Extending a 1920s semi-detached house

Hanna and Gerald Buck have extended their 1920s semi-detached home to make room for an open plan layout with a more spacious kitchen, and a roomier master bedroom. As well as adding space, the couple have also added value to their home

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Hanna and Gerald Buck had long dreamt of moving into property development, so they were thrilled when they refurbished a house and sold it shortly after putting it on the market. Buoyed by their success, the couple were looking forward to taking on a more challenging renovation project.

Hanna was keen to choose a rural property and had set her sights on the village of Dedham, which was only a short drive from where they were living.

‘I knew the area as I grew up here,’ Hanna recalls. ‘As we were starting a family, it seemed the perfect location, but we were aware that property was at a premium in the village.’

By chance, she spotted a redbrick 1920s semi-detached house for sale just outside the village. It was being offered at a good price as it needed complete modernisation, so the couple went to view it. The house was perfect for their next renovation project, so they put in an offer, which was accepted.

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‘It appealed to us because there was plenty of scope for extending as well as renovating,’ says Hanna. ‘We have a passion for old properties that need a new lease of life.’

There was a sizeable vacant yard space to the side of the house, so Hanna and Gerald planned to build a two-storey extension to increase the downstairs living area and add a third bedroom on the first floor, which would have views over the pretty countryside.

The interior of the house was very dated, with floral-patterned carpets and uninspiring décor and f ttings, so the couple set about stripping it back to the basics while they formulated their plans for the new extension.

They discussed their ideas with architect Chris Morris, who Gerald had met through a friend. The three of them came up with various suggestions, until they had created a design that would provide the extra living space the couple wanted, while retaining the period character of the house.

However, the local authority rejected the first plans due to the size of the extension and the Juliet balcony proposed for the new master bedroom. It was back to the drawing board. New plans were drawn up, replacing the double doors and balcony of the master bedroom with a standard sash window, as well as reducing the size of the two-storey extension by a metre, which satisfied planning requirements.

‘It was a shame that we had to lose the doors originally planned for the master bedroom, as I was looking forward to lying in bed and looking at the countryside,’ says Hanna. ‘But we were realistic and knew that compromises have to be made when getting plans passed through the local authority, and we were keen to get on with the work.’

The couple decided to project-manage the build with help from Hanna’s property developer brother, who handled the construction work. Once the build started, they set themselves a six-month schedule to complete the project.

‘My brother’s building company did most of the work, although everyone in the family seemed to help out,’ says Hanna. ‘We planned to live on site for as long as possible to keep our costs down, but the mess and lack of heating during the build was unbearable, so we ended up staying with family until the major work had been completed.’

The hub of the house was to be a spacious open-plan kitchen/dining area. The couple decided to relocate the kitchen – which was originally a small space at the rear of the property – to the side extension. They created a free-flowing space by knocking through from the old dining room, and supported the exterior wall with a large RSJ.

‘This was quite a tricky operation,’ Hanna explains. ‘Gerald and my dad inched the steel beam into place with a winch and guidance from my brother. It was such a relief when it was finally in place. We turned the original kitchen into a study, which was a much more practical use for the space.’

Hanna and Gerald wanted a fresh, contemporary look in the kitchen/dining area, so the walls were painted white to reflect the natural light. They chose white kitchen units with stainless steel worktops to continue the scheme in the open-plan space.

The walls of the other rooms were also painted white, or pale grey, for continuity and to create a bright, uplifting feel throughout.

‘We wanted light, open spaces with a relaxed atmosphere, with complementary colours and textures adding interest,’ says Hanna.

The couple chose classic furniture instead of contemporary pieces for the separate living room at the front of the house, so that it would work with the character of the property. Drawing on her creative skills, Hanna added a personal touch with her own artwork.

Upstairs, the layout was easy to adapt so that the extension would link seamlessly to the rest of the house. Part of a small side bedroom, which has become a home office, was partitioned off to form a new corridor leading from the landing to the new master bedroom in the extension.

‘We created the doorway to the master bedroom by cutting out the bricks of the old exterior wall with a large disc-cutter,’ Hanna recalls. ‘The red brick dust flew everywhere – our entire house was covered in it.’

It was worth the upheaval though. Their bedroom is luxurious and spacious with an en suite bathroom and a large built-in wardrobe.

Hanna’s parents, who live in France, visit the family often, so a comfortable guest bedroom was an essential part of the redesign. The couple had planned to turn a large bedroom at the front of the house into the guest bedroom, but as Hanna was expecting the birth of their first child during the project, they realised they would need some of this space to create a nursery.

‘Although it wasn’t easy being pregnant while the house was being renovated, it gave us so much to look forward to,’ says Hanna.

As the front bedroom was a large space, it was a straightforward job to divide it with a stud wall, creating two separate rooms. The smaller section, which still has the original doorway, is now used as the nursery.

The builders cut out a new doorway to the remainder of the space, which would become the guest bedroom. Hanna chose furniture and accessories in cream and neutral tones to bring warmth to the scheme. The original cast iron fireplace was cleaned up and painted grey, while an ornate mirror in the same colour was hung above it.

Opposite the nursery, there is a new luxury suite in the spacious family bathroom. Tiled in travertine-style ceramics, it has an elegant continental look. It is practical too with shelved alcoves for storage which were built either side of a large mirror above the contemporary basin.

‘We were lucky to have such a large space for a family bathroom,’ says Hanna. ‘Admittedly, we were tempted to fit in a separate shower as well as the bath, but we adopted a ‘less is more’ attitude – now we’re pleased that we didn’t cram too much in.’

The main build and refurbishment work all went fairly smoothly. However, the couple ran over budget with the outside space and had to borrow extra funds from their mortgage lender to finish the project.

‘We wanted to complete the outside by laying decking up to the rear of the house,’ says Hanna. ‘We love entertaining in the summer, so this was an essential for us. While we were working on that, we also smartened up the driveway with new gravel and raised brick flowerbeds.’

The couple completed their renovation project in just under two years.

‘We’re so happy with the way it has turned out,’ smiles Hanna. ‘If we could change one thing though, we would add a glass room extension on to the back of our house. Perhaps that will be our next project.’

The costs

Building work£43,000
Kitchen (appliances, units, worktops and flooring)£10,000
Planning and architect’s fees£5,000
Decorating and furniture£5,000
Curtains and blinds£1,500