“Doing a job like this changes your family life”

It was a window of opportunity Tommy Barker couldn’t resist — the chance to view a busy family’s new extension

“Doing a job like this changes your family life”

IT was like Texas Hold ’Em — we were all-in, joke the couple in this just-extended, and much extended, 1960s suburban house. At the time of its building and completion, they had the full run of young family stresses: a jobs move, a house extension and full makeover in full flight after a house purchase — and a second baby on the way.

Unflappable, but also able to delegate (on the house front, at least), they made it through the juggling act in late 2012 and into early 2013, and today are comfortably home, in a light-drenched extended house which came in just under budget, have had an infant son arrive to join their daughter, along with a home with rooms and space for all and sundry, for decades to come.

So, only just settling in since spring, the last thing they needed was a call from the Irish Examiner wondering if they’d open it up and talk about the extension? They agreed — primarily because they enjoyed the process, and wanted to acknowledge their design and build crew. “Doing a job like this changes your family life, you have a better living environment,” they say — having previously rented a more compartmentalised, traditional semi-detached during this re-build process.

The couple had bought the Douglas area semi-d back about two years ago, ending a two-year market trawl and as soon as they saw the estuary views from all of its front windows, they went for it, more than happy to wage money on the location’s strength and committing to spend more to bring the place up to a modern specification.

From the front, there’s not too much to give away the scale of what’s happened out the back. Clues and pointers include the fact that they painted the house’s dash finish to smarten it up (the first in the semi-circle of houses to do so). The drive’s now a smart mix of granite sets, which sort of lays down a quality market, with gravel beyond, but the main sign of a considerable makeover is at the main/side door. It’s been done in warm-hued cedar cladding and linking to the front of the attached side garage (with secret door for getting thru’ access to the back garden) for a sense of woody enclosure and immediate welcome.

So far, so good, but step across the threshold, and from the central hall and through a back wall now replaced with a glass partition, this place opens out like the proverbial Tardis. There is space and light everywhere, and a floor plan to suit families of almost all ages, adding around 500 sq ft to the existing and dated 1,500 sq ft four-bedroomed semi.

Friends of the clients had recommended a Cork-based company, Corcoran Engineers & Architects. Sean Corcoran (project manager/engineer) and Richard Booth (architect), then came on board for the delivery and construction overseeing, as well as sourcing and specifying materials right up to the last fittings, or the first, such as the long vertical stainless steel front door grab handle which smacks of contemporary cool.

The biggest impact is the single storey rear extension, full width, with sliding doors opening up the newly-created living/dining space to a west-facing garden and sandstone paved terrace. It faces to another long wing which had been a stand-alone structure used as an aviary by previous occupants. Rather than knocking it, they annexed and upgraded this, so now it’s an adjacent home-office/guest bedroom/au-pair’s suite.

It has been linked visually, and quite lightly physically with the garage, which now is a walk-though utility/cloakroom. This ex-garage space gives loads of storage and hanging space, and with practical hard-wearing floor surface, can easily stand up to all thru’ traffic, from surfboards and buggies to wheelie bins and gardening apparatus.

The utility/former garage visually then bridges over to the en suite room beyond by the simple expedient of keeping the same flat roof running over both and over the main extension, and this open but roofed-over section is ideal for outdoor play, or Irish barbecues — handy as the couple had lived in Bondi beach in Australia for four years before coming home to put back down Irish family roots.

Tying the disparate elements all together for a successful indoor/outdoor blend of family living is the simple palette of white painted render, and dark grey windows, lots of them, and large ones at that, so that the place really is soaked in light. Then, what really works for this add-on is the way the extension’s flat-roof is pushed out a metre or so from the house’s original back wall, with a long-pitched glass section between the two, creating a very domestic atrium effect, and ensuring the kitchen within the house’s old rear section also gets lots of light.

It all makes for a super-large and airy open plan main kitchen/dining/living/lounging space all to the back of this once-standard semi. Now, the house’s east-facing front is home to a play room, and a guest bedroom near a hall guest WC. Diffused light gets around and into the hall thanks to sandblasted central glass panels in all the interior doors.

Every element of this 50-year-old house has had attention paid to it: fully re-wired and re-plumbed, there’s now underfloor heating under high-end laminate or tiled floors, all walls have been slabbed and insulated (even internal ones) and the rooms all still seem a decent size, and paints through our Farrow and Ball, with a pale grey shade called elephant’s breath(!) setting a restful tone from the wainscoted hall in and beyond.

The busy owners delegated a lot of sourcing and decision making to engineer Sean Corcoran and architect Richard Booth, having rapidly established a bond of trust. They had done preliminary homework using design mags and the likes of the website houzz.com for an electronic ‘scrapbook’ of looks and features they particularly liked. The architect then did up 3-D images of spaces and changes to bring the makeover really home to them, in advance of going for planning (no issues at all with planning), and in its delivery.

Spend costs are private, but Sean Corcoran says they are getting competitive tenders in for extensions now at under €100 per sq ft; final finishes can add on top of that basic sum, and upgrades done to the rest of the house in tandem are another considerable factor — factor in about €70 psf.

According to the architect “the designed solution was simple — to provide an open plan living arrangement that allowed the family to navigate their way around without interruption. Externally this modern-day dwelling presents an individual and welcoming presence to a well developed and perhaps a conservative residential area. To be innovative doesn’t have to be expensive!”

Case in point was the decision to go for a fibre-glassed flat roof over all of the rear sections. Richard says there’s still some common misconceptions regarding flat roofs “but if a flat roof is well designed, made with good quality materials and fitted by skilled tradesmen then it offers a number of benefits that a traditional pitched roof simply does not offer, such as being cost effective, easily installed, gives access to and storage of plant, ie solar panels, tanks etc, has more varied design options ie roof lights and recreational (eg roof garden) or decorative finishes are possible.

Agreeing to go with the flat roof philosophy, the couple living contentedly below it say “we’re both surfers and surfboards are made of fibreglass, so are most boats and if a boat can keep out the water, so can a fibreglass roof.”

They are high in their praise too for their main room’s window system, with smooth-sliding window/doors from Cork suppliers Amberline, topped off by post-box-like slotted opes, ideal for ventilating and airing when you don’t want to pull back an entire sliding pane (all glazing is triple glazed).

Lots of thought seems to have been given to sustainability and adaptability for different generations and access is good for all ages: the upstairs hardly seems needed! The upper floor had been home to four bedrooms, but that’s now reduced down to three because of the several bedroom options downstairs; thus the master bedroom has colonised space for a walk-through closet/dressing room leading to a high-end en suite.

The bathrooms wouldn’t be out of place in a luxury hotel, and in fact the happy residents here admit “it would want to be a pretty good hotel now to compete with what we enjoy here at home.”

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