A unique home extension with a barrel vault ceiling

open plan kitchen and dining area in modern extension
(Image credit: 24mm Photography)

Architect Ben Allen designed a unique vault-like extension to a traditional terrace in York, responding to the local surroundings and the limited plot. 

Building an extension in this was has given the home a new lease of life with a focus on robust materials. 

Here, Ben details how his practice (Studio Ben Allen) developed the idea with help of the homeowners and created this striking barrel vaulted structure. 

Building the brief

The clients, Paul and Lilly, were neighbours of mine who moved to York for work — it’s always interesting to work further afield [Ben’s studio is London-based]. Originally the brief was a light-touch renovation but the house was in a poor state of repair and the list for renovating the house kept creeping up, which is just the way it goes sometimes. 

For us, we’re always keen for the clients to feel like they’re in the driving seat and that they’re making the decision in their own comfort zone. It’s the classic catch 22 of a construction project: the more you think about it, it makes sense to spend more doing it all in one go. 

The brief developed into a modern extension idea scheme that would provide Paul and Lilly with some extra space and make the most of the strange, slim yard that had been concreted over at the back.

Responding to the local surroundings

I was struck in York generally by how beautiful the bricks are — they’re a mixed pale pink colour with lots of different shades in quite a large format. The house is slightly unusual in that it has quite a grand frontage but at the back it’s a patchwork of brick lanes and I wanted to tap into that.

An idea I’ve had working with L-shaped houses in London as well is to use the side return as a courtyard. Because the space wasn’t big enough to have a back garden, the clients felt that a courtyard garden was the right choice. 

Using bricks to their full potential

The brick barrel vaulted ceiling came from the idea that if we’re using that material, isn’t it a shame that we don’t use it as a load-bearing material, rather than just as cladding. There's a steel beam down the middle but the brick is taking all of the weight of the barrel vaulted ceiling. It was a really fun way of making a small house extension idea work.

Coordinating careful craftsmanship

There is always a tricky part of how you detail a space like that. We found a really good carpenter for the arch top oak doors and semi-circular windows. 

We needed the kitchen design to be robust and ageless to sit beside the brick and concrete and wouldn’t feel too high spec, so we chose try-ply oak – admittedly a very nice wood to use – in a really simple way on the ground floor. 

The best part of the project was a contractor had an apprentice to help with the bricklaying formwork. At first he didn’t seem particularly interested in the project until the end when we took the supports away; he was gobsmacked by what he had helped to create.

Amy Reeves

Assistant Editor Amy began working for Homebuilding & Renovating in 2018. She has an interest in sustainable building methods and always has her eye on the latest design ideas. Amy has interviewed countless self builders, renovators and extenders about their experiences for Homebuilding & Renovating magazine. She is currently renovating a mid-century home, together with her partner, on a DIY basis, and has recently fitted her own kitchen.