When we first saw this house we thought it was perfect for our family apart from one room. Unfortunately, this was the kitchen and that can often be a deal breaker, as it is arguably the most important room in a home. Anyone who has lived through it, knows how a kitchen renovation can impact the home. You need to be prepared, have all your trades lined up, all final details addressed. So, I ticked all of those boxes – floor plan, units, worktop, flooring, lighting - all chosen. I was well organised, but there was a loose link in the chain which proved a costly, lengthy hurdle to overcome…
So lengthy that I've decided to split this blog into 2 parts - this inital blog covers the design and process. The second part addresses some of the finer details, material choices and finishing touches with lots more photos too!
'Why change the kitchen?'
I was asked this by more than one person after we moved in July '21. The existing kitchen was a good size but felt cramped as it had both top and bottom cupboards. The rear soffits of this house were quite low and this contributed to the low light levels in the east facing kitchen. The fitted units were a nice country style, inframe cabinetry in a cream colour, but they covered every space high and low around the periphery of the room with a kitchen table in the middle. The floor and wall ties were terracotta coloured and walls were a minty green. We found ourselves as a family of five (+ dog) walking round the table to get something from the fridge on one side to get a bowl on the other side. And there was no direct access to the garden from the kitchen for the dog or the children, or for us adults, for that matter.
Having had a great, airy, free flowing, open plan kitchen before with lots of light and sliding doors to a decking area, we knew what worked well for us and wanted something similar in this new near-perfect home. So, we started looking at extension options. Having a sizeable garden was one of the major draws of this property, big enough to accommodate a small polytunnel too! There was clearly space for an extension.
So, the brief was to create a family kitchen which was:
Airy, bright and spacious
Better flow inside and out
Direct access to garden
Sustainable, efficient heating
Cooking, dining, entertaining and snug space
Not being far from our last house, and with a very similar orientation we had previous knowledge of how the light would affect the property. That being said, we knew the wisest first move was to wait and see how the sun and light played through the garden and house for as long as we could bear!
The garden gets a lot of sun in summer but is really very shady near the house in the winter. This meant the polytunnel had to be out of this shadow line and therefore would be visible from the kitchen. Interior and exterior design including flow and budgeting had to be considered together as a result.
The initial plan after meeting with architect and discussion of our requirements was as follows:
Extend the kitchen by its entire width at the rear (within NI permitted development rights*). This would project from the shadow of the rear elevation and gain more south /southeast sun during the day. A pitched roof on the extension would also allow for roof glazing and or solar panels. We’d allowed for glazed, bi fold doors onto the existing patio giving us more light and direct access to the kitchen. I'd sourced a company that would be able to provide aluminium frame windows that slide to allow for fuller opening and easy passing of food and drinks between patio and kitchen. The wall of glass would create light and a bit of a wow factor.T he internals of the house would be little affected by this plan.
The plans we thought were simple, no tricky roof structures, weird angles, controversial features or quirks. And normally simple plans make for more straightforward builds and no surprises for builders – which they in turn, love.
We submitted plans to building control and 3 batches of detail amends were required which meant that much more time had passed than we had anticipated or wished for.
Meanwhile the original builders’ quotes were expiring, and the price of supplies were ramping up. This escalation of prices following COVID’s interruptions and the impact of Brexit was much steeper than anyone could have foreseen. I had sourced and planned the kitchen layout with Howdens. They had hinted at a price increase in January 2022 so I chose to go ahead and buy the kitchen units before Christmas 2021. This meant having to take delivery and store them in my eldest child’s bedroom and the hallway. Far from ideal but worth the saving I thought…
However, by the time we were getting closer to sign off on plans, we got a re-quote for the build which stopped us in our tracks. Time for a rethink after all that wait! The cost of the extension was going to be crazy for the size of extension. I dare say it would be even more if I were to get a quote for it now!
It is a major upheaval to change plans but there are occasions when throwing money at a project does not resolve the issue and expenditure can easily escalate and exceed the potential payback of increased value to the house. Improving a kitchen usually adds to the value of a house so there was no question that making some changes would be sensible now.
We looked at the options again in consultation with the builder and architect. We could not extend into the roof above the kitchen to bring in more light The previous owners had utilised the space above our kitchen as stair access to the attic spaces. This was one of the existing quirky spaces which suited our family perfectly, so losing it was not an option.
The room next to the living room had no such restriction. Therefore, we decided to knock through to the old dining room (our boys were using it as a games room and so there was much deliberation and negotiation to lose it). The ceiling in this room could be vaulted, we discovered from crawling around the attic and the additional floor space gained from knocking through the adjacent rooms would be almost identical to that which we’d planned in the original extension idea. The orientation of the kitchen would not change however, as the building footprint would not be changing now, so there may be a lack of sunshine.
As I had already bought the kitchen units, I had to work out how I would redeploy them in the new layout. There were many sketches of various options, and I must have measured the space over 30 times!
My boys had one wish for the kitchen, in addition to our functional requirements, they wanted a booth – banquette style seating like they’d seen in restaurants as they’re ‘cool’ as well as comfortable. It was not hard to win me over on that front as it is such a space saver in a multi-functional room. There was no way it was going to be red shiny leather though…. Not with the scheme I had in mind.
It's important to say at this stage that the design I came up with reflects our family. We like flexible spaces as there are occasional gatherings of clans we enjoy in summer and around other holidays. For me gatherings involve food, I’m a feeder! Also, our kitchen is a place the boys will bake, my husband will cook, I’ll make cocktails, the dog will want to be near us, the boys may do their homework, Aidan may play the guitar, do the crossword, watch TV or one of the boys watch you tube. In short, the kitchen space is our hub where all of our family life unfolds, and it has to work hard to accommodate all that. It needs to be fun, flexible and warm. A different family may for example, just want the space for kitchen / dining or not worry about direct access to the garden. They may want to entertain more or less formally than us.
