Kate and Sean Ashley’s 1920s village home has expanded upwards and outwards to accommodate the needs of their growing family.
“For seven years Sean and I would eat breakfast standing up, and the whole family had to sit in a line in the living room,” says Kate Ashley, describing the cramped, awkward layout of her family’s 1920s home before the house received a radical makeover. When the couple first purchased the four bedroom property in 2005 they had twin boys, Harry and Jamie. Kate was pregnant with George, now eight, and two years later baby Grace arrived.
“We had lots of little rooms, with a separate lounge, dining room and kitchen, which was pretty impractical for a family of six,” Kate continues. “The four children squashed around a miniature breakfast bar in the kitchen, which left nowhere for us to sit down. We did very little to the house for those first seven years because we always knew we wanted to extend.”
The Ashleys had previously lived in an Edwardian semi where they converted the loft, but had never undertaken a major building project before. Finding a suitable builder proved difficult, however. “I spoke to lots of friends who’d done building work, but no-one would offer a recommendation because they’d all had problems with their builders,” says Kate. “I became resigned to cold calling companies without a personal recommendation.”
An advert for Plus Rooms in a local free magazine caught Kate’s eye, and in 2012 she contacted the company and invited them to visit the house as one of three chosen builders. Brothers James and Robbie Bernard are co-owners of Plus Rooms – a design and build company specialising in kitchen extensions & loft conversions in and around London. They offer a design-led service at a fixed price, and instantly understood the Ashleys’ brief.
“Plus Rooms clearly stood out from the other building companies,” says Sean, a lawyer. “They seemed genuinely keen to take on the project, and came back to us really quickly with their design and quote, which inspired confidence.”
The Ashleys had considered every possible layout, and even thought about knocking the house down and starting again, but they live in a road of similar aged houses. “We didn’t want ours to stand out like a sore thumb,” says Kate, who is also a lawyer. “Some loft conversions can look like a caravan’s been dumped on top of the house instead of tying in with the original building, but the Plus Rooms’ 3D model was unlike anything else we’d seen and addressed all of our concerns.”
The company came up with an exciting proposal, which involved demolishing the existing garage and replacing this with a single-storey side return extension which expands both the sitting room and kitchen. A two-storey extension to the rear would enlarge the first floor box-room to create a double bedroom, with a family room on the ground floor. The loft would be converted into a master bedroom with a shower room and a separate WC for Kate and Sean, incorporating dormers on three sides clad
in reclaimed tiles to blend with the existing roof.
“The roof was a square-based pyramid, which offered a lot of head height in the middle but raked down very steeply,” says Kate. “We’re both tall, so introducing more height with the dormers was vital to avoid constant stooping.” Thanks to the clever design the footprint of the house has hardly changed, and when Plus Rooms submitted the planning application everything apart from the first floor rear bedroom was granted under permitted development rights.
“We were working right to the limits of our budget, so the fact that Plus Rooms offered a fixed price really helped,” says Sean. “To save rent we moved out into the smallest three bedroom semi we could squash into and put our belongings into storage, because there was no way we could continue to live at home.” Kate would come to the site on a weekly basis to meet with Robbie Bernard, who project managed the transformation – producing a week by week schedule of work and payments. Work started in September 2012 with demolition, and the roof was stripped and covered for protection. Soakaways and foundations for the extensions were dug by the Plus Rooms team and the new brick and block walls were erected. The garage was demolished and the house extended sideways, with a new chimney breast and fireplace bringing character to the sitting room at the front of the house. A wall was removed between what had previously been the kitchen and a rear reception room, creating one large open plan kitchen with a dining area in the new side extension, which is lit from above by rooflights. Here, a dining a table and chairs allow the whole family to eat together instead of hovering around the breakfast bar.
The two-storey rear extension was constructed in rendered blockwork under a pitched roof, with a 1.5 metre single-storey element to the new family room, where two sets of folding/sliding glass doors were installed.
“Plus Rooms even took us to visit some their other projects so that we could see different colour options for the door frames,” recalls Kate. “Opening up the back of the house means that we have one space where everyone can congregate, and it’s easy to keep an eye on the children indoors and out.” An existing first floor shower room was sacrificed to make space for the new staircase leading up to the master bedroom and wet-room in the converted loft, giving the couple a peaceful retreat at the top of
the house. The family bathroom has been enlarged and completely refitted, and the former box-room was extended to give Grace a pretty double bedroom with rooflights in the new vaulted section.
Removing a chimney breast enlarged the two larger bedrooms on the first floor, which meant that George’s bedroom was the only room not due to be altered or redecorated during the project. “When some damage occurred to the ceiling in this room the fantastic Plus Rooms finishing team totally redecorated for us, which meant that George also had a new bedroom to return to,” explains Kate.
The Ashleys sourced their new kitchen and bathroom fittings, lighting, radiators and floor coverings, including beautiful limestone tiles over underfloor heating in the open plan kitchen/dining/family space, which have proved hard wearing and practical for family life. “I put together a scrapbook of ideas for the house but didn’t take the next step of researching costs and suppliers for each product, which takes a great deal of time,” says Kate. “We briefly considered saving money by decorating the house ourselves, but we made the right choice asking Plus Rooms to do this for us because the finish is superb and much better than anything we could have done.”
Work finished in March 2013, ahead of schedule and the family moved back home during the first week of April. “When we started the project nobody believed it could all be done in six months, but Plus Rooms proved them wrong and everything ran incredibly smoothly, despite the winter weather,” says Kate. “We couldn’t wait to leave the tiny rental property, and living there only made our own home feel even more spacious. Now we refer to it as our ‘new house’, because it’s so completely different. All six of us can be in one room at the same time cooking, eating, watching television and doing home work. The days of standing up to eat our meals have long gone!”
The bottom line Kate and Sean paid £580,000 for their house in 2005 and have spent £240,000 extending and remodelling the property, which is currently valued at in excess of £1 million.
What was the high point of the project?
Working with Plus Rooms was a real pleasure, and when we moved back into the house the children were extremely excited as they ran from room to room.
…and the low point?
Moving into a cramped rental house with one toilet upstairs that didn’t work was hard – especially when Grace broke her leg and needed to be carried up to the bathroom several times a day.
Your best buy?
We miscalculated how many kitchen wall tiles we needed and were five tiles short, so had to frantically drive round the local showrooms picking up sample tiles so that the tiler could finish the job!
…and the biggest extravagance?
The travertine floor tiles were an extravagance but nothing beats the look and feel of natural stone, so we’re glad we splurged on something so important.
Your top tip?
Don’t believe that builders always overrun. Make as many decisions as you can on fittings, paint colours and finishes in advance, because if your builders stick to schedule (as ours did) you might not have as much time as you think to make all those decisions!
The loft has been converted into a master bedroom, shower room and WC, with four bedrooms and a bathroom on the first floor for the children. The ground floor was extended sideways and to the rear, creating a spacious kitchen/dining/family room with a new utility and a separate sitting room.
Design, build and finishing
Plus Rooms: plusrooms.com
FIXTURES AND FITTINGS
Neptune kitchen supply
Surrey Furniture: surreyfurniture.co.uk
Wood Works: woodworksuk.com
Kitchen wall tiles
Fired Earth: firedearth.com
Sevenoaks Sound & Vision
Bathroom design and supply
Brushed Suede travertine floor tiles
Mandarin Stone: mandarinstone.com
Living room fireplace and gas fire
Esher Fireplaces: esherfireplaces.co.uk
Laura Ashley: lauraashley.co.uk
Farrow & Ball: farrow-ball.com
John Lewis: johnlewis.com