Dermot Bannon's bright ideas
The architect and TV star answers your home improvement questions.
How can I bring light into the sitting room?
I have recently bought a 1930s two-storey, mid-terrace house in Dublin. There is a kitchen extension right across the back of the house, which is north facing, and a small room at the front, both of which get plenty of light.
my main concern is...
...the sitting room in the centre, which runs the width of the house. It's very dark and, as a result, uninviting. The previous owners installed double doors from the sitting room to both of the rooms that border it. When these are opened it helps with the light but also decreases the space in the sitting room significantly. What could I do to brighten up this dark room and get more light into the house?
Leslie, Whitehall, Dublin
Thank you very much for your letter and congratulations on your new home. From the photographs I can see that you are struggling to lay out the house and put any kind of order onto it. The front room, while it may be bright, is small, and looks like it could be tight as a family living space. The middle room is completely land-locked by the two rooms either side of it and with the two doors open it really becomes a large glorified corridor between the front and the back of the house. The kitchen dining space to the rear looks to function well but as it's north-facing, it is dull with no direct sunlight.
I am assuming, as you have said that the house is mid-terrace, that there is no way to get any further light in through the sides of the house as it is hemmed in on either side.
The architectural problem you are having with your new home is one of the most common I come across in Ireland. For a long time in this country when we were stuck for space the first port of call was the local builder. Good at his job as he may be, he is not a designer, so the simple solution to the space problem was to stick some type of lean-to extension at the rear of the house and simply knock through a door to it. Problem solved! Well no, not really. Best case scenario, it gave you a slightly better space but in most instances it just pushed the problem you had in the first place further out the back into the garden and in most cases destroying the space that was left behind. This, like in so many other cases, is what has happened in your home.
The original kitchen and dining room in your home would have been in what's now that awkward middle sitting room, probably in a layout not dissimilar to what it is at the moment, the same length, and from the photographs it looks virtually the same width. All that financial investment in the extension moved the kitchen out a bit but left a room behind that is virtually useless and to my mind has actually made the layout of the house worse. The entire ground floor would feel and function far better without the extension. It's a huge mistake people make, extending a house without really considering what happens to the room it connects onto, the room left behind.
You may think that at the very least you have an extra room even if it doesn't work that well, but technically, according to the building regulations, you don't. The regulations state that the room in the middle of your house could only be considered as a storage room or what's known as a "non-habitable" space. In order for it to be considered a functioning room it needs to have an opening window to the outside to allow fresh air into the space. Your house should really have been sold as "a two storey, mid-terraced house, with kitchen, sitting room and one large storage room!"
So how do you solve your problem with the living space and make it into a functional, usable room? Firstly, you need to sort out the ventilation issue by physically connecting it to either the front room or the kitchen to the rear. I would suggest the room to the rear and maintain a sliding or set of double doors to the front room. It will still be a heavily trafficked area so I would locate the busy kitchen hub into the middle room at the centre of the house and then using a bookshelf as a room divider or a cleverly positioned stove, you could create a living space to the rear of the house (where the kitchen is now) taking advantage of its view out to the garden, with a dining space adjacent. If you can afford to, I would then open up some of the back wall of the house (as you now won't need it for kitchen cabinets) and perhaps introduce a little window seat here.
In the middle room, I would put your kitchen units down the side of the room running from front to back with an island or peninsula in the middle - this will allow a flow through the house from front door to the garden. The little south-facing snug room to the front of the house will now throw light into this space when the new sliding door opens.
If you plan the layout of this middle room, the new kitchen, cleverly, you may be able to steal a little sliver of space to form a small utility room, a really valuable space in every home. It doesn't have to be very big but it will be incredibly useful.
While you will get borrowed light through the house from the south-facing front room, I think it would be worth investing in a roof light to the rear room, the new living and dining space - this will get the morning sun from the east and the last of the evening light from the west. Good luck with the project!
Dermot's next column will appear on January 30. If you would like him to solve your house problems, email a detailed description to dermotbannon
@independent.ie. Please include photographs of the building.
Off the wall
Moving kitchen cabinets
By removing kitchen cabinets from the back wall, and moving them to the side walls, you open up the view to the garden.
Table with a view
Repositioning dining space
Moving your dining table to a prime location with optimum views of the garden is sure to make for relaxing meal times.
On the bright side
Light from above
It can be worth investing in bringing light in from the roof, illuminating the rear living space.
Amanda Bone Architects. Photo: Ross Kavanagh
Garbhan Doran Architects photo Paul Quinn