Extending a 1970s house

Belinda and Paul Rohan have transformed their house both inside and out to create a modern home with spacious proportions. The couple have added a rear extension to their five-bedroom home to create a large kitchen/dining/ living space with glazed doors

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When it came to finding a new family home, Belinda Rohan was certain she wanted a house that she could transform into a modern, welcoming space. ‘I was after a renovation project that would give me a challenge,’ she says. ‘I love to create warm, bright spaces from the least promising beginnings, and this house definitely offered that potential.’

Belinda and husband Paul had already extended the four-bedroom house they were living in at the time, but it still didn’t quite work for them as a family. Its small kitchen faced due north and was cold, the main bedroom was tiny, and they couldn’t see a way to improve the property further.

‘We wanted to stay in the same area, as our children were already settled in school, so we started house-hunting nearby,’ says Belinda. ‘We looked at loads of properties; so many, in fact, that Paul asked if we could just buy somewhere as soon as possible so that he could spend his Saturdays doing something else besides viewing houses.’

Fact file

  • Belinda RohanThe owners: Belinda Rohan, an interior designer (belindarohanprojects.com), lives here with her husband Paul, a financial services manager, and their children David, 11, Anna, nine, and Stephen, six
  • The property: A detached five-bedroom house built in the 1970s
  • The location: Dublin, Republic of Ireland
  • What they spent: The couple have spent around £212,000 on extending and renovating their house. The property has recently been valued at around £1,050,000

1970s property

Belinda finally found her ideal project when the couple viewed a dated 1970s property. ‘It needed work, but I was able to envisage how we could change it to suit us,’ she explains. ‘It had quite a large south-facing rear garden, and there was already planning permission in place for side, front and rear extensions.’ Much to Paul’s relief, the couple bought the house.

Having looked at the existing plans for the extensions, however, Belinda felt they weren’t in keeping with the other houses on the road. ‘It was rather a grand scheme with dormers and curves, and was completely different to the neighbouring homes, which are variations on the same theme, even though they are all slightly different,’ she explains. ‘The proposed scheme would also have been extremely expensive to build, so we decided to do our own thing and start again with new plans.’

The Rohans moved into the house in June, and the architect was one of their first visitors, who had new drawings for planning permission ready within just a few weeks. ‘We were lucky in that our architect understood exactly what we wanted,’ says Belinda. The couple couldn’t wait to get started on the work, as the deficiencies of a dated home became all too obvious during the ensuing winter. ‘It was an awful time of year because the house was freezing cold, with draughty windows and doors, so we were glad to move out in April when the renovations started,’ says Belinda. ‘We rented a house nearby so that I could be on site daily to manage the project until its completion in October the same year.

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Planning the design

The speed of the design process was largely due to the fact that Belinda had such a clear idea of how she wanted the space to be remodelled.

‘I knew that the most important room was to be a multifunctional family/ entertaining area to the rear of the house, making use of the south-facing orientation to bring as much sunshine into the house as possible,’ she explains. ‘I wanted the space to be big enough to be totally flexible, which is why we extended the living area as well as the large dining area. The spaces are interchangeable, so we can move the table to the seating area and the sofa to the glazed area according to the time of year. I also designed the kitchen with a large island where the kids can do homework, and it’s great for me too as I can cook and talk to guests at the same time.’

Looking ahead to the future, Belinda was keen to have a TV room separated from the main reception areas of the house so that when the children are teenagers they can entertain their friends there. She used part of a home office and the former garage to create the new room, making it integral to the house but also separate enough to provide plenty of privacy for the children. The rest of the garage has become a shower room, accessed from the side door, linking into the utility and new clothes drying area. ‘It was actually designed for when the children come home from sports matches, as it’s somewhere they can take off muddy boots and clothes and clean themselves up,’ explains Belinda.

On the opposite side of the ground floor, the living room has remained in its original position. It has the only remaining open fire in the house, making it a firm favourite during the colder months when a blazing wood fire is a real attraction. ‘During the summer months, the extension is filled with sunshine and the doors slide right back so that it is almost as though you are in the garden,’ says Belinda. ‘But in the winter we like to sit around the crackling fire in the warm and cosy living room with the curtains drawn.’

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The layout

The three main living spaces all interconnect through the central entrance hall, which Belinda has transformed by opening it up into a double-height space, using the area formerly occupied by two small bathrooms as gallery access to the new first-floor extension over the garage conversion. ‘I didn’t like having frosted bathroom windows to the front of the house and I preferred the idea of using a small bedroom to the rear as a family bathroom,’ she explains. ‘After all, a small bedroom is still a generous bathroom.’

The addition of large double entrance doors and new glazed doors to the kitchen/ dining area further transforms what was once a dark hallway. ‘I loved the idea of being able to see the garden from the front door,’ says Belinda. ‘I used light-reflecting tiles on the floor to further brighten the space, and I’m so pleased we had the underfloor heating fitted too.’

On the first floor of the side extension, Belinda designed a large master bedroom with an en suite to the rear, as she explains: ‘When we moved in, the master bedroom was where Anna’s room is now. Although it was the right size for a single bed, it was too cramped for a double. The en suite had a tiny shower with a plastic shower curtain. I wanted the complete opposite for the new space, and the walk-in wardrobe means we can keep clutter under control.’

Part of the loft conversion extends over the master bedroom, and will eventually become a fifth bedroom with an en suite but is currently being used as a home office.

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Project problems

Although the project didn’t go without a hitch, problems were quickly resolved. ‘Our builder was very capable and totally unflappable,’ says Belinda. ‘At the very start of the building process, it appeared as though there was no solid ground on which to build the extension. While digging the foundations, the builder disappeared further and further into a trench until we could no longer see him, and my heart sank too. At three metres, he hit solid ground – and the water table. He left the trench and walked away. I thought our extension was going to turn into a moat, but the builder reappeared with a pump and assured us that he had a solution. Luckily, he was able to pump the water into the drain, keeping the foundations dry until he could pour the concrete.

‘I’ve enjoyed every part of this process and would do it all again tomorrow,’ she adds. ‘I love turning an ordinary house into a wonderful living space, and now I can’t wait to finish off the loft conversion.’

The costs

Construction (including electrics and plumbing)£176,500
Kitchen, utility room and worktops£15,200
Flooring£7,000
Floor and wall tiles£6,500
Bathrooms£5,750
Lighting£850
TOTAL£211,800