Running out of space is a familiar London problem. You could buy a bigger house, which means paying more stamp duty, or dig a basement, which is expensive, or convert the loft, though this is not always possible.
However, the most cost-effective solution is to stay put and build an extension, which in many cases you can do without even seeking planning permission.
But since most of us have a tight budget, it is important to get the most out of it. That doesn’t always mean creating the biggest extension you can, but rather the one that works best for you and which looks beautiful both inside and out.
If you are not planning to do the job as well as you can, then the best advice is to not bother at all. Other good tips are not to restrict yourself to a local building firm, research far and wide, get ideas from magazines and from your friends’ houses — and always talk to an architect.
Take a tour: how to create the perfect extension
Take a tour: how to create the perfect extension
1/5 Right angles
This extension in Homerton terrace features open wood caddies, right, instead of Kitchen cabinets, along with a stainless steel worktop and funky fittings - perfect for entertaining. (Scroll right...)
2/5 Custom-built style
The new space, with huge windows, is light, bright and sociable. Gary Dalton, Zelda Gould and their baby, Ottoline, on the concrete window seat in the new kitchen, right. (Scroll right...)
3/5 Due for an upgrade
This Georgian property in Mile End had a badly built Eighties extension tacked onto the back. HÛT architects replaced the useless spaces with a larger family friendly area for dining and living.
4/5 Flowing space
A Victorian terrace house in East Dulwich now has a huge glass door to the garden, allowing natural light to flood in. (Scroll right...)
5/5 Bring the outdoors in
A "popped-out" glazed box makes the internal space seem much bigger, even though the space is only about 10 square metres. By extending a little further into the garden, the architects brought the steps inside, creating seamless access to the outside.
NO NEED FOR PERMISSION
In London, brick terrace houses — many Victorian and some with dog-leg extensions — are the most common type of property. Under so-called permitted development rights, most of these can be extended without planning permission if you follow certain rules — see “permitted development” section below.
But if you are in a listed building or a conservation area, or want to do something bigger or in a different style to the rest of house, or if you want to build more than one storey, then planning permission will be needed.
A CLASSIC VICTORIAN
Zelda Gould Loftus and Gary Dalton — who have a six-month-old daughter, Ottoline — met while working at the same company. After sharing Gould Loftus’s tiny flat for more than a year, they began looking for a house in the Homerton area in north-east London, near Hackney Marshes. Even though it was a financial stretch, when they saw an 1850s brick terrace in the winter of 2011, they jumped.
At the back, looking on to a pretty garden, it had a long dog-leg extension that held a narrow, dark kitchen with old units. The rest of the house was dilapidated, but livable. They could see there was scope to extend, so they snapped up the house for £485,000.
Gould Loftus says the bathroom was “horrific”, with a plastic corner hot tub that they never used, black mould, dripping taps, and a soil pipe that reached the outside via the back bedroom. They longed to replace both the bathroom and kitchen, but stuck with them for two years before Gould Loftus consulted a decorator who was an old family friend.
He said there was no point in doing one room and then the other later on, as they were on top of each other. The second project would damage the results of the first, and there would be double the upheaval. His advice was to do it all at once.
FINDING THE ARCHITECT
The couple then looked for an architect. Gould Loftus’s parents had met a young team called Mustard, and when it turned out that they lived in the same street, it felt like fate.
Alternatively, they could have gone to the RIBA website to look for architects in their area. It is always helpful to have an architect familiar with local issues, and word of mouth often works well.
Fortunately, when the couple met the Mustard duo, they got on. That’s vital, because working with an architect on your home is an intense experience. Gould Loftus had a file of magazine articles and knew she wanted a big entertaining space downstairs, and a view of the garden, with trees beyond. Her pictures proved really helpful.
CREATING THE CONCEPT
The architects hand-drew sketches showing various options, which helped the couple focus on what they really wanted.
“We think with our fingers,” says John Norman, half of Mustard.
While it might have been possible to fill in the entire other side of the dog-leg and create one big rectangular space, that couldn’t be done under permitted development rights, which only let you go out three metres from the back wall.
But actually, Gould Loftus and Dalton didn’t want that much space. It would have cost more, too — and would also have meant building twice as far along the party wall, which might have caused problems with their neighbours.
ADDING CLEVER TOUCHES
Having decided to extend just halfway along the side-return, the architects suggested a big “picture door”, filling the end to frame the garden and trees beyond. They also put simple glass panels in the roof of that section.
At the end of the existing dog-leg they put in a big square window, with a specially cast concrete window seat below. These touches add light, great views, and style.
Knocking through into the new part made a big open dining area with ample space for a bespoke table to seat 12. The kitchen is all bespoke, with a geometric tiled splashback and stainless steel worktop that was Dalton’s special wish, and looks great.
Instead of cupboards over the worktop, the joiner made open wooden “caddies” from plywood, created to the couple’s design.
This new space, with its huge windows and door, is light, bright, big, and sociable. The couple gained the space they wanted, they did it without needing planning permission and it has made the house work better.
Upstairs, the bathroom was enlarged, stripped out and replumbed, and is now a real stunner, from its rubber floor to its acid green tiles and green ceiling.
HOW TO KEEP AN EYE ON RISING COSTS
“Originally, I thought we were just doing the kitchen for about £30,000,” says Dalton, “But we ended up doing the whole house. We used all Zelda’s savings and borrowed more money. It is a good investment.”
Architects are trained to quote effectively. However, there are thousands of variables involved in each job. About 10 per cent is usually added in for contingencies — unforeseen changes that will cost extra, such as new furniture, wallpaper and paint, fabric for blinds and curtains, lighting and wall fittings.
Norman explains that the best way to reduce these costs is to go into as much detail as possible at the outset. “Agree 98 to 99 per cent of the details at the start,” he suggests.
If you change your mind as you go along, it won’t be covered by the original quote, so will cost extra. Architects also have indemnity insurance.
This couple stayed within permitted development rights, but if you go outside these, there is a lot of money to be paid out in obtaining permissions from the local council’s planning department. Wall surveyors and engineers are other possible extra fees.
House in 2011: £485,000
Money spent: £150,000. Architects’ fees are usually 10 to 15 per cent of the total.
Value now: estimated at £905,000.
The build involved demolition and steel work and took almost six months, which meant the couple had to move out.
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- The house, The Nook House, was named most cost-effective property in New London Architecture’s Don’t Move, Improve! awards 2016.
In short, permitted development allows single-height extensions of not more than three metres out from the original back wall of the house, in materials similar to the house itself, unless the extension is a conservatory.
If you are in a listed house and/or in a conservation area, the rules are tighter. It is all explained fully on the Government’s planning portal, which has a handy mini-guide.