Bear in mind, any home is made up of a series of spaces which different occupants may use very differently. In the UK and Ireland we tend to follow similar layouts, but with working from home and blended, multi generational to single person dwellings, the scope for re-imagining the spaces to suit your family is wider than you may think. For us being able to fling open the windows and doors is essential in summer, for basketball practice, to let the dog out and and when someone burns the toast!
The floor plan is below.
This is worked up on a design package to ensure the floorplan works before we got stuck into the build. This gives the builders and contractors a basis from which to work, an initial reference point. Separate technical drawings of the detail of the knock through were supplied by our architect to Building Control before work was carried out.
We moved the door from the hallway to allow more space on the cooking side of the room. We replaced a single doorway with a ¾ double door with glazing to share light between the hall and kitchen at different times of day. This meant an awkward angled cupboard but I wanted a pantry so it meant a bit of bespoke joinery around the off the shelf Howden cabinets. My builder, Robert, has amazing patience with me and attention to detail in his work, so I had confidence he could make it work!
In addition to the floor plan, the software has the capability to render more life-like images. I like to use these images to show clients (in this case my family) to help envisage the final outcome of the project. Tweaks can be made at this early stage to avoid costly mistakes later. The images are also handy reference points for the trades too. They can see what I have in mind and alert me of any technical difficulties before we stumble on them in reality. Again, ensuring installation runs more smoothly.
3D images of multi-purpose space
You might notice from the images above that proportionately little space is devoted to cooking. Weird? Nope, it's more functional for me this way and when its not nuggets and chips, I love to cook! If I’m cooking when friends are round, I don’t have to budge them out of the way to get to the fridge. If boys come in the back door, they can access the fridge and food larder without getting in the way of the cooking and washing zones. It has galley style counters with the fridge just at the tip of the well-proven, kitchen triangle layout.
The focus as you come in the door is the view to the garden and the re-purposed kitchen table – saying to all who enter, sit down, you’re welcome, feel free to join us in food. And as the boys insisted on the banquette – there’s plenty of comfy seating!
Glazing and Outside area
The full height, aluminium framed, triple glazed, bi-fold doors lead onto a bigger patio than originally planned but as we were not extending we thought it a better use of the space than the small patch of grass between polytunnel and patio. The boys love the new, bigger patio space for basketball. Come summer there may be a bit of competition for the space though! I joke it's our new dance floor.
The Alu, sliding windows were a specific design feature I wanted to incorporate given the large patio and that we like to dine/entertain outside. They allow for dishes, drinks etc to be passed from barbeque area to kitchen without walking around the dining and snug areas. Specifying the windows and getting a colour to match with the units was the easy part but boy oh boy, what a saga the window supply and fitting was...
I’m not sure I can fully convey the anxiety, worry, terror, and disappointment in humanity we experienced along the roller coaster ride of getting the windows installed. In brief the windows held the job up by 5 months. That doesn’t look too bad on paper, but when you consider there was a month before that in preparation, and a month after it in finishing, that meant we did not have a proper functioning kitchen for 7 months! As I’ve said above, the kitchen is our hub and we really suffered as a family from the lack of it. The kitchen removal started in May and ran through autumn to winter. The window frames were installed in October and the glazing on the 21st of December! We cooked in the dark, freezing garage and ate in our lounge with 2 sets of stairs between them, bringing food to the boys on trays.
Now my business name is House Therapy HQ, because I believe your home should be your sanctuary, the irony of which did not escape me throughout this period. We felt disjointed as a family, stressed as parents and partners trying to project manage the build and life.
I’d like to note that although, as on any build, the windows often hold up progress, our experience was highly unique. The company we bought from is no longer trading. So be assured, the extent of this delay and worry are not common!
In addition the window supplier did not measure the height of the soffit from the patio outside the snug area to ensure enough clearance room. We discovered this when the fitter came to install the frames. He had to hack off some of the soffit to install the doors. Note too, this is the soffit that had already been replaced new for old by the builder.
The builder and I discussed what we could do, now the soffit detail had to be changed above the door. We agreed to carry the change along the back of the entire kitchen, including all windows and to make it a highlight of the build. So, we made the soffit protrude further from the building, with 3 columns for aesthetics and clad it all in cedar. It looks amazing and really elevates the rear aspect of the house. I’m really glad we did it, but it hadn’t been included in initial budgeting! Uh oh!
Howden's are relatively new kids on the block in our area, but I had heard about them in a UK context and when I priced the option it seemed to make sense. I knew what I wanted in terms of style and colour, they had it. I had already planned what exact units I needed so the planning consultation was smooth.
My previous kitchen was from Ikea. I had put it in for 5 years whilst my boys were little, but it was really robust and still looks amazing. This kitchen has a similar colour palette. The units are grey, this time matt and handleless. I weighed up having to wipe fingerprints versus the visual appeal of no handles – a very personal decision.
Any design is a series of choices of materials, functionality versus aesthetics and it’s so important to know how decisions impact further down the line, especially after the project is complete. There are definitely pros and cons of both this type of kitchen versus handing most of the project over to a specialist kitchen company.
If your project is imminent and you’d like to discuss the options right away please
contact me on the number above for a quick no obligation chat.
My next blog will address all the finer details of the scheme I chose and why. In the meantime, here's some of my favourite little moments our new space...
* Permitted Development Rights allow you to extend your house within strict parameters without applying for planning permission.. You should always discuss this with your architect or a planning professional. You do still require Building Control approval and inspections