Britain has seen a vast increase in its housing stock since the 1950s, but a common complaint is that these homes lack character, space and fail to suit modern living. While post-war houses may lack the detail, height or even solidity of their Victorian counterparts, they are, in many ways, far easier to improve and alter. Unlike period homes where homeowners are often reluctant to alter original features such as windows or fireplaces, you’re presented with much more of a blank canvas.

Many late 20th-century houses are quite conservative in their design and don’t really fit in with the period in which they were built. In the 1950s and ’60s, simple elegant houses were produced; from the 1970s onwards we have seen poor pastiche copies of earlier design periods. It’s only in the last 20 years that major housing developers have started to look to build mass-produced modern designs, yet much of the new housing stock is simply dull.

So, how do you go about transforming these bland houses?

There are many elements that can be altered with relative ease, including:

  • A new contemporary door — perfect for creating a great first impression, especially if you’re replacing a poor imitation door.
  • Changing the windows — look at the aluminium, timber and PVCu options. Many contemporary houses have aluminium windows with larger panes of glass. So, as well as replacing the window, look to enlarge (if possible) the size of the physical window opening. I have recently been looking at a house built in 2000 and the windows are so small that the interiors are actually dark. We have sought to enlarge the windows to give the house a unique and improved look.
  • Improving performance — this is a no-brainer when looking to reclad your property: choosing to add external insulation can help improve the performance of the house and save on energy bills.

Upgrading the Exterior

You can completely alter the architectural look of your home with new external materials that will disguise (or enhance) the original house. However, if you want to go down the route of recladding your house and want to get maximum benefit for your buck then there are a number of key questions you should ask:

What views do you want to enhance?

Changing the ‘skin’ of the building allows you to alter window sizes and, crucially, the positions. If there are any views from the site that you want to maximise on, then this could be your chance. Also, if your house is clad in brick and you intend to add a new skin, then any damage to the bricks during the work can all be hidden behind the new materials.

What internal alterations should you consider?

If you are going to change the outside of the building, then think about the inside as well, as the internal spaces will no doubt be impacted if you opt for an extension. Look at the rooms and how they work together. Do the rooms need opening up? As such, you might identify a new feature that is needed on the elevations — the internal spaces should dictate the design of the elevations, not the other way around.

Can you change the shape of the house?

The physical shape of the building can be altered as well as the materials. If you are going to the expense of altering the façade, now is the time to add an extension so that everything will match — or you could indeed remove an ugly existing extension. Also think about the shape of the roofs. In addition, could a new entrance porch add to the building form?

How important is it to bring in extra light?

Many standard houses suffer from a lack of natural light, so an external makeover can provide an opportunity for you to introduce lightwells into the core of the building. Not only is creating lighter spaces possible, but the ability to ventilate a property with a ‘light’ chimney will add comfort in the summer months, too.

Updating a Mid-Century Terraced Council House

This makeover from Selenky Parsons has cleverly transformed an estate home

Selencky///Parsons ( were enlisted to extend and modernise this end of terrace mid-century ex-council house in south-east London. The two-storey side extension has been formed by telescopically offsetting two brick gable walls, each smaller than the last, like a series of Russian dolls.

Black zinc and glazing, which envelopes the house, has then been inset between the brick walls. Internally on the ground floor, an open plan layout is now a sequence of zoned spaces to aid the flow between rooms and to create a strong connection with the rear garden

Choosing the Right Material

The choice of materials is vast and if you can, seek the advice of a designer who will guide you in the right choice for your property. An area may have a certain character or material so before you choose, check with the planners.

Many homeowners want to achieve a certain aesthetic, be it a New England style with overlapping timber boarding, or a clean modern villa in render. The main cladding choices tend to be timber, render, metals, shingles, tiles and brick slips. Each requires fixing to the original surface, and the risk is that poor installation can not only fail but devalue the property.

When choosing materials, you also need to address the level of maintenance. Larch and cedar, for instance, don’t require a varnish or stain and can be left to naturally weather to a silvery grey. If you apply oil to maintain the original colour then you are going to have to repeat this every three years. Cheaper softwoods can be used for external cladding but they will require some treatment and staining if they are to last.

Note that adding new materials will add weight to the walls too, so you must make sure the building can cope with the final finish you choose. Consult a structural engineer or your designer to make sure.

When you add a new material to the exterior, it’s just like putting a jumper on — you can end up sweating. A building acts in a similar way. Your designer must therefore assess that the condensation point doesn’t occur in the construction build up. External materials are often designed with a free air/ventilation gap to prevent this. Do your research carefully.

