Extending above a garage is a great way to add space without running the risk of blocking light either to, or from, the extension. This was the option Neil and April Branigan chose for their brick-faced detached home in Co Down.
Auctioneers tend to market houses as ‘four bedroom’ when what they’re really offering is a two to three bed lodging with ample closet space!
In the case of Neil and April Branigan, their four-bed was in fact a three-bed. The couple and each of their two children took up the larger rooms and while this suited family life down to a T, the situation left little room for Neil or April’s parents to potentially move in with them.
To add floor space, Neil and April therefore decided to build over their garage and annex their ‘box room’. They built a master bedroom with ensuite bathroom and decided they’d take this opportunity to add an office too.
From the outside…
“A couple of people had done something similar in the area but most of them only added the one window,” says April. “We decided two windows would be better suited.”
“We also chose to come out a bit further both at the front and at the back, in order to give us that wee bit of extra space.” The garage wasn’t flush to the front of the house so they extended over it by adding a pillar which doubled up as a feature. “We had to use steel to extend the five feet we added at the front. At the back we gained a bit too and used steel there as well. It had a cost implication but it was worth it.”
The builder removed the apex roof that originally covered the garage and started building from the ground up – the ground being the garage’s ceiling! “This avoided the problem of matching the new bricks with the old ones,” explains April.
“Even if you can find new bricks that look like the existing ones, if they’re laid along the gable top you can see the building line and it creates an unsightly triangle. By starting the new build up horizontally it’s quite seamless.” The bricks aren’t manufactured any longer and their builder had trouble sourcing them but eventually did find a match.
The slates on the original roof were salvaged which also helped lend the extension the feeling that it has always been there. “The weathered slates were placed at the front of the house as they match the main roof perfectly.” About 80 per cent of the slates were salvaged but the ridge tiles had been set in concrete and so had to be replaced.
Before the extension was built, when you went up the stairs the ‘box room’ door was around the landing to your right; April and Neil’s daughter’s bedroom immediately to the left. This raised an issue – the only way into the new extension was going to have to be via the ‘box room’ which they planned to convert into office space. At this stage they decided to encroach on the box room and knock down its wall in order to extend the landing. This allowed the new master bedroom to have its own door. “We kept the original banister on the stairwell and simply extended it to take the turn. We took three feet out of the box room to enlarge the landing.”
“When the builder saw the plans he suggested we use the office space as a dressing room instead, and that immediately made sense,” says April. “We didn’t really need a study, especially as the children each have their own computer in their bedroom. The space wouldn’t have been useable for what we had in mind anyway, which was an office for Neil. Instead we were able to fit his work space into the attic above the new master bedroom, where we added a roof light.”
Changing the door position allowed them to incorporate a six foot wide sliding wardrobe. Converting the ‘box room’ into a dressing room also created a bigger bathroom, increasing it to 10ftx10ft/3mx3m.
“With hindsight we could have left the door where it was,” says April. “That would have given us that bit of extra space for the wardrobe but it is nice to have a generous landing and I can’t say I miss the space. What is now our guest bedroom (our previous bedroom) has 12 feet of sliding wardrobe
s so we have plenty of storage – we simply bring in the winter clothes when necessary and swap them when summer comes.”
The Branigan family bought their house when it was being built in the late 1990s and in 2003/2004 they added the conservatory. “It’s lovely in the summer and spring but it does get too hot on a bright sunny day. If that happens I open all the doors in the house to let the heat into the main building,” says April. “The heat does build up and turns it into a hot house, which isn’t pleasant but that doesn’t happen very often in our climate!”
The plan is to eventually demolish the conservatory and reconfigure the internal layout. “We’ve been toying with the idea of a larger kitchen/ family area in the shape of a rectangular extension,” says April. “I’d like to get what they used to call a working kitchen – a communal area with kitchen, dining, living. We plan to do it within the next five or six years.”
Insofar as the above-garage extension is concerned, the procedure for applying for planning permission was straightforward. “A friend of ours is an architect and he put the drawings together,” says April. “We were lucky in that we didn’t need to seek out our neighbours’ permission to extend, but we felt we should tell them out of courtesy about our intentions and there were no objections.”
“We weren’t infringing on anyone’s privacy and kept with the style of the local area. As many others had already done an above garage conversion, it went smoothly. The planners granted us approval within weeks of submitting our plans.”
Finding the right builder was happenstance. “We got quotes from local construction firms and while they had plenty of experience we actually ended up finding our builder from word of mouth,” says April. “A friend of ours told us about him and when we met him I realised I knew him from childhood! It was uncanny! We went to view some projects he’d worked on and talked to the people without him there, they all had very good dealings with him.”
