We had to dig deep to get more space

When planners objected to their extension scheme, one couple found a novel – but costly – solution
Chris, Hannah and Elsa Giles
© David Butler
Chris, Hannah and Elsa enjoy generous family space thanks to folding glass doors which open up the kitchen/diner into the garden

Chris and Katie Giles, both 42, bought their four- bedroom early Victorian house in Kentish Town, north-west London, in 2000. The house was plenty large enough for Chris, a journalist, and Katie, who is a publisher — until they had two daughters — Elsa, now nine, and Hannah, seven.

“The house is quite small in terms of square footage — two of the bedrooms are very small, and there was not too much living space on the ground floor,” explains Chris.

The ground floor constituted a cramped kitchen/living room, and a dishevelled lean-to that was boiling in summer and freezing in winter. Not surprisingly the lean-to had become something of a junk room, making it difficult to get to the garden.

The couple wanted a new kitchen/dining room, more light throughout the ground floor, and an extra bedroom upstairs. And they wanted to be reasonably adventurous with their design.

They found their architect, Alan Crawford, head of Crawford Partnership (crawfordpartnership.co.uk), in a novel way. Noticing a local property for sale with a good-looking extension they trawled through Camden council’s planning records (all London councils have online, searchable planning registers) and tracked down the team responsible.

Crawford’s suggestion was that they demolish the lean-to and replace it with a glazed extension on the ground floor with a square “pod” sitting above it. The ground-floor room would be lit by both floor-to-ceiling folding windows and a part-glazed roof, and the pod above it would have a huge window also overlooking the garden and a green roof.

Interior shot
Floor-to-ceiling windows reveal a courtyard-style garden

The good news was that the pair’s neighbours were happy with the proposal. The bad news was that Camden council was not so sure. The first set of plans had to be withdrawn when it became clear they were destined to be refused planning consent — council officers were concerned about the extension blocking the light for neighbouring homes and not being “in keeping” with the period terrace.

Crawford’s solution was to dig 1.5 metres downwards, effectively lowering the level of the back garden. Though this process added £40,000 to £50,000 to the cost of the work, Chris and Katie accepted they had little choice. “And in fact I am glad now, because lowering the level has made the back garden feel very secluded,” says Chris.

Planning permission for the revised scheme was granted in early 2007 and work began in September of that year. By April 2008 builders MBH Construction (mbhconstruction.co.uk) had completed the project, to the great relief of the family who had remained in situ with the noise and dust for the duration.
The new room is only about 25sq ft, but the expanses of glass, and high ceiling, makes it feel larger.

The bedroom “pod” (which doubles as the girls’ music room) has been sunk slightly into the room below. For a change of visual pace the pod is clad in tiles of chestnut-coloured plywood.

The exterior pod and glass ceiling
(Above left) One of the outside walls of the pod is a huge window; while a part-glass ceiling inside (right) opens up the space and lets in lots of light

On a practical note, since its main window does not open, for safety reasons, a series of side vents have been fitted into the side walls which can be opened for air circulation.

The décor is simple — charcoal grey porcelain floor tiles in the kitchen are mirrored by grey slate tiles in the garden. The walls are white, as are the kitchen units from Ikea, with a glossy red splashback for a dash of colour.

The courtyard-style garden, although smaller than the original, is now welcoming and well used. The project cost a total of about £200,000 and appears to have been a sound investment.

Pictures by David Butler

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