How Cathy Smyth and Paul Mac Sweeney of Co Dublin renovated their home with their three children in mind…
“We lived in an area we liked a lot but our house was becoming too small for us,” explains Cathy. “It was a typical two up two down. When it was just me and Paul it was fine, but with three little girls it was no longer tenable! So we looked around the neighbourhood, and even whittled down our search to just a couple of streets because of the house size we required.” In June 2010 they found the house that would be able to fulfil their dreams. “I think we were the first to view it, and the sale was concluded within a couple of weeks!”
When they bought their semi-detached home, they knew there would be renovation work involved. “The house was actually fine, an elderly lady had lived there all her life,” she says. “But since we needed to upgrade the heating system and were going to need to build a new kitchen, (there was just a small scullery kitchen there), we decided to completely renovate it in one go. The build took five months to complete, and we were moved in by February 2011.”
Not being able to get the authorities to sign off on a two storey extension meant Cathy and Paul had to go for Plan B: “We were granted planning permission, but with so many stipulations that it really would have ruined everything. The planners were concerned that a two storey extension on a semi-d would look out of place, so instead we converted the attic into a living space and built a single storey extension. I have to say, I never realised how much room there was in the attic! It also saved us money to go down this route, so it was a very good solution in the end.”
Open plan with play area
The extension was built onto the garden and around the side of the house; the chosen construction method was timber frame, and the space was left open plan to incorporate the kitchen, living room and play room. As with many extension projects, a major concern is how to bring light in and not create dark corners.
“We kept the existing front sitting room and then knocked down the wall between the second room on the ground floor and the extension. We waited until the roof was up to decide if we should knock it down because we weren’t sure whether or not we should. The main argument against it was the potential lack of light, but thanks to the rooflights we thought that wouldn’t be a problem,” says Cathy. “That space is now being used as a play area, with the children’s books and toys all arranged in that corner of the room. I have no regrets knocking down that wall, the space works perfectly.”
The front room isn’t used much, and while Cathy and Paul kept the existing fireplace, they plugged it with a chimney balloon. “We spend all of our time in the open plan area, we really find no need for the sitting room at this stage,” adds Cathy.
The renovation element of the build primarily involved converting the attic into a master bedroom with ensuite, and putting in a gas boiler, (reusing most of the radiators that were already in place), as well as solar thermal panels, which are working like a charm.
Upstairs there were three bedrooms plus a bathroom and WC, but due to the need to change the configuration of the staircase to accommodate the new extension downstairs, they also rejigged the layout upstairs. “The renovation element of the build primarily involved converting the attic into a master bedroom with ensuite, and putting in a gas boiler, (reusing most of the radiators that were already in place), as well as solar thermal panels, which are working like a charm. From February to August 2011 the immersion heater only had to come on twice,” says Cathy. “I’m really impressed by it, especially considering the house has a south westerly orientation. Apparently our area is very good for solar radiation; even on cloudy days we get more than enough hot water.” They also upgraded the building fabric by putting in polyisocyanurate insulation panels wherever possible.