THE COSTS
MATERIALS: £76,000
LABOUR: £62,000
FURNITURE AND ACCESSORIES: £4,000
TOTAL: £142,000

Family time was the main aim when my husband, Alex, 49, and I decided to have an extension, in particular a kitchen-diner area where the family could all be together. Our son, Harry, is now 14, and our daughter, Jessica, is 12, and it was dawning on us both that there weren’t too many years left with them living at home.
Our traditional-style 1950s home in Barnet, north London, had a separate kitchen and dining room, and this meant the four of us couldn’t eat together. The dining room had been taken over as the place where Alex or I worked from home, or where the kids did their homework, so the table was never tidy enough for us to use. Instead, we would eat off our laps in the living room watching television.
The priority was creating a kitchen-diner with bi-fold doors – so we could open up the space to the back garden. We wanted to be able to cook, eat and have a room where everyone could be together, but not be on top of each other.
We also wanted a study and a spare bedroom for guests with an en-suite, so I could have my own bathroom.

GETTING THE GO-AHEAD
An architect drew up the plans, but it was quite simple in that we wanted space at the side of the house where the> garage was at the time and to build out into the back garden.

We had an idea of what the space would look like and the architect did the drawings, but it was the builder – S-Style Buildings – who added to the internal roof area, which has been given a design feature. This came about after a visit by a building inspector, when we were told we had to increase the size of the supporting steel in the roof or the back of the house would fall down.
The builder ended up making a feature of this girder. It did mean the height of the ceiling had to be brought down, but the builder raised it in other areas so it doesn’t feel low. It really works, giving the room character.
There were some issues with the planning permission because we wanted to extend out into the garden by 4m, which was 1m more than our neighbours on one side. Fortunately, on the other side, our neighbours had gone out further than we were proposing, so when it was turned down, we appealed straight away. To be honest, I didn’t think 1m would make that much difference but it really does now it’s built.
The planning permission took two months, and once we’d appealed and it was so obvious it couldn’t be turned down because of the neighbours’ bigger extension, our application was accepted just two days later.
We were so pleased we had got the go-ahead. Now we could get started.

BEFORE

BIG DELAYS
The original plan was to stay put in our house until the old kitchen had to be taken out, which was supposed to be five weeks into the 13–16-week schedule.
Unfortunately, because of the steel girder issue, not only was the schedule massively extended and the build took 24 weeks (six months) in total, the kitchen had to be ripped out straight away. This meant the fridge and freezer were moved into the hallway, and balanced between the two was a piece of wood that had a camping stove, a kettle and microwave on top of it.
It was awful – I hated every minute of it! We didn’t really eat at home – the kids ate at my mum’s, who luckily lives just around the corner, and I ate at work. It was really Alex living off the stove and takeaways! It got really bad when the builders started knocking through the house, and when the hot water went off it became unbearable.
We went away for an unplanned two-week holiday and then I took the kids to stay at Mum’s two-bedroom flat while Alex remained in the dust-ridden house with no hot water, because there was no room for him! It was tough, but we moved back in a month later, when the kitchen had been installed and the house was liveable again.

GOOD DECISIONS
I had always wanted a country-style kitchen and I found one I loved in Wren Kitchens, which looked like the dream room I had imagined. We did look at lots of others, but ended up going back to the first one. It fitted what I wanted but wasn’t too traditional – as the house was modern that wouldn’t have worked.

We wanted an island and to have that all-important dining room table, plus to be able to cook and eat and look out and see everything that was going on in the garden through the bi-fold windows.
My favourite part of the new kitchen is the larder – I love it! It’s so simple – it’s just shelves – but it works so well. You don’t lose things at the back, the cereal packets fit, and you can put bottles of water upright and they don’t fall over. Everyone should have a larder, they are brilliant!
We also have a wine rack and the wine went in straight away; the builders were laughing at us when we did that as we had nothing else in the kitchen at the time, just the wine!
The main room has worked the best – I was surprised how much space the extension opened up and we still don’t use a quarter of it. I don’t know what to put in there – we are talking about having a pool table.
The whole space has worked brilliantly; it’s changed the way we live as a family. We are always in that room all together as we had planned.
Occasionally, our son, Harry, will go into the old sitting room, which has become the games room, but not very often. He and his sister even do homework in the big room, so they don’t feel as isolated.
We cook and chat and it’s lovely – just what Alex and I wanted. We also have underfloor heating in there, which is wonderful.
The best buy was the kitchen – I negotiated the price down from £35,000 to £14,000, so I was proud of myself. The only other new piece of furniture so far is the sofa, which fits perfectly in the space.

AFTER

SECRET ROOM
We did change the size of these rooms, as on the original plans the utility room was bigger than the study, but the builder said we didn’t need it that big as it wasn’t usable space. So we increased the size of the study and decreased the utility room dimensions.
Before the extension, we couldn’t fit our washing machine or tumble dryer into our small kitchen, so had to go outside in all weathers and into the garage to put a wash on or use the tumble dryer. This room has made a big difference, having it all inside in the warm!
The office is a bit of a secret room as it’s hidden and Alex is the only one who really uses it. If I work from home, I stay in the back room and look out at the garden as the office can get cold.
The one bad thing with the underfloor heating is that it warms the kitchen-diner really well, but the rest of the house is freezing! This is because the thermostat is in the family area, so if you crank it up to warm the rest of the house, this area becomes too hot and you have to open the door.
In the winter, we didn’t move out of the room because it was too cold everywhere else, but as we don’t use the rest of the downstairs of the house that much, it doesn’t matter.

CHANGING THE PLANS
The guest bedroom was built on top of the garage, so we just needed to add a little staircase and alter the shape of the upstairs landing. Originally, I was going to have a walk-in wardrobe in the bedroom but that became an expense too far. We had reduced the en-suite’s size to accommodate our wardrobe plans, so actually the bedroom is a good size now.

CUTTING COSTS
We have a very comfortable bed and dressing table, and the room is somewhere I can go for peace and quiet. The en-suite has an incredible shower, sourced from a supplier called Bathroom Cash & Carry, which is where we found all the bathroom fittings and fixtures.
We upgraded the original bathroom too, which is a little bit too blingy for my taste – perhaps in hindsight, we made a mistake in letting the builder decide what to have in there. But it is undoubtedly practical and it’s growing on me!
Because the builder took us to these suppliers, we managed to do both of the bathrooms much more cheaply – all the tiles were from Tiles DIY – than if we’d sourced the stuff ourselves, so we saved quite a lot on that.
We were so lucky because our builder did added extras that we simply had not anticipated – for example, he installed decking in the garden for us, fixed the water pressure, which was really low before, and sorted out all the lights that kept blowing and were slowly driving us mad.
We spent much more than we had planned to, but at least now it’s all done in one hit, which will save us money in the long run.
It was so worth doing this extension – as a family it has made such a big difference and we are all benefiting. Now I can’t wait for when the weather is warm enough to throw open those bi-folds and bring the outside in!

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