Extending for a dream family home

By adding a four-storey extension, Sara and Tim Buchan have transformed a run-down property into a light-filled, contemporary space full of character

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When Sara and Tim Buchan decided to relocate near to Leeds to be closer to Tim’s work, the Yorkshire town of Harrogate seemed the perfect place to find their new family home. ‘We have always loved Harrogate, with its pretty town centre and lovely shops,’ Sara explains.

Tim had spent more than two years commuting from London to Leeds on a weekly basis, while Sara, a former human resources director for Habitat, worked in London and Jersey. ‘We eventually decided that it was time to make the move to the north of England so we could spend much more time together,’ says Sara.

The family moved into a rented house to get a feel for the area while they searched for a potential property to buy. ‘We like Victorian buildings and aren’t afraid of taking on major renovation work, so we spent more than a year looking for a property that was built from stone and had a garden. Many houses in Harrogate are very large but have no garden or space for a garage,’ says Sara. The couple’s previous home, in London, was within walking distance of Wimbledon Village, and they wanted a house with a similarly convenient location so that they could walk into Harrogate town centre.

Fact file

  • The owners: Sara Buchan, who volunteers as a gardener for the National Trust, lives here with her husband Tim, a company director for a vehicle leasing and fleet management business, and daughter Lily, 10
  • The property: A five-bedroom, Victorian semi-detached house
  • The location: Harrogate, North Yorkshire
  • What they spent: The family bought the property for £550,000 and have spent around £430,000 on the project. The house has recently been valued at around £1.2million

The property

‘We often used to walk around the area where we were renting, and noticed a run-down house,’ recalls Sara. ‘One day, our estate agent mentioned that she had been asked to value a house for probate as it hadn’t yet come on to the market, and it turned out to be the same property we’d spotted. The agent contacted the executor, who agreed to let me see the house. I think the previous owner’s family were keen for the house to be bought by a family rather than a developer, so thankfully they agreed to sell it to us.’

The large Victorian house had been empty for six years and was in a sorry state, with holes in the roof, a very overgrown garden, and floors and ceilings that were falling down. ‘The toilet was like nothing I have seen before, and there had been no running water in the house when the previous owner lived there,’ recounts Sara.

Despite the obvious drawbacks, the Buchans could see past these negatives. What’s more, as the original fireplaces, architraves and door furniture were still in place, they knew the property had the character they were looking for. Although they were able to envision the possibilities for the house, Sara and Tim knew it would take a design professional to turn their ideas into reality.


Conservation area

As the house is located within Harrogate’s Duchy Estate Conservation Area, where there are strict planning regulations, they were keen to hire an architect who had experience of working on similar properties and dealing with the local planning authority. ‘We looked around the area at houses where work had been carried out, and that’s how we came across Red Zebra Design,’ says Sara.

Together with the architects, the couple came up with a plan to transform their property by adding a rear four-storey extension. ‘The rear of the house was what I would describe as higgledy-piggledy,’ says Sara. ‘We wanted to straighten it up and improve the awkward interior layout.’

The extension

The planned extension would increase the size of the loft room, add an en suite to the master bedroom, turn the living room into a dual-aspect space and create a basement cinema room. ‘Although there was already a small basement in the house, it contained only one small room and a scullery/pantry,’ explains Sara. ‘The idea was that by digging out the basement further, we could extend this area and turn it into useable living space.’

Although Sara and Tim loved the character features of the period property, they were also keen to introduce some contemporary details, such as the striking basement glass box extension, open-plan living areas, underfloor heating and a polished concrete floor. ‘Although there are only three of us living here, we like friends and family coming to stay, and we’ve always loved the idea of having lots of living space,’ explains Sara. ‘Our London home had a typically small garden and we weren’t able to extend the house to open up the living space. Moving here and finding a property with such a large garden gave us the opportunity to achieve what we’d always wanted.’


Planning permission

It took three months for the couple to decide on the plans with the architect, and a further eight weeks for permission to be granted. Sara and Tim’s neighbours were pleased that the house was going to be renovated, as it had deteriorated after being left empty for a number of years, and the overgrown garden was unsightly. ‘The work obviously affected them in terms of noise, and they had some concerns about the construction process as the house is semi-detached,’ admits Sara. ‘We worked through any problems via our builder, architect and party wall surveyor, as well as paying for any damage to their property resulting from the work. We also built the stone wall in the garden, which is faced with original stone on both sides. Throughout the project we stayed on speaking terms with our neighbours, and although they don’t think our garden is very “Victorian” we still have lots of chats over the fence!’

Sara and Tim stayed in their rented property while the work was carried out on the house, with the architects taking on the project management. The house was completely stripped back to the bare walls, with all the architectural features removed and put into storage for safety. ‘Effectively, all that remained of the property were three walls, which was a little alarming,’ says Sara. The whole house was also underpinned, including the party wall, to make it structurally stable.

Building work

The project took nine months to complete, running over the initial seven-month estimate. ‘We went madly over budget, but having sold our London house, we thankfully had the funds to finance the home of our dreams,’ explains Sara. ‘The only real issue we had during the project was with the size of our garage. I accidentally transposed some figures and so the garage is now 50cm narrower than it should have been, but thankfully it’s still wide enough to fit a large car. It was a stomach-churning moment when I realised I had got it wrong. I’d definitely advise that anyone taking on a project measures everything very carefully, then checks and rechecks it, taking care with what they type!’

The exterior of the extension is made from Yorkshire gritstone. ‘We wanted to use random sizes of stone so that it would tie in with the look of the original house,’ says Sara. ‘It meant the builders had to try a few different quarries before they could find one who would supply what we needed.’


Interior design

Inside their home, the family’s style is a mix of contemporary and antique designs, and Sara’s love of designer furniture is evident throughout the house. She has picked up pieces from a variety of shops and websites over the years. ‘My favourite website is Bluesuntree, which supplies designer reproduction furniture at a fraction of the price,’ she says.

For their kitchen, Sara and Tim knew that they wanted a high-gloss design with stainless-steel appliances, so they were able to provide a local kitchen company with an exact brief. ‘Our main aim was to create an open-plan living space where we could entertain or relax as a family,’ explains Sara.

Since moving into their extended home, the couple are thrilled with the way in which the property has been transformed into a contemporary family space. ‘Tim has the cinema room he’s always wanted, and there’s loads of space for family to visit, which is essential as they all live in the south of England,’ explains Sara. ‘We love all the light and space it offers, too.’

The family are also enjoying spending more time together since moving north. ‘The Royal Horticultural Society gardens at Harlow Carr are only a short walk away, so we often go for a stroll there,’ says Sara. ‘We have a wonderful, spacious family home, and yet we’re close to the town centre. It’s the perfect combination.’

The costs

Building and renovation work and landscaping£250,000
Architect fees£20,000
Decorating and flooring/carpets£20,000
Glass box extension£20,000
Polished concrete floor£10,000