Dermot Bannon: 'Make the most of unused rooms by creating open spaces'
Make the most of unused rooms by creating open spaces, says the renowned architect and star of Room to Improve.
How can we make our house fit for purpose?
The house was built in 1987 and at that stage we had four children under eight years old - we since added another. Ages now range from 24-37 and all are living independently. We have two grandchildren (two years old and five months) who live a few miles away. I feel the house is not fit for purpose anymore. A lot of our double glazing has faulty seals at this stage, so I feel we need to change the windows at least.
My main issues with the house are:
1 Downstairs is bigger than upstairs because we turned the double garage into a playroom and built on a conservatory in 1992 (mainly because I needed more light and our living room is very dark, being at the front of the house - north-facing, I think).
2 Upstairs there's five bedrooms, most of which are not spacious enough. The master bedroom has an ensuite which is great, but the room itself doesn't have enough storage space, or moving around space. I also feel the bed is on the wrong wall, but because of built-in units, it's not possible to move it. With five bedrooms, all empty most of the time, I'd like to be able to enjoy space (and light) in our bedroom.
Dermot replies: Hi Bernadette,
Thank you for your email. I have recently finished a project for my mother and father-in-law who were in the same predicament as you. They had five children who all flew the nest some time ago so, what was a very busy household became a warren of rooms with just the two of them in it. They wanted to move the house beyond just functional and utilitarian to somewhere they could enjoy at various times throughout the day. The things that they didn't notice when the house was a bustling hive of activity were becoming more irritating as they spent more time at home since retirement.
The requirements of your home have changed dramatically over the last 15 years and now, as you move into a different stage in your life, you want to enjoy living there just as the house needs to reflect your lifestyle. While it is great to have rooms to escape to (and we all need that), you really don't need a huge clatter of unused rooms that you (as you have said in your letter) store junk in. The house should now be about great spaces that work for the two of you, but be able to accommodate the family, light and the garden.
Your house was built in a typical style, putting all of the main living rooms to the front with large windows (north-facing), with your playroom in the converted garage and what were seen as utilitarian rooms (including the kitchen) with much smaller windows, to the rear of the house, which is south-facing. The back of your house has a utility room with the oil tank in front of it, a small kitchen window, the conservatory which sucks up any light that may get into the dining area and a living room beside the dining area. There is a huge amount of circulation here with all of the doors opening into this area, making it feel like a dark grand central station!
It looks like you have a great garden and are not overlooked, and the fact this is all south-facing is a really big bonus. The biggest problem with the back of your house is the conservatory and I think it is time for it to go. As you said yourself, you can't use it in the winter and it is allowing cold air into the dining area. For a room that has little or no function, it steals a lot of light. Removing it would allow you to open up as much of the back of the house as possible.
If you were brave enough and had the budget, I would open up the entire back of the house from one side to the other to give you morning light from the east (utility, back corridor), at the back in the afternoon to the south, and capturing the sun setting in the west from where your living room is now.
Your utility room and service area could be moved into where the playroom is now and you could turn this space into a great breakfast area as there is loads of morning light here (as you can see in your photos). Adjacent to this, I would then take all your kitchen units from the outside wall and put them on the opposite wall, open up the back wall and place a kitchen island in the middle so you can work looking out to the garden.
Next to this, and if the back wall is opened up, it will create a great dining area overlooking the garden. To the west I would create a living space, with windows to the south and west. You will then get light across the entire back of the house and a great big open-plan space in the warmest sunniest part of the house. You could place a stove in the middle of the room, acting as a room divider but allowing the space to flow with light from east, south and west. For the times when you want to watch different TV programmes or be on your own, you have the living room and study to the front of the house.
Upstairs, I would join two rooms together to get a bigger master bedroom with an ensuite. This will still leave you with three guest rooms for returning family members but leaving a greater percentage of the upstairs for you. If you could, I would have part of your room to the eastern side of the house and introduce a window here to make the most of the morning sunshine.
If you would like Dermot to solve your house problems, email a detailed description to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include photographs of the building.
4 inspirational ideas
Twice as nice
Combining large sliding doors and overhead windows doubles the effort of catching all the light.
DMVF Architects / Photo Ros Kavanagh
Knock knock, open wide
Large sliding doors marry the indoor and outdoor spaces beautifully, creating a perfect free-flow between the two.
Dermot Bannon Architects / Photo Alice Clancy
Kitchen cabinet placement
Moving kitchen cabinets from the outer wall to the side allows you to make full use of an uninterrupted view to the garden.
John Feely Architects / Photo Ros Kavanagh
Light from above
Catching the rays
If possible, allowing light in from above is a great way to illuminate a living space.
Dermot Bannon Architects / Photo Alice Clancy