builder Award winning company Pencil and Brick

Professional Builder talks to Master Builder Award winning company Pencil and Brick

The Master Builder Awards showcases the highly skilled endeavours of small building companies. Professional Builder’s Lee Jones talks to Seán McAlister of Pencil and Brick about his company’s winning work.


This September will see one of the building industry’s biggest events make its return. The Federation of Master Builders (FMB) Master Builder Awards celebrates the sterling – and often otherwise unsung – work of SME construction firms. Before the national verdict is revealed, however, a host of regional winners are rewarded with a worthy FMB accolade, and amongst them is Pencil and Brick, who recently received recognition in the Large Renovation category in the London area.

“We’re trying to promote craft and the use of simple materials,” enthuses company Director, Seán McAlister about his award-winning work, “and I believe the Southwark refurb reflects that. So much of the detail and the skilled work that builders undertake is covered up when it should be on show.”


The Pencil and Brick property renovation was beside a railway line, and adjacent to a line of monumental Victorian arches. A Sir John Soane built church on the same street exhibited some beautiful 1820s examples of brick arch work and Seán choose to use the proximity of both those styles to his advantage by creating a design that reflected them. The result was the symmetry of arched joinery on the interior and arched brickwork on the exterior of the extension. Even before then, however, Pencil and Brick had to maintain the structural integrity of the property through stitching cracks, the use of concrete elbows and underpinning to the rear.

“We created a brick portico with two semi-circular brick arches. The chamfered brick details are different heights under each arch, which mirror the clients’ Becky and Dan’s shoulder heights, and the arch motif is carried into the kitchen with the bespoke joinery.”

Design and build

The team designed – and had built by carpenters, Goldfinch – a large plywood-structure extension to the kitchen. This separated the kitchen and dining areas, with an arched opening, and two concealed skylights to bring in light. Pencil and Brick was also commended for its consideration to neighbours and the local community, and its very satisfied clients were equally full of praise, describing them as “a respite in the storm of complexity that is project design and build. We would wholeheartedly recommend this excellent practice and both its brilliant principals and whole team.”

The Brick Lane-based design and build firm has been trading for more than four years and operates across the north and east of the Capital. The company specialises in high end refurbishment work, with experienced experts on hand to guide their clients on the journey from drawing board to completed project. “As a qualified architect, as well as the project manager, I know that the homeowners really like having that one point of contact throughout the job. A large renovation can be a stressful experience for them, and I can be a reassuring presence.”

“Almost all our work now has a sustainability angle, and a degree of retrofit,” continues Sean, as he guides as around a job in Finsbury Park that exhibits just those attributes and will ultimately benefit from an air source heat pump, UFH (Underfloor heating) and external wall insulation. “Of course, you can’t do what we’re undertaking on this property on every house, so a fabric first  approach, by getting the insulation right, is the best way forward, and a real difference can be made regardless of budgets.”

FMB member

In addition to his role with Pencil and Brick, Seán is an active member of the FMB, sitting on the organisation’s London Board as well as working on the Standards Committee. Seán explains his roles: “The board functions to represent the interests of members in that area. As an example, we recently communicated their concerns over the expansion of the ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) to Transport for London representatives and suggested policy changes, including exempting builders and a longer timeframe for implementation.”

The Board also functions as a focus group for new ideas, as Sean reveals: “One idea we had was to develop an FMB App – which will allow communication between members to be easier and more collaborative – and that’s now been approved by the national organisation and is being developed.”

“The Building Safety Act is another huge policy change that will affect our members and the industry at large and we have some construction insurance brokers and solicitors who are advising on the implications. No-one is really sure how that’s going to work in practice, so there’s lots of work to be done there.”

The Standards Committee exists to ensure that the code of conduct that members have signed up to is adhered to in practice and is integral to the integrity of the trade association itself, as well as its wider mission to improve the industry’s image and that of builders.

“The FMB is an invaluable resource for time-poor tradespeople,” concludes Sean. “Whether it’s on legal or insurance issues, or in promoting the industry through its awards, there’s a lot of good work being done. Any reputable builder will applaud efforts to raise standards – as well as the reputation of the construction sector as a whole – and that’s exactly what the Federation of Master of Builders works to achieve. It’s also a great networking opportunity. Individual building firms can often operate in silos – without any direct contact between them – but the FMB can bring them together.”

For further information on Pencil and Brick visit Pencil and Brick.

For further information on the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) click here.

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