11 Jan 2021

Righting a Wrong

This stunning four-bedroom detached property in a rural village near Southampton already had two rear extensions; however, they were so poorly thought-out; they created more problems than they solved. So, with a focus on converting their Edwardian house with innovative design, Mr and Mrs B sought to transform their family home with a comprehensive renovation.

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Photos by Martin Gardner

Work involved knocking down the existing extensions and adding a new contemporary ‘box’ extension clad in cedar, with a master bedroom suite, including a bathroom and separate dressing area upstairs, a play area and kitchen/family room below, and a sub-basement area leading out to the garden.

The original Edwardian part of the house was also renovated throughout with new bathrooms, wooden sash windows, a bespoke-designed hanging staircase and the remediation of jarring alternations made over the years, such as a flat-roofed bay to the front of the property.

The build is also notable for how the architect practice, BBD Architects, and homeowners, Mr and Mrs B, embraced the difference between old and new; the rear of the home now is striking and very contemporary, while the frontage remains classic Edwardian – a ribbon window between them delineates the two parts of the house.

Talking of the project, Architect Verity Lovelock from BBD Architects says: “One of the biggest challenges for clients with a project like this is investing a lot of money when you’re not adding enormously to the square footage or adding another bedroom. It may seem like there is no value to what you’re doing. But when you have existing extensions that are so ill-conceived and ugly, it diminishes the value of the house, and it certainly impacts your experience of living there. While on paper, we took away a kitchen-diner and master bedroom and replaced them; in reality, this project has transformed this family home.”

Here, Verity talks i-Build Editor, Rebecca Kemp, through the ins and outs of this extensive project.

RK: What inspired Mr and Mrs B to take on this project?
VL: The couple had lived in the home for eight years, yet they knew from the outset they wanted to do work to it. They felt they could turn it into their dream home. The location is perfect for the family. It’s in the exact area they wanted to live within, has impressive views, is very peaceful and backs on to woodland. The property itself had a lot of period charm and original features. It had a lovely feeling to it; however, it came with a lot of problems.

Two poorly thought-out rear extensions had served to create disjointed and impractical spaces. The master bedroom was in the eaves, so it was very cold with no room for wardrobes. Thermally, it was poor. There was a lot of condensation throughout. Also, there were columns in the way and not quite enough space. It was a real mishmash that just wasn’t working.

The clients held off doing any work for years because they wanted an extension. By the time they came to us, their family had grown, and they understood everything that frustrated them about the house.

RK: How did you combine the original building’s style with the extension?
VL: Rather than trying to combine the extension’s style with the original property (as had been done so unsuccessfully with the pre-existing extensions), our approach was to maintain a clear distinction between the two. It was essential to make the extension different from the original house, so it would be evident that it’s an extension. One of the first things we had to do was to find where the original house ended and the later extensions began. We took down the building’s additions and extended the gable roof at the back to restore its original shape. The idea then was to ‘plug in’ an extension that would sit beneath those gables without overhanging.

We kept the design very simple. We used diverse materials, a different roof shape and varying ceiling heights to help keep the extension distinct. We also stripped the windows to separate the two parts of the building. The scale of the extension itself was also significant; it is roughly a third of the original building, so it’s in balance.

RK: What was the vision and inspiration behind the extension?
VL: As an architect, it was a fascinating project because it involved both the restoration of the period property and the design of something new.

Mr and Mrs B had a clear vision for what they wanted to achieve; they were looking for a large family space where together they could cook, eat, live and play – along with space and a bit of luxury in the master suite.

Beyond that, the couple were very open about what the extension would look like. Our design was informed by what Mr and Mrs B wanted to achieve – as well as by keeping a firm handle on costs. The beauty of this ‘box’ extension was its simplicity and flexibility, which helped us to satisfy both elements while maintaining a high quality throughout.

RK: How did you approach finalising the design brief?
VL: The design process was quite lengthy. We looked at several ideas, balancing what Mr and Mrs B wanted with the potential costs. At one point, a balcony was in the plans. The sub-basement was designed and priced in isolation, which allowed for a final decision between including it or not. By taking the time to consider the options, we avoided significant changes and redesigns once the build began.

