1970s end-of-terrace extension

Ceinwen McMillan and Richard Herb have extended their property to create a unique open-plan home that includes a library with eco-friendly features such as solar panels and flat roof sedum panels

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The 1970s terraced house seemed very ordinary to Ceinwen McMillan and Richard Herb when they first viewed it.

‘Although the location was perfect, at the end of a quiet street only 100 yards from a pretty part of the Thames, that is where the attraction ended,’ Ceinwen remembers. ‘Inside, the house still had its original 1970s décor, along with dark rooms and a cluttered layout, but we thought there was potential to turn it into something special,’ she adds.

The couple bought the house and started planning its transformation, calling in architect Daren Drage of Exedra Architects to work with them on their design brief, which included energy-saving features and a reorganisation of the space.

Fact file

The owners: Ceinwen McMillan lives here with her partner Richard Herb

‘I was brought up in Australia, so I wanted to fill the house with lots of warm, natural light,’ Ceinwen explains. ‘We thought the way to achieve this was to add a ground-floor extension at the rear of the house, which would create a large, central kitchen and living space with glass doors opening on to the garden.

‘We also wanted a side extension to fulfil another part of our brief – a library for my large collection of books,’ adds Ceinwen.

They had to design the extension without windows as it would have overlooked a neighbour’s property, but the couple were not fazed as the extra space would house the spectacular wall of books, forming a backdrop to the staircase.

The library and staircase have become one of the main focal points of the house. ‘When we came up with the idea of a library surrounded by a central staircase, we wanted it to be a real design feature,’ says Ceinwen. ‘However, it wasn’t possible to find a perfect off-the-shelf option, so it had to be bespoke.’

The couple employed Acme Joinery to turn their dream into reality. The glass panes on each side of the staircase have been designed to maximise the light in the stairwell while retaining some privacy, with views to the front of the house and the rear garden. These glass panes provide a frame for Ceinwen’s library so that it is separate from the main house. A glass floor on the middle landing, which has been designed to link the first and second floors, also brings in extra light.

Ceinwen and Richard have maximised the space on the ground floor of the side extension by including a corridor housing a utility space, storage area and larder.

‘The ground floor works brilliantly now,’ says Ceinwen. ‘The utility areas have been cleverly shut away but are still easy to access – and it makes for a peaceful living area, without any noise from appliances.’ Drawing up the plans and securing planning permission took a year before work could begin. ‘Hiring an architect with an understanding of the local planning office was a big help,’ says Ceinwen.

Even so, she and Richard still had to make compromises. To create a master suite on the first floor they had to incorporate one of the other first-floor bedrooms. They also turned the bedroom in the second-floor loft conversion into a study, which also includes a steam and shower room, with additional storage built into the eaves.

‘Luckily, the loft had been converted by the previous owners, so we were able to work with the space and transform it to suit our needs,’ Ceinwen explains.

On the couple’s wish-list was a balcony area off the main living space in the loft conversion. However, architect Daren thought it likely that the planning department would reject that part of the plan. Instead, he came up with the idea of slicing back into a section of the eaves to create a small outside space within the original perimeter of the house.

When the work got under way, Oakwater Developments laid a sedum Enviromat living green roof in this space to create a mini garden. In fact, sedum was used on all the flat roof spaces to increase insulation and attract wildlife, but the sedum roofs were not the only eco-friendly features in the plan.

On their architect’s suggestion the couple fitted a house ventilation system with heat recovery which keeps the air constantly fresh without having to open windows plus avoids the need for bathroom extractor fans and trickle vents in windows. As the house is under a flight path, the couple knew that leaving windows open on summer nights to allow cold air through wasn’t an option.

‘The air recycling costs a lot to run, but we were happy to go ahead and install it as part of our eco-friendly plan,’ says Ceinwen. Ceinwen and Richard were pleased to discover that Daren had good experience of incorporating eco-friendly features.

‘We left all the green solutions to Daren – and his ideas were brilliant,’ says Ceinwen. ‘He added solar panels on the roof and a water reservoir and rainfall catchment system under the lawn.’

In addition to their desire for plenty of eco-friendly features, they told the design team to make as much use of natural materials as possible. In the living area, this can be seen in the mix of stone tiled floors with underfloor heating and the bespoke fitted wooden units in the kitchen. The cream and neutral tones of the colour scheme link their antique furniture made of natural materials with contemporary pieces produced from chrome and leather.

‘We wanted the natural wood finishes of the cabinets to echo the outdoor space – we kept the work surfaces white so the kitchen area blends in when you look through from the living room,’ says Ceinwen.

The natural theme continues in the first-floor bathrooms, which are fitted with wooden storage units. In the main bathroom, the new pebble mosaic and walnut flooring works as a design feature that continues the link to the outdoors.

The final part of the renovation project involved updating the property’s exterior. The builders enlarged a window at the front of the house to enhance its proportions, with some of the brickwork clad in wood panelling to soften its appearance. Ceinwen also made a number of changes in the back garden, employing garden design company One Abode to plan a water feature to run up to the extension’s glazed doors.

‘I love water and wanted a water feature as close to the house as possible. If I’d had my way, it would have been flowing into the house,’ she laughs. ‘When the back doors are open, the sitting room really connects with the outdoors – it’s particularly lovely in the summer.’

The build lasted seven months during which the couple rented a flat nearby. The architect acted as project manager, making the whole process almost painless; and Ceinwen thought the builders did a brilliant job – she was particularly impressed that they even dropped by to check on details after the work was done.

‘David from Oakwater was an amazing general site manager,’ she says, ‘and they helped us plan and plant the garden. I know many people have stressful experiences when they renovate properties, but ours was fun – I really enjoyed it.’

Ceinwen and Richard love the way the new layout lets light flood in from the front of the property through to the back.

‘It’s a gorgeous, sunny, bright house now,’ says Ceinwen. ‘There’s something quite uplifting about it – it’s a glorious sight to see first thing in the morning.’


Labour/building costs£425,000
Three bathrooms15,750
Electrics, inc lighting£25,000
Solar panels£4,250