Dermot Bannon: home makeover... inspirational kitchens
Kitchens are the heart of the home, so investing in opening up and revitalising a tired extension is money well spent.
My kitchen extension is too dark. It was built 20 years ago on to the house, but it's got little light. For an extension it is small, we don't eat in there and I have little space for food prep. It faces north and is cold all year round. I really don't enjoy it and would love to knock it down and start again, but we have a limited budget to do this work. What do you think is important that we can talk to our builder about?
This looks like a very typical kitchen extension that lots of people have added on to their houses up and down the country. Most people were lured by the thought of new kitchen cabinets and built an extension completely around them.
This was normally in the form of a new room tacked on to the existing kitchen with a door between the two rooms. In a lot of cases this actually made the layout of the house worse as the small existing kitchen then became a dark living room with no direct window into the room.
The fact that you walked through it to get to your new kitchen meant it became a glorified corridor, making the room feel uncomfortable to relax in.
Your extension faces north which means that there is no direct sunlight into the kitchen - the room you probably spend 90pc of your time in. This was a typical solution to a need, but whilst they created more physical space, it left the house in what I think is a worse condition, with a series of small dark rooms which just don't function.
Unless it is properly insulated, a north-facing extension will always feel a couple of degrees colder than those rooms on the opposite southern part of the house.
I can see from your photo that the condensation is leaving some black marking on the walls. This means the walls are freezing and there is poor ventilation in the room. From what I can see, all the external walls in the house seem to be covered in kitchen units leaving a very small area for a window, which is the only connection with the garden.
No matter how small the space you have outside, you should make full use of it and try and forge some sort of connection to it.
What's the solution to your problem? I think we all need to accept that we spend a huge amount of time in our kitchens - this is where we like to cook, and hang out with our families or friends, usually most visitors to our homes go straight to the kitchen.
To maximise the space in your kitchen, you need to knock through to the room adjacent to the kitchen (the walk-through room), getting rid of one or two under-utilised rooms (the good dining room with the Christmas decorations still on the table!). This should increase the size of your kitchen living space to 50pc of the ground floor area.
Once you have the space you need to capture some views, I would open out the back wall of your extension to the garden space you have beyond - this will have the most dramatic effect on how the room feels.
Opening up will not only give you a view and a connection, but will also borrow space from outside, making your room feel a lot bigger. I would put in as large a glass area as you can afford, but be careful to use a window system with a low u-value because you are north facing. The u-value of a window lets you know its insulating properties so try to look a figure of below 0.1 if you can. I would then divide the room into three zones, a dining space, an area for a couch and/or some seating and a kitchen workspace. I would put the dining table into the space close to the glazing and overlooking the outside. We do tend to hang out around the kitchen table so put it in the best spot.
Then find a cosy spot to put a seating area - again as close to the garden as possible, but put it into an area that it doesn't become a walk-through. Finally, put the kitchen on the opposite wall to the glazing, deep into the space, with an island unit looking back into the room. This frees up the wall to the garden for glazing and the island will focus back out to the view.
As it faces north, to get light into the room you need to go through the roof. Even in a north-facing back garden there will be a spot where the sun will come over the roof of the main house and hit the roof of the extension. This is where you need to locate a roof light to throw sunlight back into the space, even if it's at the very back.
Finally, to make the room warm, I would hold back some of your budget for insulation. If you can afford it, go for external insulation, if not I would combine pumping the wall cavities with insulation and internally insulating the walls. There are grants available for this work through seai.ie.
I reckon that we actually spend about 80-90pc of our home time in the kitchen, yet they are often the smallest rooms in the house.
Dermot's top five tips for dark, cold kitchen extensions
1 Increase the physical space
2 Open up a wall to the garden
3 Move the dining area next to the window
4 Let light in with a skylight
5 Add insulation