New England-Style Makeover

An extension and Marley Eternit cladding system helped in transforming this Hampshire home

Formerly clad in brick and old render, this Hampshire home was given a New England-style makeover, thanks to a remodel by designer Paul Gallie from WSW Consultancy. To achieve a crisp finish, the existing property has been rendered in JUB render, and clad in neutral-coloured fibre-cement boards from Marley Eternit to evoke an American style.

Open Up the House Plan

The removal of one key wall can revolutionise a standard house, but it can be daunting to work out how best to go about opening up rooms. There is the (often) more straightforward option of knocking a dining room and kitchen together to create the modern-day kitchen diner, which is high up on many homeowners’ wishlist.

For those looking to open up the plan more radically, it is worth consulting an architect or engineer at the planning stage as some of the internal walls may well be structural and supporting the upper floors. If combined with a new extension, then the new space is brought into the existing house maximising the impact of the new form.

Link Floor Surfaces

Simply using a common floor material throughout a ground floor – such as timber, polished concrete, tiles or luxury vinyl tiles – can create a sense of unity. I was brought up in the 1970s when every room had a different (and often hideous!) carpet, so simplifying materials can help modernise a house.

Extend to Enhance Space

If your house is average like many houses are, then adding an extension could be the answer for gaining extra accommodation and transforming the façade of the building. Decide what is the single most important thing the new extension should achieve. It may be the use of one particular material, to create a window facing a view, or even the position of a woodburning stove.

Don’t be tempted to try and get all your ideas to work. The hardest task for a designer is to decide what not to add. On a small project, focus on the quality of ideas and make them work harder.

Picking the Right Style

If your house is neutral in its architectural form or bland then the choice is very open. If the house has a replica Georgian style, then creating a modern extension is going to be harder to get right. I am not saying that styles can’t be mixed but the chance for getting it wrong increases where the existing house has an existing distinctive style or material used.

We are often asked what style is right. Just because your house is brick or render doesn’t mean that your new extension should follow suit. The project to extend can allow you to contrast. In many instances it is better to contrast and indicate that the building is different. I think too often people are hung up on matching. So if your house is a bland box then adding more blandness is hardly going to create something of excitement.

Equally, many estates have been blighted by poorly constructed conservatories — many totally out of proportion with the house. Replacing conservatories with extensions provides an opportunity to create a room that is well insulated and can be used all year round. The style of the building extension will come partly from what you want the building to do. A kitchen extension will have different requirements and demands to a living room.

Getting light into most buildings is vital and building an extension can both improve the light and – get it wrong – make it darker still. So work with your designer to get the light right. This could be rooflights or wall glazing, or even the internal colours.

Remodelled 1960s Home

Architect Neil Turner and his wife transformed this 1960s house into a contemporary family home

Architect Neil Turner and wife Anita have completely overhauled this ugly duckling property. With a view to combining the ’60s feel of the house with a contemporary makeover, the couple ripped off the roof, to help integrate the blockier side extension. A large zinc-covered roof overhang has been used to provide shelter on the south elevation from the sun and the original pillars clad in iroko.

The Planning Rules and Buidling Regulations

Planning stipulates that permission is not required if materials are similar to the original, so if you are replacing brick with brick or re-doing render then you should be fine. However, I would suggest when combined with changes to windows and larger openings that most will require permission and it is best to consult your local planning department for advice.

If you live in a listed building, you will need listed building consent for any significant works whether internal or external. If you live in a Conservation Area or any such designated areas, you will need to apply for planning before changing the exterior.

There is also building control to satisfy. For instance, if you intend to re-render or replace timber cladding to external walls, Building Regulations may apply depending on the extent of the work.

Where 25 per cent or more of an external wall is re-rendered, re-clad, re-plastered, or re-lined internally – or in cases where 25 per cent or more of the external leaf of a wall is rebuilt – the regulations would normally apply and the thermal insulation would typically have to be improved.

In fact, one of the greatest benefits of re-cladding a house is to improve the thermal performance. Add insulation all around the house and then apply your chosen finish. In fact, to not do this is to waste a huge opportunity. This will allow an old house to be brought up to or even trump modern standards of thermal performance.

How to Save Money on Your Makeover

The cost can vary significantly with the choice of materials, the fixing method, the thickness of insulation and the original building that you are fixing to. If you’re tight on costs, then keeping the combination of materials down will help; it’s more economic to buy one material than two or three. The junctions between materials will also increase costs as the labour time and complexity increase.

Savings can be made on certain materials, but do be careful. Through-coloured renders are more expensive, but get rid of the need to paint. A sand cement render is cheaper to apply but will require painting every three years.

We are seeing more people wanting to radically alter their houses with a makeover. If done well, then it can really enhance a property. If done badly then it can spoil the look and worse still, cause issues for the building. I would encourage you to spend some of your budget on an architect who can advise you on the options and draw up some of your ideas.

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