Digging Deep

Caroline and Chris Holmes have transformed their Edwardian terraced home by extending the kitchen and excavating a new basement level.

STORY: DEBBIE JEFFERY Photography: plus rooms (Portrait by Ripley Photography)

After living in their Edwardian terraced home for almost 10 years, Chris and Caroline Holmes decided that they needed to dramatically remodel and extend the space to make it work for a growing family. “We love the location and the period features, but our kitchen was quite cramped, and sitting in there to eat meant crowding around a little table,” explains Caroline. 

The couple have three children – William, 14, Arthur, 12, and Jemima, 10 – and wanted a more open-plan living space where everyone could congregate to cook, eat and relax. “We really didn’t want to move, so three years ago we contacted design and build company Plus Rooms to discuss the idea of extending,” says Chris.

The plan was to create one large living/dining/ kitchen space by building into the side return passageway and taking down internal walls. “We really liked the company and their ideas, so we asked Plus Rooms to organise virtually everything and they quoted us a fixed price for the work,” Chris continues.

“Our builders sourced reclaimed bricks to match the original house and built a period-style parapet so that the extension looks like it has always been there.”

Instead of following the current trend for adding a flat wall of folding/sliding doors across the entire rear of the house the couple, who are both chartered surveyors, were keen to retain the integrity of the existing building with its pretty bay window. Plus Rooms came up with an ideal solution – designing a side return extension with timber french doors which perfectly match those in the bay, right down to the decorative red brickwork above the openings. These triple-glazed doors open onto a new patio area, bring in light and frame views of the garden.

“Plus Rooms sourced reclaimed bricks to match the original house and built a period-style parapet so that the whole extension looks like it’s always been there,” says Caroline. “Every detail was thought of, and internal ceilings were adjusted to maximise the height.”

The family initially thought that they would remain living in the house during the project, but the decision to install underfloor heating beneath wide engineered oak floorboards on the ground floor meant that they needed to move out. Finding a local rental property at short notice proved impossible, and they ended up moving to the other side of Dulwich and putting some of their belongings into storage.

“There’s more than enough space in the kitchen, which means that we can move furniture around to make it even more flexible.”

“Watching someone demolish part of your house with a sledgehammer was horrific, but the builders were really good fun and great with the children – although our cats weren’t too happy about what was going on,” says Caroline. “Nothing was too much trouble for the team, and we’d have early morning meetings with them before going off to work.”

Roof lights are an important part of the overall design, with one long fixed unit and one electrically operated roof light installed in the flat roof – dropping natural light down into the heart of the space and providing additional ventilation in the kitchen area.

Previously there had been no ceiling lights in the kitchen – only sockets and lamps – which was impractical and unsafe for family life. “As we were rewiring we decided to go for a Dynalite intelligent lighting system, which means that different effects can be produced at the touch of a button,” explains Caroline. “We have floor sockets, which are great for a large space, and some beautiful little chandeliers in the kitchen that appear to float in mid-air and are a favourite feature.”

The three-metre-long kitchen island unit was designed to be high, as both Caroline and Chris are 

tall, and is topped with a single piece of granite which was hand-picked by Caroline following extensive research.

“Our kitchen company measured the room and built the cabinets accordingly, but the measurements were incorrect and we ended up having to adapt the wall cupboards by adding a 40cm plinth to extend them upwards,” says Caroline. “Fortunately we really like the end result.”

The extra ceiling height in the kitchen was used to accommodate additional storage, so that the family’s dinner services can be hidden away. Pull-out recycling drawers have been installed in the Shaker-style hand-built kitchen, and a double larder cabinet with granite shelving is ideal for storing food.

“There’s more than enough space in the kitchen, which means that we can move furniture around to make it even more flexible,” says Caroline, who loves to cook, and has entertained more than 20 people for dinner. “Now we can look out across the full width of the garden from the house, and meal times are a real pleasure.”

At the same time as applying for planning permission to extend the rear of the house, which was allowed under permitted development rights, Chris and Caroline also decided to make an application to create new basement accommodation. Previously this part of the house had been a coal store with restricted head height, which was accessed via a ladder, and the couple hoped to excavate further beneath the house to create usable living space.

“We considered digging out below the entire ground floor, but our neighbours weren’t too keen on the idea and it would have been extremely expensive,” says Caroline. “Instead we designed a smaller multi-purpose space, which is used as a library and home cinema. There are also a laundry room and bathroom down there, making a completely self-contained suite.”

Following a drawn-out planning process several specialist basement companies were interviewed and invited to quote for the work. The house was supported on acro props and the floor of the coal cellar was then carefully excavated. A structural steel frame was inserted, and a tanking membrane and drainage system were introduced which ensure that any water runs down into a cavity, drains below the floor and is pumped into the main drain.

The project involved installing a new oak staircase leading down from the main entrance hall, which was designed to match the staircase in the older part of the house. “In order to meet Building Regulations we needed to either enclose the new staircase or devise a system which would isolate the stairs,” says Caroline, “so we installed a steel screen, which would drop down from the ceiling if triggered by a fire.”

Tall windows looking out into a lightwell, with a combination of real and faux planting, ensure that the cinema room feels light and airy. The screen and projector have been designed to retract into the ceiling when not in use, and discreet underfloor heating was laid beneath carpet in this part of the house, which has proved a popular place for the whole family to congregate to watch films.

“After living in rented accommodation we moved back into the house while the basement was still being finished,” says Caroline, who ended up taking three months off work to fit it out once the builders had completed the shell.

In addition to the new kitchen extension and basement level the entire house has been given a makeover and was redecorated, with Cat-5 wiring installed throughout. Walls were moved to enlarge bathrooms, new sanitaryware was fitted, and a zoned music system has been connected. A lighting designer was also employed to create interesting and practical effects in every room, as well as out in the newly landscaped garden.

“It’s taken a lot of work, time and money to remodel the house, but we love the combination of open-plan living with cosier spaces for reading, watching films and playing music,” says Caroline. “It’s a great family home, and ideal for parties and entertaining. We now have the best of both worlds: a period house with traditional features and some more contemporary touches.”

Caroline’s top tip

“It’s possible to pay a building contractor to project manage everything for you, but we chose to organise the various phases of the work ourselves for greater control, bringing in specialists like the lighting designer and buying fixtures and fittings ourselves.”

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THE FLOORPLAN

Excavating the lower ground floor has created a new cinema/library room measuring 6.93m x 4.72m, in addition to a bathroom, laundry and store. On the ground floor an extension into the side return passageway enlarged the former kitchen and dining room, creating an open-plan living/dining/kitchen, with the old sitting room now used as a music room. On the first floor is a drawing room, the master bedroom suite and William’s bedroom. Arthur and Jemima’s bedrooms are on the top floor, sharing the extended bathroom.

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