Getting the Most Out of a Side Return Extension

by Jamie Mitchell in Designer style at home

Side returns, extensions that push out into the pathway that runs along the side of the house, can be a great way of adding space, often by enlarging the kitchen and joining it with the dining and living rooms.

As attractive, solid and well built as they are, many of our classic Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian houses are out of step with modern family life.

‘The way people want to live now is very different from the way people tended to live 150 years ago when many of these houses were built,’ says Jack Hosea of Threefold Architects. ‘Now families often want extension ideas with a large and flexible kitchen/dining/living space that can be the hub of family homes, ideally with a strong visual and physical connection to the garden. Without extending, most affordable period buildings do not have space to accommodate this.’

‘Generally people who are having work done on their houses are inexperienced clients, and are often unaware of building costs and also the fees that are associated with those costs.’

Hosea says that most of the period properties mentioned above are suitable for this kind of side return extension, though houses with big level changes between internal and external spaces or the front and back of the house can make creating the extension, and planning the circulation and flow of space, more challenging. However, in the hands of a good architect, ‘this can usually be successfully tackled and even used to advantage for dramatic effect’, he says.

Side returns are usually shaded by the next-door property, so Hosea says it’s important to bring in as much natural light as possible. Glazed roofs and rooflights are popular and effective solutions.

Creating a side return extension will usually be cheaper than digging under the house to create a new basement, and there’s often no need for planning permission, but Hosea says that clients do have to prepare themselves for considerable disruption to their living space. ‘As most of these projects we have done involve the reconfiguration and refurbishment of the entire ground floor of the house, the works can be disruptive and the extension tends to change the programme and use of the existing ground floor spaces. For refurbishment of the ground floor and side return extension incorporating a new kitchen and services and all new finishes and fittings we would advise a budget of between £125,000 and 175,000 (excluding fees and VAT), depending on the size of the house and the level of finishes, and six to nine months on-site construction.’

To get the most out of a side return extension Phil Coffey of Coffey Architects advises hiring a good architect with experience of this kind of project.

‘Generally people who are having work done on their houses are inexperienced clients, and are often unaware of building costs and also the fees that are associated with those costs,’ he says.

‘The right architect can also make you a space you’ll want to be in rather than just one that looks good from the outside. I’m not advising you do anything ugly, but when you’re doing extensions and refurbishment it’s mostly about the inside space and how you’re going to enjoy it rather than all- singing all-dancing external views.’

Coffey says that some clients are keen to join the dining room (usually in the centre of the plan) to the room at the front of the house, though he says, in his experience, it’s more successful to join the kitchen (which is usually at the back of the house) with the dining area. ‘That way the kitchen becomes the heart of the scheme,’ he says. ‘Then the client can choose whether they want the kitchen in the middle of the plan or at the back.’

Coffey says the extension should feel like a natural part of the house, rather than something that’s been added on. ‘What we try to do is make it so that when you walk into a house where we’ve done a side return you won’t actually recognise it as a side return. If it’s done well then you shouldn’t easily be able to tell the new bit from the old. It should feel like it’s always been that way.’

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