plan­ning your per­fect ex­ten­sion

So you think you want to ex­tend, but is it re­ally the best plan of ac­tion? In the first part of our new se­ries, we look at why you should as­sess ev­ery avail­able op­tion

Real Homes - - Contents -

Is ex­tend­ing re­ally the best op­tion for you?

Ex­ten­sions are ex­pen­sive, dis­rup­tive and risky. You will be in­sti­gat­ing a ma­jor build­ing pro­ject, prob­a­bly for the first time, and deal­ing with all sorts of de­ci­sions, re­gard­less of how much trust you in­vest in a builder, that you are to­tally ill-qual­i­fied to take on. You’ll most likely be spend­ing one of the largest sums you’ve ever spent on a pro­ject you know next to noth­ing about, and re­ly­ing on a handful of ex­perts to get you through.

So why put your­self through all that up­heaveal? The irony is that for some peo­ple, an ex­ten­sion is a long way down on the list of most suit­able home-im­prove­ment projects that they should un­der­take. For many, save knock­ing the whole house down and start­ing again, ex­ten­sions should be the pro­ject of last re­sort – es­pe­cially given all the above.

Do you re­ally need to ex­tend?

Let’s ex­am­ine the ba­sics. We ex­tend when we quite sim­ply don’t have enough space. But that raises a key is­sue, and high­lights the main mis­take that so many peo­ple make: is it ad­di­tional space you ac­tu­ally need, or is what’s in your mind (an open-plan kitchen with liv­ing and eat­ing ar­eas over­look­ing the gar­den, maybe) a space that you can cre­ate from what you al­ready have? The num­ber one ex­ten­sion pro­ject is to cre­ate a big­ger kitchen. Also, the big­gest dis­par­ity be­tween homes built be­fore 2000 and what we want now isn’t the num­ber of rooms or the size of the houses – it’s the size of the rooms, and in par­tic­u­lar the size of the kitchen. Look at any home built be­fore the 21st cen­tury and the rear flank kitchen just can­not sat­isfy our cur­rently in­sa­tiable de­mand for the large, open­plan liv­ing/eat­ing space.

But let’s take an­other look at the floor­plans of those houses. What’s that large (of­ten larger) room next to the kitchen? The din­ing room, of course – in­vari­ably used as an of­fice/stor­age space cleared out for a Christ­mas din­ner. Then there’s the large lounge, of­ten al­ready ‘knocked through’ to cre­ate a large liv­ing space. Let’s then take a look at what the mar­ket de­mands – usu­ally the homes cre­ated by de­vel­op­ers. After all, de­spite it all, they’re ex­perts in un­der­stand­ing con­sumer de­mand and cre­at­ing homes built for it. The typ­i­cal size of those homes is no big­ger – ar­guably smaller, in fact – than the homes we have been build­ing for decades and prob­a­bly cen­turies.

Our fam­i­lies have shrunk, on the whole, over the years, but the num­ber of bed­rooms in our homes cer­tainly hasn’t. There is no large scale short­age of bed­room space in our homes – cer­tainly noth­ing worse than we had be­fore. What

this points to isn’t that our homes have sud­denly be­come much too small – it’s that our ex­pec­ta­tions of them have changed. There can be lit­tle doubt that the huge in­crease in the num­ber of home ex­ten­sion projects over the past 20 years has co­in­cided with the ex­plo­sion in in­ter­est in home de­sign – mag­a­zines, web­sites, Pin­ter­est and TV shows, from Chang­ing Rooms to Grand De­signs. We are far more con­scious of our homes now than ever be­fore, and we all as­pire to the type of spa­ces we see on TV or in our friends’ houses.

So, let’s get to the point. An ex­ten­sion should only be con­sid­ered once all other op­tions for re­mod­elling the ex­ist­ing space have been dis­missed. For the sake of £1,500-£3,000 per wall (re­moved, re­in­forced and made good), could your dream open-plan kitchen-diner be achieved more eas­ily? Per­haps by open­ing up into the din­ing room and steal­ing a bit from the large liv­ing room, if you have one? If you need an ex­tra bed­room, could you look at con­vert­ing the loft space? It will al­most cer­tainly be cheaper than build­ing new space.

