Extending a family home

Full of ideas for their Edwardian semi near the east coast of Scotland, Dee and Alistair Davison brought in the professionals to help them realise their dream. The new extension houses a shaker-style kitchen-diner, and a spacious family room

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From the first viewing, it was obvious that Dee and Alistair Davison’s potential new home, a large semi in southeast Scotland, would need a substantial amount of work. The couple had spent two years looking for an early-1900s period house with a large garden and, ideally, sea views. This was the first they had found that ticked all of their boxes.

However, it needed a new roof as well as a major overhaul of its dark, uninviting interiors. ‘The living room was a classic Victorian shade of deep red, which was lovely, but just didn’t work for the space,’ Dee recalls. ‘We had used lots of warm, earthy tones in our last property, but we immediately felt that this house needed light colours.’

The ground-floor layout also required a rethink. The kitchen was narrow and dark, with only one small window that overlooked the large garden, plus an old utility room behind it.

Fact file

The owners: Dee Davison, a marine biology consultant, and her husband Alistair, a partner in an international environmental consultancy, live here with their daughters, Tara, four, and six year- old Fionnuala

From the outset, Dee and Alistair knew there was potential to extend the house to create a much larger dining, kitchen and family room that linked directly to the garden, but they just couldn’t see how best to achieve this dream. Fortunately, the couple have friends who are architects – Julie Wilson and John Brennan, who run Brennan and Wilson Architects in the nearest town, Dunbar.

Julie and John had viewed various properties with the Davisons, and it became clear that they had similar tastes and ideas. ‘We were explaining that we liked New England style and Scandinavian houses with timber cladding, never realising that timber buildings hold such an interest for Julie and John,’ says Dee.

When the architects suggested some options for extending the house, the Davisons knew they could create the home they wanted. They went ahead and bought the property.

The first priority was to make the house livable for the family while plans for the extension were being finalised and approved. This included refurbishing the main bathroom and en suite, replacing the dated sanitaryware with new white suites.

In the main family bathroom, Dee chose to go for a corner shower and a freestanding roll-top bath in keeping with the age of the house. All the bedrooms were stripped and repainted in white and light blue – one of Dee’s favourite colours. Luckily, under the worn carpets they had inherited, there were original floorboards, which they had restored by a local tradesman.

With work on the upstairs floor under way, the Davisons turned their attention to the downstairs extension. Out of all the potential designs they had drawn up, they decided on the boldest – a generous kitchen-diner extension to the rear, with white-painted wooden cladding called shiplap and doors onto the garden. This space would be linked to a new family room, in place of the old utility and kitchen, with the folding doors and a new picture window letting in the daylight and framing the views. Beyond this would be a play area for daughters Tara and Fionnuala.

‘That’s the thing about working with good architects: they understand what you need from a space better than you do,’ says Dee. ‘So they also included a downstairs WC off the hallway and a new porch, which is enclosed. Living beside the sea in southeast Scotland, the house gets battered by the wind,’ Dee explains, ‘and the old porch was like a wind tunnel.’

As the roof needed replacing, too, the architects suggested adding a new dormer window to make the most of the sea views and to create a more useable space in the top bedroom – which is now an office. ‘Given that we were re-roofing, it made sense to do everything at once,’ adds Dee.

Even before they submitted their plans to the local planning authority, the couple took Julie Wilson’s advice to meet the local planning officer for a chat, as the house is in a designated conservation area. This proved well worth doing. ‘The planners understood what we wanted to achieve,’ recalls Dee. ‘And they were open to our idea for the extension to look like a new addition – being honest about its age while also being sympathetic to the house and its location.’

While the planning application then went through smoothly, the biggest challenge was finding a builder. ‘I was hoping to get the project started in spring 2008, but we went to tender 14 times,’ says Dee, explaining that it simply proved impossible to find a firm available at the right time, for the right price. ‘It was soul-destroying,’ she admits. ‘That’s when I really struggled.’

Then they noticed a builder – Charlie Johnston of the Abbotsford Building Company – working on a house nearby. The timing proved fortuitous, as a project had just fallen through for Charlie and, after meeting the Davisons in mid-July, he was able to start onsite in August. The couple pushed for a fixed-price contract and, although the project overran by four months, Dee has nothing but praise for the work Charlie and his team carried out – recalling how he arrived on Christmas Eve to fit a sink in time for the big day.

The couple had budgeted for IKEA units, but Charlie built them a bespoke kitchen that fits the proportions of their large new 5m² space for the same cost. As the family chose to live in the house throughout the entire build, he moved their old kitchen units and new cooker into what is now the playroom, creating a temporary kitchen to tide them over. He then blocked off the opening, enabling the family to live here comparatively undisturbed while the building work continued behind the temporary partition wall. ‘For that, I’ll be eternally grateful,’ says Dee.

The Davisons invested where it counted. ‘It was about getting the fundamental design right – the roof, the extension – and then, if we had to buy cheap temporary furniture, that was fine as we can easily replace things down the line,’ says Dee, who likes to mix contemporary pieces with the occasional antique. She saved money, too, by sourcing appliances and accessories online. The Morso Squirrel stove in the family room was an eBay find, as was the Belling range cooker.

The couple were also aware of their environmental footprint. The extension is timber-framed with sheep’s wool used for the insulation. ‘There was a cost implication, but it was something we were prepared to go with,’ says Dee, and the same is true of the sustainably sourced solid-oak doors, windows and some new flooring.

The walls are mostly painted in pale colours to increase natural light levels, but there are also some bolder shades – for example, the cornflower blue kitchen units. ‘Blues and greens are my favourite colours,’ says Dee, ‘and the coastal light we enjoy here really lends itself to these shades.’

The highlight of the house is, undoubtedly, the new kitchen-diner. ‘When the timber frame went up we were thinking, have we built a barn? It’s extraordinary the way your experience of a space evolves during the different stages of the design and build,’ Dee reflects. ‘Julie and John told us to trust them – and they were right. Every so often, we pinch ourselves; we still can’t believe this is ours.’


Internal structural work & refurbishment£18,070
Extension build£41,125
Custom-built kitchen£6,000
Replacing two bathrooms£4,600
All floor coverings£2,900
Furniture & accessories£2,000