Small space big on style

Small home extensions when carried out with clever internal remodelling can create dramatic open plan layouts. These new internal spaces are best when they benefit from additional natural lighting and secret structural beams. One project where the addition of a small space has created a big style is Osborne View.

The original attached house had been extended in the past with a two storey extension and a conservatory to the rear. The resulting layout created three different spaces on the rear ground floor which felt disjointed. In late 2010 we were engaged to design an extension to replace the conservatory as well as remodel the interior. Working with a newly extended  floor plan of only 9.6m2 (3.5 x 2.8m internally) we came up with a design which when coupled with the homeowner’s choice of kitchen created a small space that is big on style.

Our design opened the new extension out to the existing separate kitchen and dining rooms and introduced a utility in part of the original kitchen. The kitchen moved into the new extension and folding sliding doors completed the look.

The original house and conservatory.

The kitchen in the space of the old conservatory.

The island lit by overhead windows.

Sliding folding doors replace the rear window.

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Open plan layouts

The trend for modern open plan interior floorplans in British homes continues.  In the last couple of years every one of our clients who has planned an extension has made a modern open plan layout top of their wishlist. The advent of less draughty buildings coupled with a higher insulated fabric and better performing doors and windows means people can afford and want us to get creative with their family spaces. These open plan layouts usually combine the kitchen with the dining and living areas to create a multi functional space that becomes the social hub of the house. Long gone are the days when family members were confined to different zoned rooms, today’s layouts are all about the experience of shared activities and family involvement.  All this is a long way from the developer designs of separate kitchens, dining rooms and living rooms.

Open plan extension design

Modern open plan layout design

Seemless blend

Even if homeowners are willing to embrace open plan living, from a technical point of view, not all properties are so easy to adapt to a modern layout. Often the rear of an older home is divided into two spaces of the kitchen and dining room, with the design requiring not only the removal of the rear wall of the house to open it up to the new extension but also the wall separating the two rooms.  Securely and discretely supporting the upper structure in a seemless blend of old and new is a craft in itself. Lighting, ventilation, traffic flow, drainage, services, furniture and cabinet layouts all need to be thrown into the mix and require early attention for the design to work well.

Change in lifestyle

How home owners use and live in a home with an open plan layout often requires changes in lifestyle. The transformation of the floor plan to an open layout, is journey for the house and more often than not the home owner is on a similar journey of change.  Moving from separate kitchen and dining rooms to an open plan layout means that noise from appliances spills out into quieter areas. The need to store and discreet clutter when there is less available wall space for cupboards, becomes important and more often the need to separate the laundry and create a utility area may become necessary.

Flexibility is the word

Often conditioned by the spaces we live in, the flexibility of open plan rooms allows the space to flow and change around us as we change. Need more dining area for that big dinner get together? then just grab the space from the living room. Need more space to watch the game with friends? then move the Dining table. Open plan layouts are in demand even if many of the speculative house builders hadn’t quite noticed.

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What is the difference between planning and building control?

When it comes to gaining consent for their project, many people are confused about the regulatory roles of their local council. Most people are aware of planning, but often don’t realise there are two different consents that may be required.

Planning Permission

Planning permission is concerned with how the project relates to its setting and its neighbours. In determining the application the siting, design, scale and materials of the proposal will be considered, as well as its impact on neighbouring properties and the environment. Neighbours and the public have the opportunity to comment on planning applications through an open consultation during the planning process.

Planning applications are assessed against national and local planning policies taking into account the views of any objectors. Applications are decided by either planning officers or local councillors.

The public involvement and the role of local politicians in deciding planning applications can result in arguments for and against being both emotional and politically charged. Many planning policies are subjective in nature and therefore open to differing interpretation. The subjective nature of policies results in a degree of uncertainty regarding the outcome of most planning applications.

Building Control

Building control asses applications and the building work against national Building Regulations. The Building Regulations among other things safeguard a minimum standard of structural stability, sanitation, ventilation, energy conservation and access for disabled people. Building control not only determine applications, but carry out inspections of the work in progress.

Building control do not consult with the public and the regulations are written in a guidance style, with prescriptive requirements which are far less subjective in nature than planning policies. Building control is undertaken solely by technical surveyors without the involvement of local politicians in the process.

Which permission is needed?

