If your home feels more like a warren of poky rooms than a spacious sanctuary, open it up by moving – or knocking through – internal walls. Michael Holmes explains how.
If the current layout of your home just isn’t working, your first instinct may be to add more space by extending. This may well be an option, but it’s not the whole story. Your first thought should in fact be whether you can make more of the space you already have. Traditional properties tend to have a warren of small rooms, with previous additions such as porches and conservatories only adding to the problem, leaving interiors with no light and turning existing rooms into corridors. Remodelling can solve these problems and create the space you want, without having to extend.
Where to Start
The solution starts with getting a set of floorplans drawn up so you can take a fresh look at the layout of your home. Ideally this will be a full measured survey, showing exact dimensions and angles. A surveyor (rics.org) will charge £600-900 plus VAT to draw floorplans, elevations and key sections. As a starting point, you could draw up plans yourself on squared paper; these are adequate if you are only making minor changes.
Next, check the orientation so you can work out the passage of the sun during the day and which rooms get light when. Make a note of which side of the property is quietest and most private, and mark the position of the gas and electric meters (if in the house), the soil pipes and any inspection chambers outside. It’s also important to note any changes in floor level or ceiling height.
Using your plans you can then explore all options to create the space you need by adding or removing walls and doorways, and by converting space such as an attached or integral garage, loft or cellar.
Kitchen Breakfast Room
High on most people’s wish-list when remodelling is a family kitchen with informal dining area and a separate utility room and cloakroom. Typical remodel options include combining the existing kitchen with the dining room, and perhaps the living room too. Another common option is to convert an attached or integral garage and combine this space. If necessary, extra space can be added by extending.
The fewer walls you remove, the lower the cost, so don’t make unnecessary changes. Adding new walls, to form a utility room for instance, is less expensive than removing walls.
Locating your kitchen sink and utility room to make use of existing soil pipes will be the most cost-effective option but there is usually a plumbing solution for any situation. Gas and electric meters can be relocated, but this will add £300-400 per meter to costs.
The second most popular option is to create a larger master bedroom with an en suite bathroom and perhaps a dressing area. A typical solution is to knock a doorway into an adjacent smaller bedroom – often the box room – and to add bathroom facilities here, closing up the original doorway. Choosing a location for the en suite with access to a soil stack is the most cost-effective option, but there is always a plumbing solution.
Problems to Avoid
Almost any wall – structural or not – can be removed and if necessary replaced by structural steelwork, supported on the existing walls or newly constructed nib walls or piers. The longer the span, the larger the steel, and the greater the cost.
Where you remove intersecting structural walls it may possible to span one steel joist off another, but in most instances you will need to add a new column to support the intersecting steels. This can get in the way of an open plan layout, but can usually be incorporated into an island unit, chimneybreast, etc.
Steels are usually added below ceiling level, but it is often possible to integrate the steels within the floor/ceiling void, so there is no bulkhead left visible and the room becomes a single seamless space. This involves removing the floor above and putting it back and so will add to costs.
Watch out for changes in floor or ceiling level when joining rooms together. Small changes can be overcome with a single step, or by adjusting floor or ceiling levels to match. Larger differences will require steps and this can take up a valuable space.
When remodelling, respect the key relationships between spaces, such as between the kitchen and dining area and make sure all of the principal rooms can be accessed directly from a centrally located hallway and landing.
Once you have created an open plan space, you will need to reconfigure the wiring and lighting, and update the heating and controls. Treat each area as a separate room or ‘zone’ with its own focal point, access and circulation routes, and independently switched lighting circuits, albeit controlled from grouped switch panels in key locations.
Case Study: “I Knocked Through to Create the Ultimate Kitchen Diner”
Jennifer Turner has completely opened up the ground floor of her remodelled 1960s home by reconfiguring the layout. “The builders knocked through a supporting wall between the old kitchen and dining room, incorporating a steel support, to create a large space,” says Jennifer of her stunning new kitchen diner, which incorporates an extension to replace the former garage. A wall was also removed between the hallway and living room, completing the remodel.
Case Study: “We Opened Up Our Victorian Terrace”
Lucy and David Houlton took on a four storey Victorian townhouse that had been converted into eight cramped bedsits and reinstated it back into one, with a light and airy, open plan layout.
“We realised we could turn it back into a home by knocking through some of the internal walls to create larger living areas and decent-sized bedrooms,” explains Lucy.
Key to the remodel was the removal of walls on the ground floor to turn two bedsits and a kitchen into a large L-shaped open plan space, with the highlight being the sumptuous master bedroom on the first floor, once two bedsits, which now stretches the length of the property.