Real home: a bright and spacious extended 1920s home

With a harmonious mix of original and contemporary features, Emma and Julien Barber’s remodelled home has created a family-friendly environment

Their growing family and changing needs presented Emma and Julien Barber with the classic homeowner’s dilemma: should they move to a bigger property or adapt the house where they had been happily settled for more than 10 years?

Emma and Julien had got as far as looking at other properties to see what was on the market before opting for an extension to their 1920s semi in Swindon.

‘We’re just down the road from the children’s school and nursery, and my mum and other close family and friends live nearby, so it was a relief really when we decided to stay here,’ explains Emma.

Find out what they did next before exploring more real home transformations for inspiration and our extensions page for practical advice. 

Fact file

Planning the extension

With the decision made, the couple had to think about what they needed from the house that the existing layout wasn’t giving them. The answer was obvious: ‘Space – both upstairs and downstairs,’ says Emma. ‘As the children are getting bigger, they need more room to play and to store their toys, and, elsewhere, we need grown-up space. Plus, as I’m building up my business, EB Interiors, I wanted to squeeze a separate home office that could double as a bedroom into the plans.’

After 10 years of managing with a tiny square kitchen and very little work space, Emma and Julien wanted an open-plan, family kitchen-diner, fully glazed on two sides, with sliding patio doors opening on to the garden from the working end of the kitchen. With these requirements in mind, the couple were ready to brief the architect, Emma’s cousin Bill Pier.


The Barbers extended to the side to provide a home office – within the dormer on the left – and a garage-style storage space


A two-storey build has added an extra 61m² to the house, creating a large family kitchen-diner and a spacious master bedroom at the rear of the property

Planning the extension

By knocking down the old garage set back from the house, Emma and Julien could see there’d be space for a two-storey side and rear extension, to give a small garage at the front with an extra bedroom/home office above it, and, at the rear above the extended kitchen-diner, a larger master bedroom.

Removing the wall between the old home office/dining room at the front of the house and the living room at the back would also create a long, double-aspect living room, with space for the children’s books and toys at one end.

The couple had always envisaged a modern extension, but one that would still be sympathetic to the age of the house and its surroundings. ‘It’s the way I approach most of my designs,’ says Emma. ‘I like to bring together favourite objects and family mementoes, and use them in my decorating schemes to add character and a sense of family and history.’

‘Going from such an enclosed kitchen to something that was so bright and airy was central to the build.’ – Emma Barber

Gaining planning permission

That was the theory, and Bill drew up the plans accordingly, submitting them to the local planning authority in January 2014. However, the couple’s original plans for an oak-clad flat-roof extension at the rear were rejected. ‘They felt it was getting too modern,’ explains Emma. By May 2014, revised plans, featuring a more traditional tiled, pitched roof, were approved. Local builders AJM Property Maintenance started work in September.


Handleless, matt Odina units from Homebase are teamed with a white Minerva worktop. The Carrara marble tile splashback from Topps Tiles adds interest. Tall units conceal a Hotpoint larder fridge and freezer and a Bosch dishwasher, from Burdens Electronics


By knocking through the wall between the original living room and former dining room, a bright new space has been created. Walls have been painted in Armstead Trade in White by Dulux, and the wood accents continue with a coffee table and sideboard handed down from family. The sofa is from Habitat and the rug from John Lewis

Modernising the kitchen

The couple’s preference for the new kitchen included white minimalist units. ‘I didn’t want any handles, and the finish had to be matt,’ says Emma. ‘I searched everywhere before coming across a design that was perfect, as well as a bargain, at 65 per cent off that weekend.’

For the island, she chose a solid oak worktop, while the other base units are topped with a white Minerva worktop, both of which were sourced online from a company ‘who’d given us great service in the past,’ says Emma. ‘We’d only recently redone the old kitchen, so it made sense to save money on the sink and taps by reusing them.’ Engineered wood flooring in a warm tone completes the look.

The extension was finished five days before Christmas 2014. ‘As soon as the builders left, Julien and I were frantically painting everywhere, as we’d promised everyone Christmas lunch at our house,’ says Emma. ‘We didn’t get the tree up until that weekend – all the children’s friends’ houses had had their decorations up for weeks, and we just had dust!’