Not all work requires Planning or Building Regulation consent. Certain small additions can be undertaken without consent being necessary which varies depending whether the house is attached or detached. Generally if you are building an extension or carrying out structural alterations, you will need Building Regulation approval. Other than for smaller extensions to the side or rear of a house, planning permission will be required. The Government’s Planning Portal provides householders with advice as to whether certain projects require permission or not. In all cases I would advise either discussing the proposal with the local authority, or an expert in this field.

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A coordinated approach to design

When owners of older homes plan improvements, they all too often set about redecorating, installing a new kitchen or bathroom, or adding an extension onto a space that was designed for a different generation without a proper overall plan. These homes built before the advent of central heating, decent insulation and modern domestic appliances, not forgetting today’s flat screen TVs and entertainment systems, are often packaged as a series of individual rooms with solitary functions.Coordinated design

A more coordinated approach to updating an older home would be to plan and decide how best to use the available space in the 21st century. This strategic approach should consider spatial flow, aesthetics, merging uses and reconfiguring walls and doorways. The strategy should question whether kitchens and bathrooms are in the right locations, whether certain functions are required and whether new spaces should be created, with all of this balanced by the individual requirements of how the owner lives.

All too often I encounter problems through my work where the owner has in the last couple of years, shelled out quite large sums of money on improvements, only for them not to work out, or be in the wrong place, when it comes to adding a simple extension or carrying out a further alteration. These problems are also all too common to anyone searching to buy a new second hand home, where the previous owners have carried out so called improvements. Having a coordinated planned approach to updating an older home would overcome these problems and helps create a home with space and style fit for the 21st century.

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Does a 100% success rate with planning applications mean that the architect is any good?

Like it or not, applying for planning permission is a bit of a gamble as to whether permission will be granted or not. However, some architectural practices boast that they have a 100% success rate with planning applications as a way of demonstrating their track record, but is this “approved each time” approach beneficial to the client and good design. On the face of it achieving 100% success with planning applications, something that is a bit of a risk, appears to be excellent, but the real question has to be; how is that success achieved?

Safe design

If the approach taken, is to only create “safe” non controversial designs that do not push the boundaries of what is possible and achievable, then that would not be in the interest of clients seeking an unusual design.

Withdrawal of application

If an architectural practice encourages the withdrawal of planning applications that come under objections from neighbours or the planning office as a way of avoiding  a rejection, only to reapply with a diluted or compromised scheme, that again may not be in the best interest of the client. The early withdrawal of an application to avoid a refusal in this way, indicates self doubt and suggests lack of true commitment and belief in the original proposal.

Pre application advice

The approach of seeking the advice of the local planning authority on every domestic application as a way of hedging their bets and improving the chances of planning permission is a route I would not advocate for professional designers. Seeking pre-application advice should be reserved for projects that appear tricky from the outset, or are on listed buildings or within Conservation areas.   The planning system and design is very subjective in its nature. Yes, there are prescriptive rules that must be adhered to, but when it comes to good design and issues of scale, character and bulk that is more difficult to quantify. Before asking a planning officer to comment on a radical or unusual design at an early stage, you need to be aware of the implications. If the planner should take a dislike to the scheme, would you be prepared to modify the proposal or abandon the idea before it saw the light of day in favour of a more conservative design?

The acid test

The acid test of any planning application is to let it run its course, see what objections there are if any, and let a decision be taken by the local authority. The decision may be by the planning officers’ under delegated powers or may be out of their hands and taken by a committee of elected councillors. Sometimes they get the decision right, sometimes they get it wrong. Our website features two properties that were refused by local planning authorities on design grounds, that went on to gain approval on appeal.

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Outdoor Space and Style

The trend started in the USA for gardens to be designed as rooms, which can be an extension of the home during mild weather is catching on in Britain.  Homeowners are increasingly looking for their social spaces in the garden to be more than just place where a table and chairs is placed on the patio.

The ingredients of these outdoor rooms often feature comfortable sofas, generous tables for alfresco dining, screening, good lighting and easy access to the house and garden. If you want to create your own outdoor room the great news is that there are few rules of how best to design one. Day beds, fire places, hot tubs, hammocks and even chandeliers can feature in rooms in the garden, the only mandatory rule is that the emphasis should be on comfort and chilled relaxation.


Whilst it is too late to plan your outdoor space in the garden for this year, now is the perfect time to start planning for next year to make the most of the spring weather.

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