Dermot Bannon: How you can open up the space you already have
The architect and TV star answers your home improvement questions.
How can we open up the space we already have?
We live in an extended land commission cottage which we bought in 1989. The house consists of 1 x front small entrance porch, 2 x living rooms, 1 x long kitchen, conservatory, 1 x small added-on utility/porch, 1 x downstairs bathroom, hall, 3x bedrooms downstairs. Fifteen years ago we were granted permission for a new roof and stairs off the middle hall, with two bedrooms and a bathroom, which was completed. We now have a small amount (approx ¤50k) to spend on the house. We think the downstairs needs to be opened up and we would love a front door leading into the central hall.
Our two concerns are :
1 Can the corner wall visible in the living room be removed to open up the room? Would this cost a bomb if it is a supporting wall?
2 Would you advise dividing the kitchen to allow for a side main entrance, demolishing existing utility and having direct access to a hallway in the middle of the house?
Catherine and Thomas
Hi Catherine and Thomas,
Thank you for your letter, it seems like you have your work cut out trying to put some order onto what seems to be a pretty rambling house. Most of the rooms seem to have at least two doors going in and out of them. A lot of people have extended their homes in a piecemeal fashion adding on a little here and there as their needs and circumstances have changed over time. In a lot of cases little extensions added to a house have satisfied an immediate need but had a detrimental effect on other rooms. The classic being the new kitchen extension that gave a great new kitchen and units but left the existing room as nothing more than a glorified corridor.
You are hoping to spend a sum of €50k which is a significant amount of money but not a huge sum when it comes to building costs, so I would advise perhaps getting someone to have a look at the overall house as you may not need an extension. A better option might be a clever reworking of the existing house to make it work better, to rationalise the piecemeal development over the years. The photos that you have provided make it somewhat difficult to understand the layout of your house so I have used some guesswork to piece it together.
In your question you mentioned that you would like to take down a corner wall to open up the room. I think the combined living and kitchen area should be re-worked to make it feel bigger, brighter and more connected to the great garden you have outside. The living area at one end of this room feels like a bit of a walk-through and it seems from some of the photographs that it is quite a dark space. By lining both walls of the kitchen with presses, it does sever the connection with the garden and the potential views in the room, and although there is a sliding door at the end of this room, it could be much larger.
I also think that the dining area could be better as it seems to be an island lost in the middle of a very busy space. It could be located in a better position, where it could be a more relaxing space.
From looking at the photographs it seems the utility room is a very bright space which is a shame as the living space seems to be so dark in comparison.
You indicated in your letter that you would like to demolish the existing utility room and re-work it to incorporate an access to the central corridor. This new extension should also help in the reconfiguring of the kitchen and living area to make it feel better. I would look at putting the utility room into the area that the living space is now whilst maintaining the route through to the sitting room.
I would then move the kitchen into the space where you are rebuilding the utility room, which will free up the existing kitchen space. Then, with no kitchen units lining the walls, I would put in a couple of windows either down to the ground or to a height where you can have a window seat. I would put the dining area here with a nice view to the garden and at the end of this area I would move your seating area to be close to the garden - you could perhaps put a little stove into this area to make it a cosy spot.
To go back and answer the first part of your question, yes you can take out the corner to open up the space, however you will need to get a structural engineer to take a look at the wall and what it is holding up. Steel is relatively inexpensive but it's the labour in putting it in that costs. The entire floor upstairs may need to be propped or held up - you may even need to look at re-plastering upstairs if it needs to be pinned.
As outlined before, I found it difficult to piece together your house from the photographs so I would strongly suggest that you get someone to have a look at the house in its entirety - with a view to rationalising the layout and making the spaces that you already have work - before you go and spend any money on the house.
You mentioned in your longer letter that you don't have planning permission for the porch and the conservatory, you will need to retrospectively apply for retention planning permission for these. You are allowed to add 40sqm to your house to the rear as an exempted development but this area needs to take into account any extensions to the original house built after 1963 even if you already had planning for them. Most people get caught out on things like an already converted garage or a converted attic, these spaces need to be included in your overall calculation.
Good luck with the project,
Best seat in the house.
Moving your dining area to a position with a great view of the garden makes for very relaxing meals.
The combined living and kitchen area should be re-worked to make it feel bigger, brighter and more connected to the great garden you have outside.
Let there be light
Bring the outside in.
Large glass doors from the kitchen/dining area to the garden really brighten up the whole room.