Change just one thing: creating light in a Dulwich home

The lives of this Dulwich family have been transformed. Their dark Edwardian home is now bright and airy - and they never want to leave
Londoners previously obsessed with the value of their homes are learning to take a more Continental approach, where extensions and improvements are seen as adding as much to quality of life as to the bottom line.

Richard Dudzicki, whose award-winning practice RDA has just completed this Dulwich extension, says: "Value added is not just monetary. Better designing in light, storage, function and the right aesthetic can bring a major change to your wellbeing."

Dulwich house with airy extension
To preserve the rear garden, the house was extended to the side towards an old garage which has been reduced in size (above left); Mum Jacinta with children William, three, and Olivia, six. The extension leaves plenty of back garden to play in (right)

The extension was commissioned by Jacinta and Alastair Alderton who bought their four-bedroom Edwardian semi in the Dulwich Estate conservation area of south-east London in 2008. RDA has helped them turn a dark and gloomy property into a bright, airy "forever" home for them and their two children.

Says Jacinta, who is Australian: "I have a bit of an issue with English weather and I found the small, dark downstairs rooms a real problem. If the children were playing in the back garden, there was nowhere I could sit or get on with what I needed to do while still keeping an eye on them."

The plan was to open up the kitchen, creating a new dining area linked to the rear garden with folding glass doors and a new terrace.

Two years and several proposals later, Jacinta and Alastair, a City lawyer, were no closer to creating their dream home. It was a frustrating time for the couple. Two other architectural practices failed to obtain planning permission because of the requirement by the Dulwich Estate that all rear gardens have to be accessible from the front via a side passage.

The house, bought for £1 million in 2008, is now valued at £1.8 million. But improvements to the Aldertons' way of life are priceless
The house, bought for £1 million in 2008, is now valued at £1.8 million. But improvements to the Aldertons' way of life are priceless

This, and other objections by Southwark council's planning department, stood in the way until the Aldertons teamed up with RDA and had their plans approved in 2010. The extension was completed a year later.

"RDA specialises in tricky sites where others have failed," says Richard. "The Aldertons, who were disillusioned with their house, wanted a very contemporary extension, which often means big. However, we designed it to look small and to be subservient to the main character of their house, while still giving them the extra space they needed."

Instead of building backwards, Richard extended the kitchen sideways into a large area by an old garage — thus accommodating the compulsory side passage — leaving the children, Olivia, six, and William, three, with an ample back garden to play in.

New terrace in Dulwich extension
A custom-built aluminium dining table was created to sit perfectly in the glass extension between the kitchen and garage (above left); Olivia contemplates the large new terrace reached via the extension's bifolding doors (above right)

From the front, the garage retains its previous appearance but it has been made smaller (it was never large enough to accommodate a modern car) and now incorporates a bike shed and utility room.

Structural glazing — one of the most expensive elements of the extension at £67,400 — was installed above the infill area between the new kitchen and old garage, bringing light and an additional 450sq ft of space.

One of Richard's obsessions is matching interior and exterior design, so part of the rebuild incorporated a custom-made aluminium dining table to fit perfectly in this spot.

"It's important that the interior is considered with the architectural proposal," says Richard, who works with a number of London bespoke furniture designers.

"The table is beautiful," says Jacinta, "and at about £3,000 it cost no more than tables we'd been looking at in John Lewis. The difference is that it is a one-off and made exclusively for us. That makes it very special while at the same time adding continuity and style to the house."

The house was bought in 2008 for £1 million and has been revalued at £1.8 million. The extension cost far less than the added value but, crucially for Jacinta, it has offered her a priceless addition to her family's wellbeing.

"It's just one more thing that's helped transform this house for me," she says. "I'd be happy if we never moved."

Richard Dudzicki Associates (RDA): 020 8299 2222; rdauk.com

Photographs by David Butler
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