Kitchen extension with feature mural

Kamla and Alex Millson’s kitchen extension is packed with personality, combining statement fittings and a Picasso-inspired handpainted mural

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‘You could say that our kitchen started with a completely blank canvas — in more ways than one,’ says Kamla. ‘We were building a rear extension to make a large kitchen/living space, and as we were thinking about how to furnish and decorate it, it seemed a great idea to create our own work of art to add a touch of drama to the new room.’

Alex and Kamla moved into their bungalow, which originally had two bedrooms but now has four, almost eight years ago, shortly after returning from an extended stay in New Zealand. Room by room, they have gradually updated it. Their time overseas had given them a taste for open-plan and outdoor living, so the heart of the home was to be a big kitchen with doors on to the garden.

Fact file

  • The owners: Kamla Millson, who works in adult social care, and her husband Alex, who runs his own joinery business, live here
  • The property: A four-bedroom converted bungalow, built in 1928
  • The location: Leeds, West Yorkshire
  • What they spent: The couple’s kitchen extension project cost around £47,000

Planning the extension

Alex, a joiner who can turn his hand to any jobs around the house, was happy to do most of the building work himself. ‘I planned it all meticulously, using Sketchup, so we could see exactly how things would fit before I even dug the foundations,’ he explains. ‘Once Kamla and I were sure that we had incorporated everything we wanted into our drawings, we passed them to an architect, who worked them up into plans that we could submit for our planning application.’

It took nearly a year for the planning permission to be granted, but Kamla and Alex put the time to good use landscaping the 76ft garden and planting trees and hedges to ensure a good outlook once the building work was finished. ‘I even built a pond to practise my bricklaying skills,’ adds Alex.

Building work

With the plans approved, Alex set to work digging the foundations for the nine-by-four-metre extension up to joist level — an especially muddy task in one of the wettest years on record. Next, he called in a couple of his bricklayer friends to build up to the wall-plate level, before tackling the pitched roof and five rooflights.

‘I put on the roof with the help of a friend, adding a specially made 12-metre steel roof lintel in three sections, and built the three sets of folding-sliding doors. They come as kits, and if you’re prepared to varnish and glaze them yourself, and put on the hinges and the locks, you get them a lot cheaper,’ says Alex. Another tip he’s keen to pass on is for the steel lintels. ‘Get your architect/engineer to draw up the specifications, then you can take them to a welder who will make them at a lower cost than you would think.’

By saving on labour and materials, the couple could splash out on units, appliances and design details. ‘We didn’t compromise on anything. I bit my lip at the cost of some items — the tap, for instance, which was £900,’ says Alex. ‘But if you have a big island, an ordinary tap can look a bit lost, so we went for a statement design.’ Similarly, they chose an Elica extractor, which Alex calls ‘the Ferrari of cooker hoods’, for just over half the UK price by ordering it from the manufacturer in Italy.


The working hub of the kitchen includes ovens, a TV and fridge-freezer by Küppersbusch, as well as a Bosch warming drawer and a Smeg six-ring hob

A long project

Doing most of the work themselves meant that progress was a little slower than if there had been a team of builders, and the couple spent three years without a fully functioning kitchen. ‘An old cooker with an eye-level grill had been left in the house, and we moved it from room to room during the renovation. In fact, for a year we had to cook in the hallway, before we moved the old cooker into what’s now the utility room,’ says Kamla. ‘But we still entertained family and friends — that’s what kept us going.’

Another lifesaver, she says, was a slow cooker: ‘It was brilliant; when we were tired and hungry after a hard day working on the house, there was a hot meal ready.’

Statement mural

While Alex tackled most aspects of the building work himself, he left the electrics, plastering and plumbing to the experts. Thanks to the couple’s detailed plans and the fact that Alex had marked out on the walls where the wiring would emerge, the electrician’s job was precisely mapped out, down to the disco lights, speakers, and a row of picture lights that were fitted to illuminate Alex’s interpretation of Picasso’s painting Guernica.

The couple had seen the original painting in Madrid and it had made a lasting impression, so when they were puzzling over how to add interest to the long wall next to the dining and seating area, it seemed the ideal solution. Once he had finished the building work, laid the floors, and the walls were plastered and painted, Alex built a huge canvas and, over several months, slowly interpreted the painting ‘in his leisure time, working on it until 10:30pm some nights,’ says Kamla.

The finished project

Just how perfectly the canvas suits the extension became apparent once it was fully furnished, in a palette of contrasting grey and white shades. The monochrome layers of varying intensity are mirrored in the Picasso-inspired artwork.

Kamla and Alex love to entertain family and friends in the new extension now that it’s complete. Alex was careful to ensure a level threshold between the indoor and outdoor areas, so they merge seamlessly to create a flexible space. ‘On a spring day, when it’s tranquil and green, I like to enjoy the view of the garden from the sofa,’ says Kamla, ‘and it’s a great space for evening get-togethers: sociable and lively, with the speakers blasting out music, and disco lights flashing.’

Kitchen extension owners

Project notes

Kamla shares ideas for creating a kitchen-diner with character

My best buys

‘I’d find it hard to choose between our sofas – we deliberately chose low-backed designs so that we can see over them into the garden from the cooking area – and the pop-up socket in the island, which means there aren’t any cables trailing over the worktop edge.’

What I’ve learnt

‘It’s sometimes difficult to stay focused when you are working on a major project, or on more than one room. We worked through our house one room at a time, finishing one before moving on to the next, and that helped to keep us motivated. Making sure you plan things in great detail will give you a very good idea of how the end result will look, and that also helps to spur you on. We used Google Sketchup, a free planning tool, to produce our 3D drawings.’

I couldn’t live without…

‘…our bargain-buy Elica extractor fan and the Smeg six-ring gas hob, which go together, but the extractor is such a great design. We’re also pleased that we chose to have the extra burners for the hob; as we both enjoy cooking, we really do make use of them all.’

If I did it all over again…

‘…I would possibly choose more textured or matt surfaces, which are easier to keep looking clean than the smooth glossy finishes we went for, but I’m really happy with how it all looks. One other possible change would be that I’d go for aluminium-framed bi-fold doors, or even have fixed patio doors in one area.’

My top tip

‘Our Caesarstone worktop is only 20mm thick, but we’ve made it look 80mm thick to match the depth of the hob unit by mitring the edges and joining them seamlessly to create a more luxurious finish.’

The costs

Kitchen units£16,000
Appliances, sink and tap£8,000
Bi-fold doors£7,500
Plumbing and electrics£2,500