Before and after: this interior designer extended her family home for £50k

All thanks to a combination of skill and imagination

Garden with large lawn area and hot tub leading to white rendered rear extension with decking
(Image credit: Colin Poole)

Extending on a budget is tricky if you want to create something special from your space. You have to find interesting ways to make room. 

For Cat and her husband, Wayne, their idea came after a few years of weighing up their options. With two young children, they’d debated whether to extend upstairs – but decided the living area downstairs was where they spent most of their time, and, therefore, could do with the extra space. ‘We needed a toy area, more seating, and we wanted as much natural light as we could get,’ says Cat.

Opting for a glass-heavy extension proved a cost-effective option, and gave the couple the light they were after, from large sliding doors across the back and a glazed roof above. Cat enlisted the help of her sister, a structural engineer, for the nitty-gritty of the build. 

‘It was quite a challenge thinking about space versus cost, and how to fit in everything we needed,’ adds Cat. ‘I didn’t want it to feel like a conservatory, so I made sure there was space between the glass doors and the ceiling. There was a bit of to and fro with the builders, too – we needed a column in the corner and the ceiling had to be lowered from my plans to meet a specific pitch.’ 

The work was held up by a neighbour consultation, but the couple avoided further delays by ensuring the project came under permitted development.

With the extension underway, the rest of the house followed suit. Below, Cat talks us through her design choices for each room – and reveals tricks for making your money go further in a family home makeover.

Kitchen

Before shot of kitchen with half-height divider and curved corner shelves

(Image credit: Cat Dennison)
Profile

The owners Cat Dennison, an interior designer and owner of Design Story (@design____story (opens in new tab); design-story.co.uk (opens in new tab)), her husband, Wayne, a commercial format development designer, their sons, Finlay and Travis, and cat, Gizmo
The property A three-bed 1950s semi in Southampton
Project cost £50,000

The kitchen the couple inherited with the house was in good condition, with its cream gloss doors and granite worktops, but it needed an update – and the layout wasn't quite right for the family's needs.

Cream U-shaped kitchen in broken plan layout leading to family room

(Image credit: Colin Poole)

To avoid waste, Cat kept the kitchen and made a feature of it. ‘I wanted to keep the structure as it was, so we took out a window to create a hatch, and opened up the side wall into a breakfast bar,’ she says.

Cream kitchen with breakfast bar, black metal bar stools and four black pendant lights

(Image credit: Colin Poole)

The breakfast bar features an ash-effect worktop to tie in with the rest of the house. ‘We brought in black bar chairs to pull the space together,’ adds Cat. ‘We thought a lot about how we use the space in a social way, but also for day-to-day life – and the idea of sitting the kids at the breakfast bar really appealed.’

Family room

Broken plan family room with breakfast bar and black bar stools, grey sofa, oak and white dining set and sliding doors leading to decking outside

(Image credit: Colin Poole)

With openings out to all but one side, the kitchen looks onto an open-plan space made up of family, dining and seating areas, plus large sliding doors leading out to the garden.

Family room with grey sofa, white side table, and black ceiling-to-floor storage unit next to open shelving

(Image credit: Colin Poole)

The family area at the back of the extension features built-in toy storage made from Ikea kitchen units and a sofa so the kids can sit and watch TV. ‘Everything is contained there and the lounge is toy-free,’ says Cat.

Sliding doors leading from dining area to covered outdoor decking with rattan garden furniture and monochrome outdoor rug

Rug and rattan garden furniture, B&Q (opens in new tab). Dining table and dining chairs, Ikea (opens in new tab). Pendant over dining table, Philips Hue (opens in new tab)

(Image credit: Colin Poole)

‘Initially we wanted a patio by the house where we could put the hot tub, but we had quotes of £3,000 for a four-metre-square space!’ says Cat. ‘Instead, we have this raised seating area in the shade, which we’ve designed to feel like a holiday.’

Living room

Before shot of lounge with white walls and wood flooring

(Image credit: Cat Dennison)

The lounge – the first room you enter from the front door – was a blank canvas for Cat, though she decided to make a small structural change by cutting the room down in size to make space for a hallway.

White living room with grey carpet, boho rug, grey armchair and footstool, wood coffee table, blue velvet sofa and grey brick fireplace surround

(Image credit: Colin Poole)

The space is now warm and cosy, with a casual mix of furniture. Cat transformed the generic fire surround with MDF and brick slips: ‘It’s now the focal point of the room.’

Living room with white walls, grey carpet, boho rug, blue velvet sofa, wood coffee table and grey slatted room divider into hallway

(Image credit: Colin Poole)

‘The panelling helps divide this room from the new hallway but also brightens it up,’ says Cat. ‘We put down hard flooring through to the kitchen and kept the lounge carpeted, which divides the space.'

