Updating a Victorian home

Brenda McLennan and James Smith have updated a Victorian home sympathetically and added energy-efficient features too. The couple have added a two storey extension, glass roof and folding sliding doors in the kitchen

When Brenda McLennan and James Smith decided to buy their first home, they were renting a small, rather dark flat in Bristol. Not surprisingly, they were looking for a property with more space and plenty of light, preferably with an outdoor terrace.

‘Brenda went to view what was on the market,’ says James. ‘Although she was supposed to be looking at three-bedroom flats, she found us a house instead.’

A six-bedroom house, in fact. ‘The flats I’d seen were too cramped,’ Brenda explains. ‘When I first viewed this house, I was bowled over by all the space it offered, plus it had great views of the city and plenty of natural light. Admittedly, the interior was pretty dated, but I knew it would be perfect for me and James.’

The Victorian house, which included a small, self-contained annexe at the rear, had been a rental property for some time. It had seen little updating in recent years, so it needed a lot of modernisation.

Fact file

The owners: Brenda McLennan, who is head of finance at a contemporary art gallery, lives here with her husband James Smith, a chartered surveyor

James agreed with Brenda that the house offered plenty of potential, so they put in an offer, which was accepted.

‘We decided to live in it for a while before making any major changes as it would give us time to firm up our plans for the house and raise funds for the renovation work,’ Brenda explains.

In the meantime, they freshened up the dated décor and rented out the annexe to help with their refurbishment budget.

‘The reason the ground floor had been extended at the back and remodelled was to create the annexe and a new kitchen for the main house,’ says Brenda.

When the couple started their renovation project five years later, they decided to demolish both the kitchen and the annexe.

‘In its place, we planned a two-storey extension for a new kitchen-diner and a utility room. We also wanted a larger ground floor living area, with five bedrooms in total on the first floor,’ Brenda explains.

There were six bedrooms in the house, but two of them were on the ground floor. The couple decided to turn one into a home office and incorporate the other one into the living room.

‘We would then create two new bedrooms on the top floor of the extension,’ says Brenda. ‘We planned en suites for three of the bedrooms, as well as a new family bathroom on the first floor.’

On the ground floor, the hallway and the former dining room would be turned into a larger hallway.

The new kitchen-diner in the extension at the rear of the house would have a glazed roof and a wall of glazed folding sliding doors to flood it with natural light and link the inside and outside spaces.

‘The idea was to create a sociable kitchen with lots of space for entertaining,’ Brenda explains. ‘The new doors opening out to the garden are very typical of the houses in Australia, where I was born.’

The steel support frame for the new kitchen space was designed by structural engineer John Hudd, who is a friend of Brenda and James. In the meantime, an architect friend, Roger Stephens, had drawn up their plans and submitted them to the local planning department.

‘We were thrilled when they were approved without a hitch,’ says Brenda. ‘Now we could start booking the builders and get the project moving.’

As the start date for the build project approached, the couple had a stroke of luck. ‘A one-bedroom flat came up for rent, two doors away from our house, so we jumped at the chance to move in there and put some of our things in storage,’ Brenda explains. ‘It was ideal – we could oversee the project without living on site.’

Although the couple’s main plans were firmly in place, they didn’t specify many of the finer details as they wanted to wait and see how the work progressed.

‘Ideally, we would have finalised everything but it was good to have the option to make changes once the redesign started taking shape,’ says Brenda. ‘Also, we didn’t know what would be revealed when the builders were stripping things out.’

Their flexible approach turned out to be a good decision. When the original drains were exposed, the couple discovered they were in disrepair so extra work was needed to update the entire system.

‘Our plans for one of the en suite shower rooms were scrapped when we realised that fitted wardrobes would be a more practical use of the space,’ Brenda recalls.

Other changes to their plans included moving an internal wall by half a metre to ease the flow between the hallway and home office, which made a noticeable difference.

The Victorian staircase was pulled down and replaced with a contemporary design to bring more light into the hallway.

New heating, plumbing and windows were also factored into the project. Through his work as a surveyor, James was familiar with new energy-efficient technologies, and he was keen to introduce some eco-friendly features at home.

‘The house was cold and draughty, so it made sense to install energy-efficient systems while the build was going on,’ says James. ‘Reducing our energy bills was a big incentive for us.’

James opted for a Rotex heating and hot water system that uses solar panels to harness energy, but it can also be supplemented with gas. It provides underfloor heating for both levels in the house, plus the floors and roof have been well insulated. Bespoke draught-proofed timber sashes with high-spec double glazing have replaced the old windows so that heat loss is minimal and there’s a comfortable even temperature throughout.

Adding a contemporary extension to a Victorian house presented some decorating challenges. Brenda and James were keen that this new part of their home would have a bright, modern feel while still blending with the period style elsewhere.

‘We chose honey-coloured oak flooring to unify the interior,’ says Brenda. ‘We went for white-painted walls accented with shades of grey-green and red. Granite, limestone and wood have added texture.’

The kitchen is a mix of traditional and contemporary styles. By teaming classic units with the latest appliances, they have created a perfect scheme.

‘I like combining the old and new,’ says Brenda. ‘Our home has a traditional feel, but it is also modern, bright and energy-efficient. We have the best of both worlds.’

The costs

Building work£150,000
Plumbing/heating/ hot water system£21,000
Kitchen units/worktops£12,500
Folding sliding doors£11,000
Cornice work£11,000
Glass roof in kitchen£5,500
Kitchen appliances£4,750
Data/TV/phone cabling£2,000
Light fittings£1,450