“It came down to instinct, we just felt it was right. The firms we got quotes from were charging three fortunes and while we didn’t want to scrimp, neither did we want to pay over the top. This was our builder’s first year trading in his own name, he set his business up with his dad.”
“He was excellent, walked us the whole way through, we navigated the stage payments with him without a hitch.” April did warn him though that she could be quite picky. “I told him that when we bought the house from new, I kept a close eye on the snagging list so for this project I knew from the start that I would be particular.”
“If something isn’t done right it jumps out at me and I will notice it until it’s rectified. Our builder was made aware of this from early on, I told him to bear with me, there would be times when he would probably want to kill me! It worked out well, we always knew where we stood with each other.”
“The builder gave us a quote for the cost but it didn’t include fixtures and fittings,” adds April. “I’m afraid we went to town on the bathroom, we went a bit mad… but I love it!”
“We call it Narnia – we were living in the building when we were doing the house up and the last thing we did was knock through the wall linking the old house and the extension. I took a picture and sent it to a friend, it looked like a dark rectangular hole and I asked – where do you think this leads to? The answer – Narnia! And ever since our extension’s been known as Narnia.”
The builder gave the floor special attention when it came to insulation as it was above the (unheated) garage.
“As the boiler was stretched to its maximum with the two extra radiators in the conservatory, and it was on its last legs, we changed it to a condensing type and made sure it was bigger so it would be able to cope with the above-garage extension plus a bit more if needs be.”
“It’s a lot cleaner and our heating bills are a good deal lower; we save about half a fill of oil each year, the equivalent of £300, despite the increase in heating load. Our new master bedroom does need to have the heat on in the winter though, otherwise you do notice a bit of a chill.”
The Narnia theme perhaps also extends to the colour scheme. “I love neutral colours and coffee/cream is very in at the moment,” says April. “I felt neutrals would be easier to change; they also flow well together and overall it feels very cosy.”
“I got lots of samples and tried them on the wall to see what we both liked. We don’t have much art to put up on the walls, just family photos, so the colour had to be right.”
“We decided to go for plain chocolate Roman blinds with diamond bits, when the spotlights hit them it adds a bit of bling. And some fun! The main piece of furniture is the bed and we knew the type we wanted, a big one – it’s six foot – and sleigh style; the carpet is neutral.”
Neil likes showers, April likes baths so all that required consensus was the wc, wash hand basin and tiles.
“The wall tiles are pixelated mosaic and for the floor we chose tiles that look like floorboards,” says April. “Funnily enough the bath and shower took the longest to find. The bath is not what I had originally planned size wise. I first looked at ones with pedestals and freestanding taps but they take up a lot of space, the more I thought about it the more I realised a corner bath would give us a larger circulation area.”
“Our builder introduced us to the bathroom company he has dealings with and we were able to avail of his trade discount, which was a great help.”
“They gave us a few options and were very helpful, providing us with 3D drawings. We went around the showroom to pick out what we liked and I found the perfect full length bath so I ordered the corner version from the catalogue to save on space; it’s got jets on the side panels and jets for your back below the gel cushion, everything you need to relax and unwind!”
“For the basin we wanted storage underneath but didn’t want it to look like a kitchen cupboard so we chose a ‘floating’ design. We had thought of the double basin but it would have been a bit of a squash so we picked a single one that was nice and broad. We also wanted to match the bath’s waterfall tap so that was easy. We had a choice of colours but opted for white, we felt we could change the style of bathroom more easily with a plain background colour.”
The shower Neil originally picked was a simple rain spout design with a long continuous stainless steel panel. “It was delivered but the head was kinked so we sent it back,” says April. “When the second one came we knew the head just wasn’t correct so we went back to the bathroom company and they apologised and showed us a few alternatives, including the one we ended up getting. It was more expensive but they gave it to us as a straight swap because of the trouble we’d been through. Neil was quite happy!” Perhaps most practical of all is that the shower head is on a runner and can be pulled down to a very low height.
“We’re really pleased, the kids love it, they try to sneak in when the coast is clear, my daughter especially loves the bath,” adds April.
While the initial intention was to have enough space for some of their elderly relatives to move in, those plans unfortunately changed. On the bright side, Neil and April have found the extra bedroom has given them the opportunity to comfortably house family at Christmas. “And our friends can stay over too, between the family bathroom and two en suites, there’s plenty of room for everyone!”
Extension size: 220 sqft
Total cost (including bathroom, furniture and decoration): approx £50,000
Windows: double glazed, uPVC, low emissivity glass
Insulation: 60mm boards in cavity, 100mm on roof + 38.5mm insulated plasterboard, 100mm floors