RK: How long did it take to gain planning permission?
VL: About six months. An initial design with a roof terrace was withdrawn when it raised concerns with planners, and a revised set of plans were submitted. Objections were presented of the contemporary design at a parish council level, but because the design met all the local planning requirements, it was approved without any real hitches.

RK: Were there any challenging aspects to the project and build?
VL: A survey found bats nesting in the building, which resulted in alterations to the design. Leaving space between some of the vertical boards allowed them to continue to have access under the cladding. From Mr and Mrs B’s point of view, this was an unexpected spanner in the works which they found a bit frustrating. The quirks of working with an Edwardian building, where the walls aren’t necessarily uniform or straight, also created one or two issues. Thankfully, because we were involved in the project throughout the entire build, we were able to resolve them and avoid any compromises to the design.

RK: Who was involved in the project?
VL: Mr and Mrs B worked with us at BBD Architects from start to finish. They found us after driving past one of our projects in the area. They loved it so much they went online to the local authority planning portal to find out who the architects were, and then gave us a call. The main contractor, Blaydon Developments, also had an on-site manager.

RK: How did you approach material and product specification?
VL: We knew we didn’t want to use brick. Because it was used for the original building, it would add more mass and bulk. The timber cladding has a different tone, and it will silver beautifully as it ages, blending in with the tone of the aged brick. Also, at their request, Mr and Mrs B wished to source the internal fixtures and fittings themselves – the tiles, the flooring, the sanitaryware, etc. They liaised with the suppliers and the builders.

RK: Are there any particular materials that you would recommend to others looking to renovate or self-build?
VL: Timber cladding. There is a misconception that you have to maintain it – but if you don’t treat it, you don’t have to upkeep it – it naturally weathers over time. It looks beautiful and can last for 20 years.

RK: How long did the project take?
VL: The build lasted a year as planned – from March 2019 to March 2020 – and finished on time. Mr and Mrs B moved back in just before lockdown, with some decorating and finishing still to complete.

RK: Did the clients remain within the original budget?
VL: The budget was £500k. The construction cost was £410,000 (excluding VAT); however, because the client sourced and purchased some items out of contract, it kept the costs down. In total, they came in very close to their initial budget.

RK: Please provide an overview of both the interior and exterior finished space.
VL: The project involved restoring the existing property – removing two flat roof bay windows to the front which were not original, and replacing wooden sash windows throughout. The stairs were moved, and a new bespoke suspended staircase was installed in the extension. That removed the pinch point at the front door, creating a lovely big hall. This allowed a bedroom in the original part of the house to almost double in size – and an en-suite to be added to another bedroom. A new boiler was put in, a new family bathroom installed, and the original part of the house was also replastered and decorated.

The extension is a contemporary two-storey ‘box’ extension clad in cedar, with a master bedroom suite, including an en-suite and dressing area above and a kitchen/family room and play area below. The play area and family room are separated with doors that can be folded back to create one large space. Sliding glass doors open onto a terrace area overlooking the garden. And, a sub-basement games room below is accessible by ‘hit-and-miss’ stairs and leads out on to the garden.

Challenges have been overcome with smart design features – such as ‘hit-and-miss’ cladding over the bedroom window, which would otherwise be overlooking the neighbouring property.

RK: How does the building respond to its surrounding landscape?
VL: The property is in a rural woodland setting, so the timber cladding (mainly the fact that it is vertical) means it echoes and sits well within that landscape.

RK: What was the feedback from Mr and Mrs B?
VL: They are delighted – absolutely over the moon with the results. We love receiving photos and updates from them about how they’re enjoying their home. Mr and Mrs B love the family space – they spend all their time here and appreciate how they can open up the back of the house and enjoy the garden and the views in a way they couldn’t before. They are a very outdoorsy family, so that’s been lovely for them.

RK: What advice would you offer to anyone looking to renovate or self-build?
VL: To understand the value of an architect and bring them on board earlier in the process. Thinking about a big project can be completely overwhelming, and an architect will work with you to help you decide what you want, understand what is affordable and translate your ideas into a workable design. They can help you avoid dead-ends and costly mistakes, as well as bring your vision for your dream home to life.

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