The Hannas loved where they lived, but not the house they lived in.  It took them 10 years to finally reconcile the two, and design a home that was made exactly for their family.

When we bought our house it was because we loved the location. We didn’t let the small living spaces or badly laid out interior put us off. We always had the intention of renovating the house and at the time, we had a surveyor assess the building and advise what could be done.

However, with one thing and another – namely having the children – we never got round to doing anything at the time.  In hindsight this was good because we were able to live in the house for some time and really get a feel for the property and a general appreciation of what the house had to offer.  Children don’t stay small forever so our need for a more family-friendly layout was growing just as quickly as they were.

Our neighbours and friends had just completed some work to their houses so they were a great source of help and information, particularly with regards to recommending the architect and builder.  Having planned the project for 10 years, we were very definite about the work we wanted done but needed a professional to guide us practically.

The architect had a wealth of experience in designing extensions so he was able to interpret our brief without difficulty: modernise and renovate the existing house and add an extension to create a large kitchen/dining/living area that would open up into the garden.  But as he surveyed the house, it was clear that a whole lot more needed to be done to accommodate this request.

The whole house had not been modernised for at least twenty years so needed to be completely rewired and redecorated. It had always been a cold house and had little or no insulation anywhere, not even in the attic. The oil heating system itself was inefficient so there was a lot of heat loss.  Two bedrooms were at the rear of the house and south facing, which meant that any solar gain here was being wasted on rooms that were not utilised during the day.

The house needed a complete restructuring as well as a functional and practical makeover to accommodate our request for a large family living area.  The garage was taking up valuable space to the side of the house and was serving no real purpose apart from storing bicycles and the usual tools.

By knocking it down we would be able to accommodate part of the new extension and also protect an adequate proportion of the garden for leisure use (which would all be south facing).  In fact the only part of the house that wasn’t going to be affected (and a room we asked to keep) was the living room at the front of the house.  The architect felt this room would not be used that much because the new extension would serve all our family needs, but we wanted to retain this extra living space.

Extending family life

From the outset, the objective was to create a bright open-planned kitchen and living area that would integrate the garden effectively.  By relocating the two rear bedrooms and modifying their size, we could create the new living space we wanted.  The garage to the side was knocked down and the space used to construct the new kitchen area – as seen in the plans.

With windows positioned directly opposite each other in the kitchen area, we were able to obtain full views of the front and rear, whilst the fitting of sliding glass doors from the dining/living area gave us direct access to the patio/garden.  This layout not only gives us the flexibility to entertain our friends alfresco but allows us to keep an eye on the children when they play outside in the garden (which we couldn’t do before).

The extension itself has a long wing-type flat roof of zinc cladding, and in the original drawings this meant the internal ceiling would be completely flat too. However we felt that this would make the whole area feel very small and constricted.  The architect revised the drawings to allow for some open areas in the ceiling where rooflights could be integrated.

These are hidden externally on the roof but still fully light up the internal living space.  They give the impression of higher ceilings and make the whole area look and feel much brighter. A small shed and bin store were cleverly constructed to the other side of the new kitchen/dining area but still housed under the extended roof wing.  Wooden cladding was applied to give the façade a warm earthy look from the garden.

The existing bathrooms and bedrooms were all relocated or resized to provide a more user-friendly yet modern presentation in the  house. This remodelling provided space for a utility room beside the new kitchen, whilst a guest bedroom could now be conveniently located opposite the main bathroom.

The master bedroom was relocated to the front of the house and increased in size giving a real feeling of grandeur.  The entrance hall was widened by removing the redundant WC and adding storage units instead; and the children’s bedrooms were made slightly bigger and relocated more centrally in the house.

An Energy Efficient Home

Heating and insulation was always a real issued with the house so we employed a number of elements to make the house perform more efficiently.

The existing single glazed Georgian windows were replaced with double-glazed timber framed casement windows.  The house was replumbed and a new high-efficiency boiler was installed.  Whilst we considered installing a combi boiler, the plumber advised against it because it would not give sufficient hot water for our family of four.  We installed underfloor heating in the extension which really adds to comfort and enjoyment of the area.

The ceilings and attic were then fitted with 100mm high density insulation and the walls were dry-lined to give the house better thermal properties.  These elements not only make the house more energy efficient but more economical to run also.

Build Management

We were very hands on throughout the design process but left the planning application and tendering of trades entirely to the architect who was obviously more equipped to deal with that sort of thing.  Even though the extension was to the rear of the house and below the 40sqm (the size you can build at ground floor level with planning exemption in ROI) it did project out to the sides of the property making the design non-exempt.  Luckily there were no major issues or objections from third parties so we moved into a rented house a few doors away and waited the regulatory 12 weeks for the permission to come through.

The architect prepared all the tendering documents for works, except for the windows and sliding doors.  If we were to it all gain I think we would let the architect handle all the tendering/purchasing because we experienced unforeseeable problems with the window manufacturer, which nearly jeopardised the entire project schedule.

In the early days there was uncertainty if they would arrive at all and then within a few months of fitting, the double glazing system broke down and started leaking.  After many phone calls and many months they did agree to replace the panes, but it was tiresome and very stressful.  If the architect had overall responsibility, it would have been his job to deal with any delays and issues.

The builder on the other hand was very reliable and came highly recommended by our neighbour.  Everything was going well for the extension until the builder literally hit a wall.  As they dug the rear garden for the foundations, they discovered to our amazement, that our house and that of our neighbours had been built on an old school house and yard.

The school had been bulldozed in the seventies without consideration for the school’s cellars, which still remained as big open voids below our house!  This was totally unknown to us and quite a surprise.  We had thought they would make great wine cellars so wanted to retain them but the cost was too great.  In the end they had to be filled in with compacted hardcore (as specified by the structural engineer) before any further works proceeded.

The Big Fit Out

When it came to choosing the fittings and finishes for the house we were very decisive.  We wanted a bright, modern home that was a million miles away from the tired dated interior of the house we bought 10 years before.  We choose an almond white kitchen with lacquer units, granite work surfaces and a walnut breakfast bar.

This area gets lots of use, both for snacks and the children doing their homework.  In the family room, we added a stove with a granite fire surround, the same granite that is used on the worktops. In the bathroom we replaced the pale blue sanitary ware with luxury cream version and lad the same neutral tiles in the bathroom, hallway, kitchen and utility room to give a sense of continuity.

We replaced the flimsy panelled interior doors with solid shaker wooden doors, painted white and substituted the black/gold knobs with modern chrome handles. All the ceilings were previously stippled – an effect which I really disliked- so this was removed and all the ceilings were replastered.

The front living room is used mainly by the children for TV/computer games /play and it works very well for family life.  We use the new living space in the extension for cooking, eating, reading and talking. The children do their homework here, we entertain friends here and generally converse with one another.  It is a very relaxing zone in the house, particularly now that it looks directly into the garden.

The building work took just under seven months to complete and finished within budget.  We live in a fabulous location and have the home we dreamed of and something I’m sure we could not afford to buy today.

Free tickets to Love Your Home Show Belfast 2019

Love Your Home Belfast is back! If you’re looking for ideas for your home, you have a project you need some expert advice on or if you’re just looking for some inspiration then Love Your Home is the perfect event to visit.



We joined up with Diarmuid O Sullivan of Irish Yogurts Ltd to get an insight into the successful brand and how they are now one...


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