Why move when you can improve? There are lots of reasons to extend, whether you want to create more space, add value to your home or just love the area in which you live. ‘The increasing cost and hassle of moving combined with uncertainty in the property market makes staying put an attractive prospect,' says Hugo Tugman, co-founder of Architect Your Home. ‘Many properties have untapped potential, and renovations can make a home more enjoyable to live in as well as adding to its market value.'
BE AREA AWARE Before you plan that extravagant extension or costly conversion, it's crucial to talk to a local estate agent to find out what renovations are popular in your area. Every street has a ceiling value so don't over develop if you want to see a good return on your investment.
RESEARCH FIRST ‘If your area is full of young professionals, family-friendly extensions are not the way to go,' says Michael O'Flynn of Findaproperty.com. ‘Ask agents for examples of extended properties they've sold and how much they went for.' FindaProperty.com has access to the Land Registry's sold prices info, plus properties currently on the market. ‘Plan wisely and you'll add more value than the amount spent,' adds Tugman.
Watch our video to see the Restoration Man George Clarke's home improvement tips.
While most contemporary extensions are a world away from those awkward structures that attempt unsuccessfully to blend in with an existing building, they've moved on from the ultra-modern glass boxes and mixed materials of the past few years. ‘People are still happy to change the structure of a building and do something a bit more dramatic, but purity is a big trend, and using lots of different materials is less fashionable than it has been,' says architect Guy Morgan-Harris. ‘Instead, opt for something more refined. Pure white-rendered extensions work well on period houses, or choose a design clad entirely in timber.'
Judith Tugman of Architect Your Home agrees: ‘Clients want simple, light, airy spaces - a blank canvas they can decorate and personalise. We're using natural materials to create modern extensions that are warm and functional.'
With more people working from home, studies are becoming an increasingly popular reason to extend. ‘We have lots of clients who want a work space that can be hidden away at the fold of a lever,' says Guy. ‘Many people are also converting rooms at the front of the house into an office, and redesigning the back of the house as the main living space. As a result, having your audio-visual equipment, plasma screen, lighting and Wi-Fi integrated into the structure is a clever idea.'
Unsurprisingly, there's also been a big move towards sourcing more environmentally sound materials, and government regulations mean that any new structure must adhere to energy-saving guidelines. ‘Materials such as bamboo, which is affordable, durable and eco friendly, are very popular, and people are also requesting low-VOC paints,' says Guy. ‘One in four lights in new structures should be low energy, and proper insulation is also key. In the long run, of course, all of these elements will cut down your energy bills as well.'
Why employ an architect?
‘It sounds obvious, but builders specialise in building things and architects specialise in designing spaces,' explains Judith Tugman of Architect Your Home. ‘Going straight to a builder means you miss out on the crucial design stage. By using an architect, you'll end up with a home that's right for you and that you'll love living in. Remember, too, a badly designed extension can actually reduce the selling price.'
You can hire an architect to manage all of the building process, including helping you secure planning consent and building regulation certification, finding a suitable builder, monitoring progress, standards and safety on site, arranging input from specialists and overseeing construction to completion.
‘Your relationship with your architect is very important, so it's crucial to find someone you're confident you can work with,' says Mark Dyson of Enclosure Architects. One of the best ways is through personal recommendation, or contact RIBA, which can provide a shortlist of architects with the skills to suit your project. Log on to architecture.com/useanarchitect for a directory of registered practices.
When you find an architect who appeals, ask to see their portfolio. Look at three recent jobs and visit finished projects. Don't forget to ask for references, and bear in mind a good practice will be in demand.
Preparing a brief
‘Design is not the same as art,' says Mark Dyson of Enclosure Architects. ‘An architect is, in fact, a problem solver, not an artist. Consider what you want from your extension and how it will make your life better.' Sit down with your architect and identify what you want to achieve. Don't overdo the brief, but make sure it's unambiguous and well-defined.
Setting your budget
‘Clients are sometimes cagey about money,' says Judith Tugman, ‘but if you give your architect a budget, they can assess what's possible.' And discuss it as a team - your architect may even be able to do a job for less, in which case you could have more to spend on fittings.
Up until quite recently, the front of the house was the most social area of the home and the kitchen and rear were purely functional spaces. Now, with cooking the nation's favourite pastime, open-plan kitchen-diners are increasingly in demand. ‘Buyers like spaces that suit their lifestyle and aspirations, and side extensions and large living/dining areas appeal to the way people live now,' says Michael O'Flynn. ‘Having a large, well-lit family space that has access to the garden is a big selling point.'
The latest ground-level extensions are seamlessly integrated inside, but also blur the boundaries between inside and out. ‘The flow of the structure, finishes and materials such as the flooring can work with the outside space to make them feel like the same entity,' says Mark Dyson. ‘Full-height doors can help to connect the interior to the garden, and even in the winter when the doors are closed it can still give the impression it's one large space.'
‘Loft conversions are always popular as they make use of existing space,' says Michael O'Flynn. ‘Adding an extra bedroom and bathroom can boost the value of your property by 15-20 per cent, and take it into a completely new price bracket.' Think carefully about who you employ, though. ‘If you choose an off-the-peg conversion company, you'll get an off-the-peg solution,' points out Judith Tugman.
Basement conversions are the most expensive and specialised projects to undertake, but a good idea if you live in a very high-cost area. ‘Conversion companies will charge around £250-£300 per sq ft to create extra living space under your existing home, and a 20 x 20ft basement in a London terrace can cost anything from £100,000 to £120,000 to convert,' says Michael O'Flynn. ‘However, it can provide a whole new floor, and internal living space in the most sought-after areas can cost more than £1,000 per sq ft, so the overall gain can be well worth the investment'
‘The majority of conversions we do are very much about leisure,' says Maggie Smith of The London Basement Company. ‘We create big family rooms with built-in plasma screens and audio equipment. It's important to remember to incorporate good storage, as well.'
3S Architects and Designers
Architect Your Home
Bauman Lyons Architects
Dominic Stevens Architecture 00 353 719 636988
Eldridge Smerin Architects
Ian Hay Architects
The London Basement Company
Martyn Clarke Architecture
Morgan Harris Architects
Paul Archer Design
William Tozer Architects