“We actually only increased the overall footprint by 27square feet” explained Henry, “yet what we did has transformed our lives”.
The problem with existing houses is that they were built at a time when people lived very differently to the way we do now. The Lindsay’s house may not be Downton Abbey, but in the Edwardian age – the house was built in 1903 – rooms were needed to fulfil the formality of the social customs and habits of the day, and the household was strictly segregated by class and function. These are reflected in the size and arrangement of the rooms. For example, the kitchen which, to us is the most important room in the house, a century ago was purely functional. It was rarely visited by the owners of the house and located as far away as possible from the reception rooms to prevent noise and smells infiltrating the genteel harmony these rooms, and their occupants, aspired to. You could also be forgiven for thinking that the Edwardians liked to live in a semi-permanent twilight! How totally different from today when, as nearly every architect will agree, their brief almost always begins with the requirement for the house or extension to create a feeling of space and be filled with light.
When the Lindsay’s bought the house in 1999 it had hardly been altered, which was part of its appeal. The downside was that it required a lot updating in the form of a new roof and render on the outside, central heating and wiring inside. The essential character of the house was intact though, with beautiful corniced ceilings and original fireplaces. Busy with the needs of a growing family and business, almost ten years passed before Henry and Nicola were able to make the changes they wanted to the internal layout. The main house comprised six bedrooms and two receptions, but the kitchen area to the rear of the property was dark and poky and access to it awkward. The main bathroom was also small, and on the ground floor, far from ideal. Upstairs there was a cramped shower room and a separate wc. The main problem areas were thus the kitchen and washing and bathing facilities, the solution; to convert one of the bedrooms into a bathroom upstairs, and downstairs add a partially glazed extension to the kitchen and re-arrange the layout.
“What we didn’t want was a glass box” said Henry, “our idea was to maintain the spirit of the house by creating something very visually different but at the same time attractive and sustainable. On a practical note, Nicola is a stroke care specialist and she ensured that there is level access throughout the ground floor. The different levels often found in properties of this age can make them unsuitable for people with disabilities.
Because the design of the extension is in sharp contrast to the rest of the house, we really thought the planners would object. However, with no right angles and a strong emphasis on sustainability, we used recycled wood and sheep wool insulation, neither can it be seen from the road, there were no objections raised.”
In order to support the two storeys above the kitchen and allow it to be a clear space open to the extension, one large and one small steel beam were inserted into the structure. The walls were framed on site from recycled timber sourced locally and insulated with sheep wool, the external cladding is a combination of marine ply and Western Red Cedar. A copper roof had been planned, but the cost of this sadly proved to be prohibitive at £2,000/€2,500, whereas the substitute rubberised plastic cost only a few hundred pounds. The design is not only fluid to the eye, the house is built on sand so it is important that the structure allows for some movement.
“The back of the house is south facing and the extension design takes advantage of this with two large panes of floor to ceiling glass acting as doors with a slide, lift and lock mechanism. Overall the glass wraps around the building in the shape of an expanding triangle which, at its highest, is 1.5metres tall.
The kitchen is now a light filled area into which the whole family can fit very comfortably, kept warm in winter by a re-conditioned AGA cooker. Henry’s family are real AGA enthusiasts – they own five between them all, – but if the cost of a new one is just too big a chunk out of the budget, Henry has a solution.
The kitchen has new units in light oak, chosen to be timeless and not date, with a black Belfast marble worktop. This is teamed with a black fronted fridge freezer and a purple sofa, which stand out against the off white walls. Much thought has gone into the lighting with a range of low voltage recessed bulbs as well as a ceiling pendant to match the floor standing lamp, giving lots of options for different levels of light depending upon how the room is being used.
A part of the re-modelling of the kitchen area involved the removal of the old oil central heating boiler, which gave off noise and smells, and had been housed in a cupboard in the kitchen. The heating and hot water (when required), run on gas, as does the AGA (which has a back boiler). The hot water is pre-heated by an existing solar array on the large south facing section of the roof. Re-sizing of the radiators helped to solve the problem of a cold house and the Lindsay’s now live in a home where all the rooms are heated, for the same cost as they did when only half were. The biggest reduction is in electricity as the showers are now all fed from the hot water cylinder, a saving Henry estimates of approximately £600/€752 annually.
There has also been a transformation in the washing facilities! By combining an old cloakroom with the existing bathroom and part of the hallway downstairs, these were transformed into a separate wc, large bath and shower room with generous wash hand basin and a separate utility.
Taking advantage of the ceiling being replaced in the eaves bedrooms at the top of the house, the Lindsay’s also upgraded the insulation there with foil backed polystyrene, at the same time filling the ceiling joists with more sheep wool.
The other major change upstairs was to the washing facilities. Henry describes it as a “sheer indulgence” bathroom.
“I’m 6 feet tall with broad shoulders and this room was very awkward for me. Now we’ve got a walk in shower, a big bath, lots of floor space and a high ceiling, it’s transformed. We put a whole house sound system in, including the bathroom, and now there’s a lot of competition for this room, my daughters spend hours in it!”
The Lindsay’s divided their budget with the largest portion dedicated to the build and a smaller amount for the finishing and fit out. This final part of the project therefore is still a work in progress, as Henry explained.
“We plan to carpet the hall and stairs but with a three storey house there are three large landings and one small, and carpet is very expensive. We decided to re-do the staircase spindles first, sadly many of these had been replaced by 1960’s era square ones, 122 to be precise! Fortunately the ones at the top of the house were original which we copied, there were three different sizes and that alone was a fairly major expense.
Outside we have a huge concrete area, enough to park 16 cars, which is way over what we need and we’d really like to turn a good part of this into a productive garden which we would all enjoy.”
Like every project, this build involved a lot of hard work and effort, not to mention thought.
“First off, it’s essential to do your research into absolutely everything” advises Henry, “then make sure the design delivers what you want. Lay out the space and walk around it.
Being on site during the build was really useful, we were always available to answer questions and it was good for security. We stayed in a caravan and kept one wc in the house working, we also have lots of family living nearby who gave us a hot meal which helped a lot. Living in a caravan on holiday is very different to being on a building site, but it was all worth it!”
Kitchen: Penny’s Kitchens & Bathrooms Ltd., Unit 2 Stylux Business Park, Old Glenarm Road, Larne BT40 1NQ tel. 2827 2899 em: email@example.com www.kitchens-bedrooms-northern-ireland.co.uk
Sound system: Sonos from eBay www.ebay.co.uk
Gas boiler: KMM Plumbing, 47 Beechlands, Carnlough, Co Antrim tel. 2844 2515
Insulations & timber: Minnis Fleck Building Supplies, Station Road, Larne, Co Antrim tel. 2827 2031 em: firstname.lastname@example.org
Gas supplier: Phoenix Natural Gas, 197 Airport Road West, Belfast BT3 9ED tel. 08454 555 5555 www.phoenix-natural-gas.co.uk
Floor coverings: Prestige Flooring, 4 Lower Cross Street, Larne BT40 1JW tel: 2827 3260