A light-filled kitchen-diner extension

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‘People can spend a long time looking for their dream home in the best location, but we knew we’d already found it,’ says Julie of her four-bedroom house on the outskirts of Cardiff.

‘Nick and I moved here 11 years ago and liked the location; there’s a lovely green area just outside the house, where the boys can play safely, and we’re within easy commuting distance to central Cardiff, as well as being close to the countryside.

However, while we adored our home, we found ourselves wanting a more modern space and living arrangement.’

Rather than move, the couple decided to invest time and money into giving their existing home, which they bought new in 2003, a contemporary revamp. ‘We had what we needed, but we wanted a whole new look,’ she explains. ‘The blueprint of our current home had the potential to offer us so much more – it just lacked wow-factor.’

Fact file

  • The owners: Julie Thorne, a music teacher, and her husband Nick live here with their two sons, Oliver, 11 and Alex, seven
  • The property: A four-bedroom detached house, built in 2003
  • The location: Near Cardiff, Wales
  • What they spent: The couple’s kitchen project cost around £175,000, including building work and landscaping

Compiling a wishlist

Essentially, the couple wanted to increase their kitchen and dining space. ‘A few years ago, we extended the house by adding a glass conservatory to create a dining room, but it never got used as it was too hot in the summer and too cold in winter – which is the classic problem with this type of extension,’ explains Julie. They later went on to open it up to the hall and kitchen to make one large room. ‘We still didn’t use it, as we preferred to eat at a big table in the kitchen, but this made the space feel too cramped.

‘We just couldn’t find a solution to the problem, which was when we realised we would have to create a more permanent structure with a proper design behind it,’ she continues. ‘In the end, we went back to basics and created a wishlist of what we wanted the space to offer.’

Intent on creating a sweeping expanse of space for the whole family at the rear of the house, Julie began brainstorming design ideas. ‘I read homes magazines and watched TV programmes, and got stuck into pulling together my own ideas for the new extension,’ she says. ‘I enjoyed every second of it and developed a strong vision of how I wanted the space to look.’

The Thornes then consulted Christian Le Guilcher Architecture to put their designs for the new space on paper. ‘Once the plans were approved, we were able to hire the builders, locally based Wayne Moore Construction, and start work on the project,’ recalls Julie.

Cookers with extractor

Expanding the kitchen

The previous kitchen was much smaller than the space it now occupies, only reaching half the depth and width of the new extension. ‘The pillar marks the cut-off point of the old kitchen,’ says Julie, who adds that this wasn’t the intention, but that the pillar was needed to stabilise the extension. ‘We decided to make a feature of it, although in the beginning we weren’t overjoyed at the idea as it seemed to be a bit of a blot in the large, open-plan space,’ she explains.

Not ones to avoid a design challenge, the Thornes tackled the issue head on and commissioned local kitchen designer Alexander Bullock to clad it beautifully in walnut to match the rest of the space. ‘Now it looks lovely rather than ruining the look of the interior scheme,’ Julie says. ‘It shows what can be achieved when you think creatively.’

When the time came to install the supporting beam, the family had to move out of their home for a few days, while the builders inserted temporary steels through the bedroom walls to support the house. ‘As the whole of the upstairs was out of bounds, we went to stay with my mum for a couple of nights,’ says Julie.

Despite the building experience being quite stressful, the couple’s children, Oliver and Alex, thought of it as one big adventure. ‘We cooked our meals on a camping stove in a makeshift kitchen in the garage and ate around a small table with stools in the hallway. Washing up was confined to the upstairs bath,’ Julie recalls.

Furnishing the space

Sourcing their kitchen from local firm Avant Garde Designs, the couple found themselves choosing a style and finish that wasn’t part of their original plan.

‘We stumbled upon the stunning design at a homes exhibition,’ says Julie, who describes how her ideas of a crisp white kitchen were forgotten the moment the couple set their eyes on the darker walnut design. ‘Nick and I turned a corner at the show, saw the rich wood and dramatic mirrored units, and knew instantly that it was exactly what we wanted.’

With hindsight, the couple admit that they didn’t realise what a big space the kitchen-diner was going to be when the work was completed. ‘That’s why we didn’t originally contemplate dark furniture,’ says Julie. However, the warmth of the wood now adds visual depth to the space. ‘White would have looked extremely clinical and the wooden kitchen sets the tone for other furniture such as the dining table and modern wall storage,’ she adds.

The kitchen layout was left in the hands of Avant Garde. ‘Although I knew that we wanted an island unit, I wasn’t able to visualise how it was going to work in the new space, so we took advice from the designer, who implemented our ideas into his plans,’ says Julie.

As well as creating a larger, more contemporary kitchen, a secondary dining area was also incorporated into the design scheme. The new dining table replaces what was once a small dining space.

In order to gain a large, open-plan seating area, which allows the family to cook, eat, entertain or simply relax in one place, Julie had the idea of creating a corner sofa area. ‘I’d fallen in love with a design that I’d seen in a showroom,’ she says. She also knew exactly what sort of wall storage the family needed in order to make the space work, and opted for a modular system that could be personalised and expanded in future. It houses a large television and frames the space. ‘The system was expensive but worth it. We’re naturally tidy people, so a wall of storage to put things away neatly was essential.’

Dining area in open-plan kitchen

Creating a lighting scheme

One area in which Julie invested a large amount of time was researching different lighting options. ‘I became interested after reading The Bible of Home Lighting by Lucy Martin – it made me realise the importance of amazing lighting, and how it could alter the look and feel of a space.’ Commissioning design company John Cullen Lighting, based in London, the result is a super-sleek system that allows the family to alter the mood of the space at the flick of a switch. ‘This also focused my attention on feature lights and how we could use them to shape the visual design of the extension,’ adds Julie. ‘The trio of pendants above the kitchen are a design feature in themselves and I enjoy the way they define the island unit; the design classic Verner Panton chandelier above the dining table is also a real showpiece, and is a talking point when we’re entertaining, while the living space benefits from the delicate mood lighting installed in the ceiling.’

The majority of the project ran with relative ease. There was only one unforeseen problem, which arose on the first day of the construction, when the builders discovered the complexity of the drainage system under the garden. ‘None of us had any idea,’ Julie recalls. ‘A whole web of drains had to be moved before the work could begin, immediately adding £3,000 to the building costs. This increased the overall build time by a couple of weeks, but luckily this was the only issue, and we tackled it right at the very beginning.’

An inside-outside space

Once the internal work was complete, the Thornes focused their final attention on blurring the boundaries between the internal extension and the garden space. ‘We matched the tiles between the inside floor and outside patio as best as we could so that the link appears seamless,’ says Julie. The landscaping work has made the garden feel like an extension of the house, which is the main success of the project.

‘Sitting outside under the canopy with a hot chocolate when it’s pouring with rain, and not getting wet, is one of the best bits about our newly improved home,’ says Julie, who admits that while the family are enjoying the luxury of open-plan living inside or out, they haven’t been in their living room for ages. ‘That’s the focus of our next project. I am already working on more mood boards. I know exactly how I want it to look,’ she smiles, ‘and I’ve already marked up magazines with ideas for its design.’

The costs

Folding-sliding doors and glass windows£18,000
Furniture and accessories£17,000