Extending a townhouse

Extending to the rear of this Victorian townhouse has provided owners Jessica and Ash with an open-plan kitchen/dining/living room, perfect for family life

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We loved this house from the moment we saw it; it had so much character, and when we discovered you could see the sea from the roof terrace, we knew we had to buy it,’ says Jessica. ‘Even though it looked dated and needed work, we could see that it would make a wonderful family home.’

In June 2012, soon after moving in, the couple asked an architect to draw up plans for a refurbishment, to create a spacious, comfortable family home with a light-filled kitchen-diner and easy access to the garden. They realised that adding a side extension would make better use of the space beside the original kitchen. (The typical layout of this type of Victorian townhouse comprises a small rear kitchen with a side alley.)

‘It had so much potential – we wanted to make the most of the lovely big rooms and wonderful high ceilings, but we didn’t have the budget to do everything in one go,’ explains Jessica. ‘We decided that the two main priorities were to convert the loft into another bedroom to give us extra space, and to extend the kitchen out to the side to create one large family living area.’

Fact file

  • The owners: Jessica, a PR director lives here with her husband Ash, a finance analyst, and daughters Amaya, three, and Maeva, two
  • The property: A five-bedoom Victorian townhouse
  • The location: Brighton, East Sussex
  • What they spent: The couple’s kitchen extension project cost around £84,000

Renovation work

Jessica and Ash got in touch with Stuart Bellwood of Sussex Building Services, who had been recommended by family, and the project got underway. As the property is in a Conservation Area, planning permission had to be obtained for the kitchen extension and for alterations to the front of the house.

Both Jessica and Ash felt that a house renovation wasn’t the ideal place for their two young daughters, so they moved in with Ash’s parents for four months while the main building work was being carried out. This meant that the builders could press on without having to worry about trying to work around a young family. ‘We also asked Stuart to put in a new bathroom and an understairs toilet,’ Jessica explains, ‘as well as doing some general repairs to original features of the house, such as the sash windows, fireplaces, coving and ceiling roses.’


The kitchen

The kitchen had already been extended at the back to add a small dining area, but the ceiling in this section was lower, making the room feel enclosed. To solve this problem, Jessica and Ash decided to have it raised to the same level as the kitchen, especially as bespoke bi-fold doors were an essential part of their ideas. The couple were initially concerned that the centre of the space would feel dark and gloomy, but the new doors and the addition of four skylights ensures that the whole room is a very bright, open space.


The exterior

The exterior of the original property had a set of masonry steps leading down to the garden, so once the side extension was built, Stuart designed some new wooden ones to replace them, complete with integrated shelving for books and storage for the girls’ toys. The once external French doors are now internal ones at the top of the stairs, and had to be upgraded to Pyroguard fire glass to fit in with fire regulations. However, a supporting pillar, positioned where the original exterior wall was, couldn’t be removed without undertaking costly structural work. ‘It actually helps define the different spaces in the room,’ says Jessica. ‘We painted one side with blackboard paint; the girls draw on it at the bottom and we use the top for messages and the shopping list.’


The design

When it came to designing the new kitchen, the couple had a pretty clear idea of what they wanted, but they still visited a few kitchen showrooms and looked at magazines and brochures for inspiration. They decided to install the new kitchen in the same position as the original one, primarily because of where the services were, and because it would have been an added expense to re-site the plumbing and electrics, but mainly as they wanted to use the other end as a living space to relax in, flowing out into the garden, especially on a warm day when the bi-fold doors could be fully opened.


The style

Style-wise, the new kitchen space is a laid-back, eclectic mix of vintage buys teamed with period features and modern functional pieces against a backdrop of painted white walls. The flooring is a combination of timber salvaged from other parts of the house with reclaimed floorboards sourced by Stuart.

‘I phoned around lots of reclamation yards to find floorboards that were compatible,’ he explains. ‘They were first matched in size and then I worked on a sample to ensure that once it was sanded, the colour was the same throughout.’ The kitchen project started in January 2013, taking around four months to complete, and it is true to say that the new space has changed the family’s life. The long and narrow, dark kitchen has been replaced with a bright, modern room where they can spend time cooking, eating, relaxing and playing with the girls. ‘It’s the best feature of the house,’ says Jessica. ‘We really are in here all the time.’

The costs

Building work including bespoke steps, flooring and long rooflight£65,000
Bi-fold doors£6,000
Kitchen cabinetry£3,500
Work surfaces£3,100