Master bedroom

Bedroom with bed in alcove painted in dark green tone, with slim slatted panelling up to picture rail height and a shelf with artwork on above

Wall behind bed painted in Secret Mission (opens in new tab); opposite panelling painted in Magic Touch (opens in new tab), both Valspar (opens in new tab). Bed, chest of drawers and mirror, Ikea (opens in new tab). Bedding, Habitat (opens in new tab). Lights, Direct Trade Supplies (opens in new tab)

(Image credit: Colin Poole)

Cat’s feel for design comes into play again in the bedrooms. The master has slatted panelling up to a shelf above the bed, for the illusion of an expanded headboard; similar panelling opposite – in a different colour – adds a feeling of height. Painting over and around the bed creates a cocooning feel, while a mirror opposite means you can see the carefully-arranged shelf from the bed.

Travis's room

Before shot of kid's bedroom with plain walls and floor

(Image credit: Cat Dennison)

Youngest son Travis’ room – ‘a tiny box room we could barely fit anything into’ – presented a design challenge for Cat. ‘When we moved Travis to a full-sized bed, we knew we needed a clever solution – we still had a chest of drawers and a wardrobe to fit in,’ she says. 

Kid's room with bed covered with dinosaur bedding tucked into an alcove with a den, accessible via a climbing wall, above – painted in a dark green colour with wood railings

(Image credit: Colin Poole)

Cat designed a treehouse-style den over the bed with climbing wall blocks instead of a ladder. ‘It’s a small space, so we made use of the height,’ she says. ‘Painting up the wall and over the coving makes it cosier up in the trees. The treehouse den has a frame to stop him toppling out, and we made a wardrobe by cutting down one from Ikea.’

Bathroom

Before shot of bathroom with corner shower and black and white wall tiles

(Image credit: Cat Dennison)

With enough money saved up, the bathroom was the last room to be renovated. ‘We did so many designs for this,’ says Cat. ‘It’s a big bathroom for the house. We wanted a bath and a separate shower, and it needed to be easy to clean.’ 

Bathroom with grey wall and floor tiles, blue painted ceiling, walk-in shower with black framed screen and black radiator

(Image credit: Colin Poole)

The couple’s vision was for a wetroom-style space, complete with a walk-in shower without a shower tray, but without actually being a wetroom. ‘The bathroom fitter suggested having a step up, which still creates the same feel but is practical, too.’

Bathroom with grey floor and wall tiles, blue painted wall and ceiling, wood effect vanity unit, white freestanding bath and oval mirror

(Image credit: Colin Poole)

A large vanity unit introduces plenty of worktop space and enough storage for toiletries and bath toys. ‘I love the light concrete in here but wanted to create impact with colour,’ says Cat. ‘I painted the ceiling the same colour as the walls and it feels like a big cuddle. It’s lovely to look up to from the bath.’

Garden

Before shot of garden with large lawn area and a couple of trees

(Image credit: Cat Dennison)
Costs & contacts

Extension build £35,000
Bathroom £10,000
Décor and utilities £5,000

Structural engineer Delta Structural (opens in new tab)
Bathroom R Wilson Bathrooms (opens in new tab)

The garden is still a work in progress, but it’s come a long way from the blank canvas it once was. ‘We did it bit by bit, mostly during the lockdown,’ says Cat. ‘We got rid of a vegetable patch at the bottom of the garden and made it more social with a seating area and a built-in barbecue, adding a pergola to provide shade.'

Garden with outdoor seating area under a pergola next to a small pond surrounded by gravel and grasses

Pergola, Ebay (opens in new tab). Seating and table on decking area, Argos (opens in new tab)

(Image credit: Colin Poole)

Next to that is a wildlife pond – 'shallow, with stones going gradually into it and a bridge over the deepest part,' says Cat. 'The kids love pond dipping there and seeing what they can find.’

Before shot of rear of house with brick extension and decking

(Image credit: Cat Dennison)

A hot tub sits under another structure closer to the house, and a trampoline is hidden in a shaded part of the garden, with plants around it to hide it from view. ‘We did the garden in bits and planned it based on where the sun and the shade is,’ says Cat. ‘I designed the pergola and Wayne built it. The roof is made from plastic material from my mum and dad’s old conservatory – we reused where we could to keep costs low.’

Garden with large lawn area and hot tub leading to white rendered rear extension with decking

(Image credit: Colin Poole)

The extension, along with the seating area outside of it, is Cat’s favourite part of the house. There are things she’d do differently now, like arranging the garden with the seated area in a more shaded spot, but in general, she feels things have gone to plan with the outdoor space: ‘Sitting outside in summer feels like a holiday!’

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Ellen Finch
Ellen Finch

Joining as features editor in 2017, Ellen now looks after the day-to-day running of Real Homes magazine as deputy editor. She also commissions and writes many of the real case studies you'll see on the site, and loves speaking to people about their homes and get the details on the hacks they've tried and loved. She's currently gearing up to buy a home of her own in 2023 – hopefully with a garden to plant veg and wildflowers – and has a special interest in sustainable living, clever book storage, and cats.

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