Modern side-return extension with flexible kitchen zones

Professionals are often advised not to work with friends and family to avoid straining important relationships. However, for architect Nick Elias, the opportunity to design a side-return extension for his sister, Rosana, and her family at their Victorian terrace in south London, was a risk worth taking.

“My architectural practice was in its infancy, so having my sister as one of my first clients helped me to realise ideas freely, which I’m very grateful for,” Nick tells KBB journo Louise O’Bryan. The siblings shared the same vision for the new living space that the young growing family of four so desperately needed – a modern spacious feel along with flexible kitchen zones for play, tonnes of storage and maximum light.

Kitchen extension with clay plaster on the walls and extractor, a central island with three bar stools and expansive glazing.
As you enter the side-return kitchen extension, you are instantly greeted with a sense of space and light, achieved by the impressive use of glazing – from the picture window and glass ceiling to the steel-framed door. Photography: Adelina Iliev.

Despite the house being a typical Victorian terrace, the design team was faced with many challenges from the outset; namely the lack of foundations to the back of the house, discovered upon excavation. “This is quite common for terraced houses of this era, where the wall is resting on a few layers of corbels (tiered brick ‘pads’),” says Nick.

With a loft extension also adding weight to the structure, underpinning was required, but the structural problems didn’t end there. The front of the house also had to be braced and solidified with a horizontal pinning solution. “This house is now possibly the most secure 1900s terraced property in Nunhead,” he laughs.

The renovation

With the build ready to proceed, the next challenge was abiding by the rules of the conservation area. “We were limited to how far we could extend to the back of the house, so the layout was tweaked extensively to make sure the space worked for both entertaining and family functionality. We didn’t want it to just feel like a regular kitchen-diner, which, in our opinion, is lazy and overused, when there are so many other opportunities to consider,” says Nick.

View of the kitchen and dining and living areas and out into the garden.
Beneath the island worktop is the perfect place for budding artists to display their work.

He was also restricted on the height of the side-return extension, so he lowered the floor level by 30cm and added a full-length glass roof. “We wanted to give the impression of unlimited head height on this side of the room, and a sense of dining al fresco. The black-painted beams give you the feeling that you’re sitting under a pergola on a terrace. The light that comes in is truly powerful, it floods and warms the space in the day.”

Dining area with a glass roof, wood table, a bench, three chairs and wall art.
The street-side wall was lowered to give the impression that the feature joinery was outside, under the sky. This wall is supported with mini steel beams that have been installed at right angles, rather than following the angle of the glass, to create a pergola feel.

The kitchen design

With storage a key focus, Nick packed in as much as possible without taking anything away from the operable areas, while making the joinery sing as part of the architectural vision.

Under the glass roof, carefully designed cabinetry stretches from the timber threshold of the adjoining reception room to the dining nook, connecting the entire space with the garden. “We’ve made this bespoke storage work incredibly hard, from the deliberately narrow larder at 25cm deep, to the fluted glazed bar area, shelving and bench,” Nick continues.

Tall fluted cabinetry with a bespoke reeded glass bar unit.
The fluted units offer plenty of storage space.

The joinery then flows to the wrap-around bench that hugs the dining table in place and leads your eye to the garden where the planting outside the window gives a strong visual connection.

Keen not to design a predictable open-plan arrangement often seen in Victorian homes, Nick used colour, materials and light to highlight different zones. The muted pink limewashed walls set a warm backdrop for the dark blue Wren kitchen cabinetry and help define the cooking area, while pale timber joinery on the opposite wall marks the entertaining spots.

Blue kitchen design with gold knurled handles, a gold tap, white sink, clay plaster on the wall, shelf and extractor.
Blue kitchen cabinetry and quartz worktop, Wren Kitchens.
View of the cooking area with built-in oven and a hidden extractor above it.
The soft grey microcement flooring is a cosy, easy-to-maintain surface.

The final design

The masterstroke comes at the meeting point between the old house and the new side-return extension, where a dynamic angled light slit dramatically casts the sun’s rays onto the wall and floor of the seating area.

“The shadows of the tree in the garden would occasionally align with the interior, so we wanted to grab a bit of that and celebrate this nuanced magic in the new kitchen, with a slit in the roof. It not only deals with the varied ceiling heights, but it also makes the sofa area feel elevated,” says Nick.

The cooking zone sits next to the living area near the glazing.
The dynamic light slit makes the seating zone feel elevated.

So, has the experience of working through a stressful renovation project affected the siblings’ relationship? “Yes, it has; it’s made us stronger and more respectful of one another,” says Nick. But for him, it’s being able to see the space finally put into use, and lived in, that signals the ultimate success of this project.

“It’s amazing to see my nephews running up and down the bench or bouncing from one zone to the next. The space has just added so many new play opportunities. It’s also telling when adults wander through the timber threshold and try every seat to get a different view or touch every surface. It’s our own play, and a sign that we’ve done an OK job.”

At one end, the feature joinery becomes a timber threshold connecting to the reception room, while the other end is a fluted glazed bar with bottle and glass storage.
A back rest ensures the dining nook is a comfy eating spot, while a bespoke upholstered bench seat adds style. Upholstery, Rose Rawrees. Glazing by Renka.

As originally told to: Louise O’Bryan | Photography: Adelina Iliev

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This house tour was featured in the June 2024 issue of Kitchens Bedrooms & Bathrooms magazine.

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