06 Aug 2018

How one family in Highbury have transformed the way they live with a simple extension

When a young family found themselves left wanting with the original lower ground floor of their home, which suffered from being dark, damp and completely under-utilised, they decided to add a glazed single-storey rear extension onto their Victorian terraced house in Highbury. The new design adds 10m2 of sleek, light-filled space to the home with subtle use of pastel colour and timber.

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The homeowner explains: “We effectively had a whole floor – lower ground – and garden which we did not use in any meaningful way. It was all too dark and damp, and not laid out in a way which remotely suited the way we wanted to live. We always knew we would do something with that floor, but it took us six years to start!”.

The north-facing rear garden was only accessible through a small doorway off a utility room, and it became immediately apparent that establishing a better connection between the garden and the house would make a huge difference to the quality of life for the family, as well as giving new life to the basement floor.

The owner continues: “Our vision was very much to have a light family space where we could cook, eat, do homework, relax and enjoy the garden. There was an iterative process through which we realised that to make the most of the space we would need to be more ambitious than at the outset. For example, originally we had no side extension, but realised after a few drafts that to go that extra mile would be more than worth it.”

With construction lasting just over seven months, IBLA opened up this unloved space by removing the walls of the rear facade, the outrigger, the existing bedrooms and stairs.

It chose to relocate the kitchen from the upper level, and create a glazed infill side extension that provides the family with an elegant open space for cooking, dining and relaxing.

“The fact that we lived in the property whilst the build was ongoing was challenging. No doubt we were cursed by the building team from time to time, because they had to be fairly imaginative with certain aspects of the process – ensuring we had a kitchen and utilities throughout, for example.

“We worked with IBLA and whilst we knew Kim as a friend, everything was also carried out incredibly professionally in a way that inspired confidence at every stage. Had we not worked with Kim it is inconceivable that we would have ended up with anything approaching the space, design and finish we are so pleased to have ended up with.

“We were very much guided by IBLA, who at each stage always provided several options with a view on each, which helped enormously as we tried to make the myriad decisions throughout the process.”

In an overlooked Victorian backplot, the extension is both filled with light and retains a sense of privacy. This is achieved by a 2.3 x 2.3m sliding glass door and similarly sized window to the rear and innovatively angled skylights pushed up from the ceiling with plywood coffers that capture as much natural light as possible. At night, the space is illuminated by concealed LED lighting.

“We love that we can now all be in the same general space, but doing our own thing – someone reading in the garden, someone cooking lunch, someone doing homework and someone watching TV. It has transformed the way we run our everyday lives at a stroke. We now have an open lower ground floor containing a TV area, kitchen and dining area, blending through into a redesigned garden. Upstairs, the old kitchen has become a second family bathroom with a walk-in shower. The downstairs space is incredible, but the new bathroom has made our lives so much easier (and as the children get older, will no doubt become absolutely essential). The birch finish on the wood interiors is incredibly light but textured and offers a consistent theme throughout the space. Equally, the concrete floor throughout the whole floor gives a consistent and surprising warm feel.”

The project is a sustainable and money-saving investment too, with lower ground walls fully insulated internally; the polished concrete flooring also includes underfloor heating and a long-lasting and stylish surface for the extension.

By keeping the interiors minimal and stripped back, the architect’s designs allow for extra space to be used by the family as they please. A plywood kitchen island doubles up as a breakfast bar, and holds storage space for three Magis swivel beech bars tools to be tucked away when not in use. A new stair holds added storage in the form of pull-out larder units, and leads up to a new family bathroom built within the walls of the old kitchen. An ample bookshelf for young and old sits next to a dining table carved into the walls of the extension.

Delicate touches of pastel lend the extension an air of Postmodernism, with a dusty green covering the internal column, Muuto lampshade and trims of the dining area. This use of green continues into the garden with the slatted timber fence bordering the area. The small garden was completely reimagined as another ‘room’ in the sequence of new spaces. The view out to it was considered as important as the sense of space within it, and landscape design firm Bestique created a circular paved patio area surrounded by textural ferns and predominantly evergreen leafy plants which felt like a continuation of the interior.

Practice Director, Kim Loddo, said of the project: “At IBLA, we design places that people can enjoy; and that provide a robust setting for everyday activities. With this project, we are pleased to have completely transformed the way the clients used their house, and created a series of spaces that put their need for space, storage and light first.”

The homeowner concludes: “If you’re looking to renovate, really set out to your architect exactly what you want from the start, without worrying unduly about budget or space at that point. We were broadly within budget – where we did go over was where we upped the spec. Equally there were areas which came in under budget, for example, we didn’t need as much waterproofing as originally budgeted. It’s better to have a vision of what can be done and then consciously pare back if needed, rather than self-exiting and never actually seeing what the full potential could be.

“Yes, we would do the whole thing again, although we might think about moving out for some or all of the build. The team made it work, but I have no doubt it would have been easier for them had they not had to look out for us.”

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