23 Jun 2022

Making Room for Family Life

Award-winning, design-led architecture practice, SSK Architects, achieved planning approval on a corner site in north-west London for a double-storey, side-to-rear, wrap-around extension flush with the boundary. In this article, we talk to Sandeep Saddal, Architectural Technologist at SSK Architects and the architect in charge of the project, about the planning and design details behind the extension and find out more about the build process from the homeowners, Phil and Joy Walker.

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“When purchasing our property seven years ago, we knew its potential,” explains Joy. “We were inspired by shows, such as Grand Designs, and exhibitions we had attended. Creating something from scratch that had our total input, from inception to completion, was something that we had always planned on doing. It was just a case of waiting until the right moment to start the work.

“This was the first property that we purchased based on its potential, knowing that we could put our stamp on it and create our own family home. Little did we know back then that it would mean essentially demolishing the building and starting again!”

Sandeep adds: “Internally, Joy and Phil wanted a modern design style and a major reconfiguration, which eventually transformed into a semi-demolition with only the front wall and party wall being retained.”

“The building was constructed in the 1930s by two brothers who created two semi-detached homes,” resumes Joy. “Therefore, there were only two previous owners before we had moved in. It was a slightly smaller-than-average, semi-detached house with a cottage-like feel.”

Beginning the process

Joy summarises: “We started the planning process with SSK Architects in October 2019 and agreed on plans by July 2020. We went through the pre-planning stage and the formal application.”

Explaining more about the planning strategy, Sandeep adds: “Hillingdon Council’s first-floor side extension requirements typically require 1 to 1.5m from the boundary. However, by using neighbouring precedents and a sympathetic design approach, we showed how our design would not be overly dominant from the street scene and retain views around the corner site.”

“We were keen to retain the original features at the front of the house,” recounts Joy. “This has meant keeping the sash windows and plain white render at the front to keep within the style of the original property’s features. However, the back of the house has a contemporary feel with large glass sliding doors and anthracite windows.

“We had a good idea of what we wanted ourselves through the design brief; however, having a good relationship with our architects made it easy to refine aspects when needed.

“The vision was to create a family home with several rooms that flowed from one space to another. At the heart of this would be a big kitchen/dining family room, which would be the hub of the house and a place where we could entertain guests and spend time together as a family.”

Jumping hurdles

Talking through the challenges the couple overcame, Joy expresses: “The most challenging aspect of the build was embarking on such a large project during the height of the pandemic. Restrictions meant that we were limited to seeing items in person when it came to elements such as final fittings – this involved a lot of Zoom calls. We were lucky that we weren’t affected by the cost increase or delay in building materials!

“We project managed the build from start to finish while living with parents a short distance away, which allowed for daily site visits and the ability to assess progress and address any queries. We worked with SSK Architects during the planning stage of the process. Our architect was very helpful throughout the build when we had quick questions.

“We approached material specification via copious amounts of spreadsheets and the use of online reviews. Site visits were reasonably limited; however, our contractors did an excellent job of communicating milestones, which allowed us to build in the time needed to review materials and products. We also developed good relationships with staff in some trade stores to help with advice on the best products that would be most suitable for the project.”

Time and cost

Joy continues: “In total, the project took 10 months to complete – this was two months over the initial timescale. The delay was primarily due to the start of the process because of the piling foundation needed. We moved in on the day that the builders finished work.

“Financially, we mostly stayed on track during the build; however, as mentioned, the start of the process was heavily impacted by the need to have a piling foundation, which we hadn’t accounted for. Near the end of the project, we did go over slightly due to the final fittings. We were fortunate to have a relative who worked for a bathroom company, which meant we offset some of the overspending against the savings we could make. In total, we were approximately £20,000 over budget.”

Modern, light-filled interiors

“The front exterior of the property is rendered in an off-white smooth finish with white sash windows and a light grey/green front door with stained-glass windows and a side panel,” depicts Joy. “The rear exterior of the property has exposed brick, large, modern anthracite windows and sliding doors providing a more contemporary feel.”

Moving inside, Sandeep explains: “We were keen to use features throughout the house. This is shown through the matte blue kitchen units, lighting features, statement, ‘tropical’ WC, exposed brick and Crittall-style doors within the open-plan kitchen/dining/living area, and the panelled walls in the lounge and bedrooms. Large skylights and vaulted ceilings also create a sense of openness at the rear of the property. We achieved our goal of creating an exciting view everywhere you look.”

“The ground floor comprises a wider, L-shaped hallway,” continues Joy. “There is a living room to the front of the house that has been made larger by extending into the garage space, a downstairs WC, utility room and open-plan kitchen/diner/family room. The latter features glass sliding doors spanning the room’s width, 3m internal glass doors and a side panel as a divider to the hallway.

“What’s more, the house benefits from underfloor heating throughout the ground floors with different control zones, smart lighting and other features, including automated blinds.

“Travelling up to the first floor, there are three bedrooms, a study and a family bathroom. The master bedroom also has a small walk-in wardrobe and an en-suite bathroom. The landing area has sun tunnels in place, as does the office, to ensure that the rooms/areas utilise natural light.

“Internally, the front and back of the property have a different feel, with gold fixtures and fittings and wooden panelling in the rooms facing the front of the house. Black nickel fixtures and fittings feature towards the rear to match the anthracite windows and doors.”

When asked what she loves most about her new home, Joy replied: “Our new home provides us with everything our old house lacked. We have an open-plan family room as a hub that we longed for, where all of us can be using the same space for different purposes yet still be together. We love how much natural light we get into all of our rooms the most. Through large sliding doors, stained glass, internal glass doors and sun tunnels, we have achieved natural light in areas that would have previously been dark and unwelcoming.

“Our favourite room is the open-plan living/dining area. As the hub of the house, it does everything we wanted it to. In the summer months, the views of the garden and the heat that comes from the glass doors can make you feel like you’re in another country.

Final thoughts

“We think the building is in keeping with the surrounding landscape. We were careful to stick with the original characteristics of the front house, which means it fits in with the surrounding properties. Large trees and greenery shield the back of the house from the surrounding gardens. The building makes the most of the views with immense 5.5m sliding doors and large windows in the back bedrooms overlooking the surroundings. Passers-by have always been keen to complement the build.”

When asked if she has any recommendations for other budding home renovators, Joy advised: “All the cliches – planning and budgeting is key. Ensure you go with architects and builders that you have a good relationship with, as you will be working with them closely throughout the project.”

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