Simon and Jo Cochrane spent 18 months renting a house in Nottingham while they hunted for a family home in the vicinity. They really wanted to get onto the local area’s housing ladder, and even got as far as making offers on a couple of properties. “The sellers kept pulling out at the last minute,” says Simon. “It was all a bit fraught.”
Taking on a major project was not something the couple had seriously considered until they viewed a 1950s detached house in the conservation area of Mapperley Park. The location was ideal – close to schools and work – but the brick-built property was tired and dated.
The couple knew that they wanted a more contemporary-looking home, with a bright and spacious kitchen. “We invited a few architects to visit, including Boyd McAfee of McAfee Design. He’s a friend of a friend and lives locally,” says Jo. “His tastes mirrored our own and we liked his ideas. From the start we told him that this wouldn’t be a show home and that it needed to be somewhere we could enjoy living together as a family.”
Boyd’s design cleverly merges the old and new parts of the house. Upstairs the four bedrooms and master ensuite remain unchanged in size and shape, while the bathroom has been enlarged and combined with a neighbouring WC and airing cupboard. The ground floor is now totally unrecognisable, however, and has been extended by 3m to the rear, with a further 5m addition to one side.
The key aspect of the transformation is at the rear. “Boyd’s design gave us all the space we wanted without eating into too much of the back garden,” says Simon. “We loved the idea of having an open-plan kitchen with glass doors leading out onto the patio.
We’ve added plenty of storage to keep the area free of clutter. Our study and sitting room have remained in the same positions downstairs, but all the zones in the house have been given complete makeovers.”
Planning permission was required for the alterations, which involved swapping the concrete roof tiles for Welsh slate, covering the brick walls with insulated render and exchanging all the windows for aluminium-framed double-glazed units (except for one set at the facade, which is timber to match the entrance door).
Jo and Simon employed a main contractor to undertake the project following a tender process. “We invited four companies to quote and chose the second cheapest, who seemed like a good fit,” says Simon. “We funded most of the work privately and topped up our mortgage by £100,000 to pay for the rest.”
The excavation works for the garage meant the front door was raised 3m above ground level for part of the project, so the builders needed to make a temporary wooden external staircase by which to enter the front of the house. “The drive was covered with rubble and living in the property over the course of the scheme wasn’t a great experience; in fact it was probably a big mistake,” says Simon.
“We basically camped out in the reception room, and the only running water downstairs was in the toilet. Our son Alex was seven and Jo was pregnant at the time. We wanted to make sure that everything was finished before our second son, Dawson was born.”
Brick and block walls were constructed and an enormous steel joist was craned over the roof to support the rear glass wall, which runs across the back of the extension and culminates in two sets of bifold doors in the dining area. These concertina out to completely open up one corner of the new space to the paved patio beyond.
In addition to the extension, the aesthetics of the existing house were given a significant upgrade. “It only took a couple of days to re-slate the main pitched roof, which has made a huge difference,” says Jo. “Covering the old brickwork with white insulated render gave the exterior a much cleaner, more contemporary look, which is emphasised by the new grey windows. These were all major changes, which make the house seem more like a new build rather than a refurbished property.”
Not only has the look of the house improved enormously, but the addition of insulation – both internally and externally – plus the high performance aluminium windows has dramatically increased its thermal efficiency and reduced fuel bills.
The entire property has been rewired and re-plumbed, with underfloor heating laid in the extension and radiators used elsewhere. “We also installed solar thermal panels on the rear slope of the roof to heat our water, although as it happens these have been a big disappointment,” says Simon. “They’ve never worked properly and I’m actually thinking of having them removed.”
The staircase down to the converted garage forms a partial divide between the kitchen/living room and the adjacent open-plan dining area, where bifolds open onto the new terrace. Ceramic floor tiles have been laid here, with the original parquet restored in the entrance hallway and study. Work was carried out by a local specialist company to carefully bring the wood covering back to life.
Overall the project took a year to complete, and during this time Simon also found time to organise the landscaping. “We didn’t get too hands on, although I oversaw the construction of the deck and block paving,” he explains. “We used reclaimed sleepers to create a raised bed and installed a contemporary pod-style garden room, which was great for escaping from the house in the summer.”
Seeing the modern design come to fruition was exciting for the Cochranes, who had always previously lived in traditional homes. Having such an open-plan living space suits the family’s lifestyle, and the connection to the garden is ideal for sons Alex, now 10, and two-year old Dawson.
The house was shortlisted for the prestigious RIBA East Midlands Regional Awards in 2014. “We did push our budget to the extreme to get the level of finish that we wanted, such as the bespoke kitchen,” says Jo. “Not everything went smoothly, and the work took longer than expected because some of the plastering and rendering needed to be redone.”
It’s been worthwhile despite the cost and disruption, and the couple believe it cost less than demolishing the house and starting again would have. “Many people think it’s a new build, but our renovation has given us a home designed to our needs in a lovely location, which makes the most of the sloping garden and gives us a fantastic open living space where we spend most of our time,” says Jo.