How to improve your property (with style) – inspiration from NLA

When it comes to extending our homes we tend to think, almost literally, inside the box. We look at how much garden we can bear to lose or how much a side-return will gain us in space and then we hire a builder to add a new little box to our larger one.

The results will certainly add space and value, but there is a chance that we are missing a trick here. A more well-thought-out and more modern extension scheme can provide a distinct look, considering the indoor and outdoor space holistically, rather than just imposing a building on the site. It is also likely to punch well above its weight when it comes to increasing the value of your property.

Granny Takes a Trip NLA

Image: Granny Takes a Trip

Extending our home is one the largest investments we will make, bar the purchase of the home itself, and most jobs of this kind run into the tens of thousands of pounds. So why don’t more of us use a little more imagination when it comes to making our homes larger? After all, we are willing to swap our dado rails for a feature wall and sacrifice the magnolia woodchip for something from Farrow and Ball.

The answer, in part, is that us Brits are naturally conservative when it comes to home design and our builders, architects and designers will often deliver only what is already popular. The second part of the answer is that these matters of taste lead us to play it safe when it comes to making an investment. We may love watching Grand Designs, but we can’t see ourselves doing anything so outlandish, even on a small scale, and then being able to sell it on.

Fortunately, young architecture firms are starting to challenge the idea of the dull extension, with a vast array of innovative and exciting schemes now being judged annually as part of a contest set up by New London Architecture (NLA). Now in its fourth year, Don’t Move, Improve sets out  to find the very best in extensions, as well as judging office conversions and interior design.


Image: The Slim House 2013 winner

The winner of the 2013 competition was a tiny extension to a small property and should provide inspiration to anyone wanting to impress with their home addition. The £65,000 project used a gently sloping roof as a way of extending the property but allowing more light in. The staggered-length floors are illuminated by rooflights and the design from Alma-nac architects extends into the garden, making the extremely slender property seem far larger than it is.

hampstead beach house

Image: Beach House

More expensive, but just as innovative was the runner-up’s scheme to rescue a four-storey home from its own previous extension. The standard extension had given the space to convert the property from single home to two maisonettes, but had only served to create dark and crowded spaces.

The new ‘beach house’ design from Hayhurst and Co. revolutionised the building with a modern look that was brimming with imagination, but not too radical for the location. It is hard to see how a simple brick extension would have added anywhere near as much value or provided as satisfactory a solution.

An extension to house a huge book collection by Platform 5 architects was also commended for its innovation.

book tower house

Image: Book Tower House

Of course, adding an architect to the mix when you are planning an extension can add to the cost of the job, but any architect worth their salt will find ways to make your investment pay. Alternatively, you may also be able to find an imaginative builder with a good draftsman on board and experience of large projects. Don’t be afraid to ask builders to go that extra mile as far as imagination goes, many welcome the chance to work on something innovative and some even specialise in such work.

An exhibition of nomnated extensions is on at NLA, The Building Centre, 26 Store Street, London W1CE 7BT until 6 February.

Iain Aitch

Iain is a London-based writer who works as a journalist for a number of newspapers and magazines. He has also written two books, one of which is a hilarious lexicon about Britishness – Iain is a Brit through and through!

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