If there is no way that you – or, prefer­ably, a con­sulted ex­pe­ri­enced de­signer – can work out how to get you there with­out cre­at­ing more space, then you’re on the path to ex­tend­ing. Thanks to the process of ag­o­nis­ing over whether you re­ally need to ex­tend or not, the happy news is that you’re al­ready on the way to cre­at­ing a proper vi­a­bil­ity plan for your pro­ject.

cre­ate a plan

As any­one who works in al­most any job knows, the use of tar­gets, mon­i­tor­ing and per­for­mance indi­ca­tors is one of the things we all have to live with and plan our work­ing lives around. It’s hardly what we lie awake at night dream­ing of ap­ply­ing to our home life, but steal­ing a lit­tle bit of this an­noy­ing of­fice habit can work won­ders for your home pro­ject.

Why? Be­cause it helps to give your pro­ject a fo­cus, and keep it on track – and you can use the tar­gets you set as a guide­line to as­sess ev­ery sin­gle de­ci­sion against. What should those tar­gets be? Well, you al­ready have them, but the key is get­ting them down on paper. Clearly, some of them are go­ing to be very prag­matic – how much you want to spend, for in­stance – but oth­ers, par­tic­u­larly the ones based on de­sign, will be a lit­tle more ab­stract.

It’s im­por­tant at this early stage to get them out and put them down on paper.

These are the things that you have in your head when you imag­ine the pro­ject com­plete – the rea­son you’re do­ing it. They’re of­ten lit­tle life­style snip­pets, and might be one, some, all or none of the fol­low­ing: Fam­ily to­gether in a large kitchen, you cook­ing din­ner, the fam­ily eat­ing

Lazy Sun­day spring morn­ing, drink­ing cof­fee and en­joy­ing the sun­shine

Get­ting cosy on a De­cem­ber evening

One of these might ap­ply to you. It’s now time to go deeper into that men­tal im­age – what do you see?

If it’s the third one, is there a fire? A stove? How big is the room? If it’s the first, how does the fam­ily in­ter­act? Is there an is­land? Where do the kids sit?

Turn­ing these ab­stract life­style-driven wishes into hard, prac­ti­cal il­lus­tra­tions of what you want to do in the home is the only way a de­signer can hope to cre­ate a home in which to do them – and to en­able you to as­sess if the pro­ject is go­ing to be a suc­cess or not. Ev­ery sin­gle de­ci­sion you make, and how you as­sess the plans your de­signer cre­ates, is go­ing to be a fac­tor of these ini­tial as­pi­ra­tions – so get them down. The projects that end in fail­ure – and projects fail for many rea­sons – tend to do so be­cause they don’t have a clear set of pri­or­i­ties or a sense of what they’re try­ing to achieve. The best rea­son for bring­ing these as­pi­ra­tions into sharp fo­cus is that they give you a chance to see if the plans you have al­low you to get what you want. Where will you sit and have that Sun­day 11am cof­fee, and what will you be look­ing at?

Up­stairs, prac­ti­cal re­quire­ments like ex­tra bed­rooms are fairly straight­for­ward to as­sess, but think a bit deeper. How big do the bed­rooms need to be? Do they al­low for wardrobe space, and ide­ally for some form of liv­ing space? Even chil­dren like to be able to sit in their bed­room and have a bit of time to them­selves, so work out where a lit­tle set of chairs might go, for in­stance.

Ul­ti­mately, what you want to do in this early fea­si­bil­ity process is to work out whether the things that you want the house to do for you are best achieved by adding an ex­ten­sion, and if so, roughly what size of pro­ject this is go­ing to be – or whether, in fact, you need to ex­tend at all.

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