How adding just 72sq ft transformed a cramped terrace to a family home

How much extra space will make everyday life better? In Matthew Wood and Amber Dalton’s Peckham home, adding just 72 square feet — the size of a single bedroom — dramatically improves the entire downstairs.

And since Matthew, 41, is the architect, the high-spec addition, which also adds a solid foundation and underfloor heating throughout, upgrading the entire house, only cost £70,000. 

Basically, the couple have added a new square area at the end of the dog-leg of their Victorian home. But it’s how they’ve done it that matters.

They considered every detail, and made lots of trials on grouting, handles and so on. It all added time to the build but really polishes the finish. 

The new side walls are in striking, smooth black engineering brick enhanced by immaculate black grout, which the builder piped painstakingly with an icing bag.

A pale oak parquet floor and bespoke beech-plywood kitchen with smoothly cut-out lug handles offsets the black. Laminate in bluish tones adds interest to drawers and cupboards. 

The worktops look like black granite but are, unusually, paper composite, while a welded steel structure supports the super-thin roof. With its glass roof light, glassed corners and a big glass door to the garden, the space is wonderfully sunny, while the materials create a smart but organic feel, and soften sound. 

Matthew connected the new bit to the former cramped dogleg kitchen by knocking out a sash window that used to look longingly at the back garden.

Now instead of a cramped kitchen ending in a windowed wall, the couple’s children, Huxley, six and Inez, three, romp straight out to the lawn.

And since Amber, a food and travel journalist, is a keen cook, the old kitchen now runs through into the extension, creating lots more workspace, storage space and openness, with a fresh dining area at the end.

Matthew and Amber call this reconfigured space a family room — a better term than “kitchen-diner”, for these are the spaces, apart from bed, that we spend most time in.

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Light’s right: a long through view increases the house’s sense of space (French + Tye)

They did a loft conversion years ago and like most young Londoners, they had to save up first. Married in 2003, they bought their two-storey home from friends in 2007. It’s a “half-house” — a Victorian symmetrical house cut down the middle, purpose-built as two dwellings entered by a central front door.

Two-up, two-down, plus a dog-leg with kitchen below and bathroom above, it was only about 800sq ft. Fine for two, but not for four. The small, dark dining room got used as a hall-cum-dumping ground: “We had to shovel stuff off the table to eat.” But Matthew knew from the start that he could and would extend both up and out.

In 2008, he flipped the upstairs bathroom and second bedroom and removed a small corridor, creating space for stairs to a future loft room. They finally built that room once Inez was expected in 2013, but cut the timing a bit tight, so ended up doing the whole job in six weeks flat. “When I left to collect mother and baby from the hospital, the scaffolding was still up,” Matthew says, “but when we arrived home it was gone, and the builders had done their job. They were great.”

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Small wonder: the extension, though modest in size, makes a big difference (French + Tye)

The loft room, plus a tiny office on the stair turn, add 250sq ft, in which the big skylit loft bedroom is perfect for children. Next, the couple saved up to transform the ground floor. They knew this would be very thoughtful and slower, and this time they stayed in the house while the build went on. Cleverly, the builders put up the extension before knocking through to the old part. “They made us a sort of bedsit in the front sitting room, with a camping stove and everything.” 

Even so, there was no glass. “You can’t order windows till you’ve made the opening, and the door and windows took 12 weeks to make,” Matthew explains. Amber adds, drily: “It was winter, so we were heating the garden.” Such delays meant that the whole job took eight months. But since it was their own home, Matthew could try innovative ideas, particularly the super-slim roof structure.

His contractor, originally a welder, enjoyed creating the mild steel lattice that supports insulated double plywood topped with waterproof fibreglass. Other interesting details are decorative external brickwork, and the copper rain chain.

Little refined touches, from coloured flexes to cute black-and-white switch plates to neat plywood round a set of dimmers, add up, while the new area’s glazed corners allow glimpses right through the house.

“A long view through a home increases the sense of space,” Matthew says.

Amber and Matthew’s fabulous new family room looks like a set for a cookery programme, and both parents especially enjoy coming downstairs in the morning to have breakfast in it with the children. You can’t put a price on times like that.

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