Emma has given the hallway a distinct retro feel. Her grandmother’s Ercol chair sits next to a coffee table made by her great-grandfather in the 1960s. The carpet on the original staircase is from Gilberts, and white and charcoal tiles from Topps Tiles complete the look


A smaller window in the corner of the room allows more light to flood into the space. Mirror frames have been painted in Farrow & Ball’s Hague Blue, and the stool is from Homesense

The interior design scheme

Now that the dust has settled, and all the finishing touches are complete, it is still very much a late-1920s house. The staircase, internal doors and living room fireplace are all original, and from the front of the house there’s no hint of a modern rear extension. Emma has softened the contemporary lines of the cabinetry in the new space with retro-style dining furniture, and the room is dotted with family treasures. ‘The big table used to be in the dining room, where you couldn’t really see it at all, but now, even when it’s extended to seat 10, it still fits well, and the space isn’t overwhelmed by it,’ says Emma.


A graphic mountain design painted onto the wall adds a splash of colour. The throw came from Emma’s old room in her mum’s house, and she has upholstered a Habitat storage box with material from Ikea, where the rug is also from. The cot bed is by Brio and curtains from John Lewis


The old dining room makes a great children’s play area, with plenty of space for books and toys. The table and chairs are from Ikea, with a Venetian blind from Dunelm

The interior colour scheme

She has kept the walls of the house white throughout, bar one in Neve’s room. ‘Maybe we’ll inject some colour into the scheme later, but I prefer to celebrate a piece, giving things a very neutral backdrop,’ she explains. ‘Especially in the kitchen, with all the green from the garden – I didn’t think we needed much more in the way of colour.’


Mosaic tiles from MP Tiles and cork floor tiles from Wickes add texture and continue the pared-back scheme


Emma uses the extra bedroom/ home office space for her interior design work. The furniture is from Ikea

The finished project

Emma and Julien are proud of what they’ve achieved, and that they only went over their initial budget by five per cent. ‘In most people’s books that’s not an overspend, it’s a contingency,’ quips Julien, who says his only input was the budgeting. ‘We spent more on the groundworks as a tree had just been cut down and the ground hadn’t had chance to settle, so we needed deeper foundations.’

‘We work well as a team,’ adds Emma. ‘Julien’s used to setting the budget and, in my job, I always have to work to one. You don’t have to spend a small fortune to create a different look, and that’s the approach I take with my clients. It can be done to everyone’s budget and be a beautiful home for a family, too.’


Project notes

My best advice

‘It’s important to choose your builders well. We went with our gut feeling, but ours also came highly recommended by our neighbours. There were a few little things that cropped up – as always with a big project – but the builders were brilliant and came up with solutions as opposed to difficulties. For us as a family it worked better to know we were in safe hands.’

What I’ve learnt

‘I was surprised at how different things look when you put them into new surroundings. For instance, our Habitat Sarang rattan chair used to be upstairs on the landing, where it never got used. But we’ve moved it into the corner of the kitchen, and now we love to sit

My favourite item

‘In the chair’s place, I’ve put one of my most treasured possessions – a metal trunk that my godmother Ros decorated for my 18th birthday, with my childhood photos all over it. It makes me smile every time I come upstairs.’

Design inspiration

‘Julien made the shelves and wardrobe for Neve’s room (right), painting the doors in Middleton Pink, Parma Gray and Teresa’s Green by Farrow & Ball. Neve is obsessed with Disney princesses, however, so calls them Elsa blue, Anna green and Merida pink.’

If I could have done things differently…

‘…we’d have moved out during the build. When we had the kitchen taken out, Julien was away for a week, so he was in a hotel, having all his meals cooked, while I was at home with the children and no kitchen! Next time, we’re all going with him!’

The costs

The couple bought the house for £204,000 in 2004, and have spent around £84,500 extending and renovating it.

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The costs

Row 0 - Cell 1
Building work, including fees, electrics and plumbing£54,500
Architect/structural engineer free£2,250
Tiles and tiling£226

More real home transformations:

Karen Darlow
After a brief foray into music journalism, fashion and beauty, Karen found herself right at home working on interior magazines with her role on Ideal Home magazine. She is now Homes Editor on Period Living magazine and loves the opportunity the job gives her to see how others mix vintage style and modern furnishings in their beautiful properties.