26 Jul 2023

Recipe for Success: Inside John and Heather Sibly’s Kitchen Transformation

Embarking on a kitchen renovation can be an exciting experience for homeowners. John and Heather Sibly recently undertook their own kitchen extension project, and agreed to share their journey with i-Build. In this Q&A, they discuss the inspiration behind their decision, the challenges they faced and the final result that exceeded their expectations.


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What inspired you to take on this project?

We have wanted to do a kitchen extension since we bought the house 14 years ago. The second lockdown and kids starting to reach their teenage years made us realise we had to do it now. The use of space has futureproofed the house to give us a flexible space.

Had you always wanted to pursue your own project?

I have always wanted a project; my husband less so. We bought this house knowing that the ‘90s kitchen would have to go and we would make it our own.

How and why did you choose this property to renovate?

We could see the potential in this house when we got it 14 years ago. It has grown with us as a family. We love the location and the community. Although it would have been great to extend earlier, what we would have done has changed, and we love the current results.

What style and age is the original building?

Our house is a traditional London Victorian terrace. A lot of the period elements had been removed. In our extension, we tried to give the back of the house its own personality. Still, we didn’t want the space to be too modern. Instead, we kept it simple with clean lines while adding some older elements to keep it interesting. Our previous kitchen was a dark galley kitchen with a small table at the back.

How did you approach finalising your design brief?

After going to several kitchen companies and not getting a design that could do everything we wanted, we got an Interior Designer, Millie Turner, to help by doing an e-design for us. She truly transformed what we could get into the space. She provided a few possibilities taking in everything we wanted. Kitchen companies wanted to fill the room with kitchen cabinets, and it was important to us to have a comfortable second place to watch TV, play video games, spend time as a family and entertain. She got us a full second living room, a table for 10 to 12 and vast amounts of storage.

The best design Millie provided used a space-saving built-in solution for the large dining table we wanted for both daily life and dinner parties. Some people thought this would be limiting, but it brought us the space for a second sitting area, ‘girlfriend seats’ (behind the sofa), that has turned into everyone’s favourite area. This means all five of us can comfortably watch a show together. Plus, when you have many people over, you can move the furniture to provide a bigger space for entertaining. This plan also keeps the kitchen big enough to have everything we need (hello, double ovens!), but giving up an island led to the largest amount of liveable space and more than enough room for multiple people to cook.

Millie also created a lighting plan. We went over the Plus Rooms budget for electrical, but it was worth every penny.

We also wanted to create the feeling of space and keep it as open as possible. We created floor-to-ceiling cabinets in the darkest part of the kitchen and had these painted the same colour we were painting the walls so that they practically disappeared. All this storage allowed us to skip any upper cabinets in the kitchen.

Another important thing we did was push the extension into the back garden. We don’t miss the space in our garden at all and the extra square footage helped us fit everything we wanted in.

Were there any challenging aspects to the project and build?

Living through the build was the hardest. Plus Rooms and our builders were great and very accommodating, but there is so much dust! The most challenging aspect was getting the floorplan down to ensure the lighting was correct.

How did you approach material and product specification?

I did lots of research – home magazines, Instagram, Pinterest and looking at websites and floorplans. I also got a lot of samples.

Our backsplash was particularly tricky. I really wanted a marble effect. Seeing some of them in person helped me figure out that some look more realistic than others. Our kitchen company, Cu Cucine, was very helpful in finding us both a beautiful marble-effect backsplash and a coordinating white that would be used as our countertop to stop the space from getting too busy. This was trickier than you would think; there are so many shades of white!

Are there any materials that you would recommend to others?

We are happy with how much glass we put into the north-facing back room. The large brick building at the end of our garden gives us privacy but also blocks the view of the sky. Adding a gable end lets you see the sky, and the pitched roof gives the room a feeling of airiness. Also, don’t be afraid to leave some beams in the ceiling. It adds interest and can save money. We had ours slightly raised for headspace but saved money by not making them totally flush.

How long did the project take?

Plus Rooms and our builder did the build within their timeframe. What we should have remembered to properly factor in was how long finishing takes. We started our build in August and got into a semi-finished room on 21st December – a Christmas miracle! We lived in the property during the build and started using the kitchen as soon as the plumbing was finished and the heating was on.

Did you remain within the original budget?

As this is our long-term home, we upped our budget to get the final space as we want it.

Please provide an overview of both the interior and exterior finished space.

When we bought the house, the front room and dining room were knocked through. We found that we only used the formal dining room for special occasions, and the space was always dark. By taking just over half of the room (and removing the chimney), we moved the downstairs WC into this space and created a laundry area with our washer, dryer, shoes and coats. The other side of the laundry room has a desk for when my husband works from home.

The utility room is 1900mm wide (the bathroom is 900mm and the rest of the area is 2317mm). The desk area is 1375mm. The back room, which we jokingly call the north wing, is split into three sections by lighting – kitchen, dining and living room. The whole room is 4979mm wide by 8184mm long.

Is the finished space everything that you hoped it would be?

Yes, and more! We knew it would change the way we lived, but it has revolutionised it.

What do you love most about your new home?

The kitchen/back room. Also, the laundry area (peak middle age) and the downstairs WC that my kids call their gallery, as we have their artwork and photos covering the black walls. I threw everything at that little room and love it. We also made clever decisions about the laundry room. As it’s narrow, but the ceilings are high, we used that to our advantage. The closed storage is flush against the ceiling (we keep some small IKEA steps under the sink in the WC). There’s also an open area above the washer and dryer for folding and a rail to hang clothes to dry. On the other side, the storage isn’t as deep but is great for shoes and coats and the floor-to-ceiling unit holds sheets, towels and other useful items.

Is there anything that you would have done differently?

I wish I kept better control of the budget overall. If money was no object, I would have hired Millie Turner to help us and do site visits. I think having someone else to talk to would take the pressure off us (especially my husband). The details she added, like the shelves to make sense of the space between two steels, elevated our property.

I would do it again. But I don’t want to live through another build.

What advice would you offer to anyone looking to renovate or self-build?

Look at high-end kitchen companies and especially architects. I found so much inspiration from their kitchens and use of space and was able to create it for less money.

If you have a door in the hallway that you are going to close up, set a radiator in the space. It saved us so much room and made the hallway feel spacious.

Details matter, and so does lighting! We love our different lighting options.

Look at all options, not just the popular ones. We don’t have a kitchen island or counter seats. And we don’t miss them at all. Don’t be afraid to lose the island.

Don’t think that an interior designer is too expensive. They can often get you deals on your furniture and fittings that will cover what you paid them. The help we got was really invaluable.

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