This Edinburgh extension pushed all the boundaries, and it was worth it

Examining every option pushed this extension project out of the ordinary to become something very special indeed

Communication, as any architect will tell you, is an essential element in every successful build. But is there such a thing as too much talking? Karen Stewart was worried that might be the case in her project. “Our architect, Craig Amy, was so patient with us during the early stages of our extension,” she recalls. “I was coming up with so many ideas that I think I was speaking to him more than I was to my husband at one point! And I was always sending him images of ideas or things I liked. But it was so exciting…”

Her project was an ambitious one that involved extending and remodelling the 1980s brick-built house she shares with her husband Nial and their two teenage daughters in Dalkeith. Her non-stop discussions with Craig Amy lasted for two years. “He must have worked on more than 20 plans between 2012 to 2014,” admits Karen. “But we all wanted to really push the project and max out on it to get the best results. It has meant that there’s nothing I wish I’d done differently. I knew that I was only going to do this once, so it had to be right, and I had to have the right architect to take me on this journey.”

That journey had begun when the family were trying to decide whether move to a bigger house or to reshape the one they already had. “We’d done some work upstairs, knocking box bedrooms together, since we’d moved into the house in 2000. But as the girls got older we found we needed more space. The kitchen was also dark and pokey and the utility area was tight and awkward.”

The catalyst was an extension that Craig Amy had designed for a similar house in the same street. “We really liked what he’d done so we got in touch with him,” says Karen.

The architect was impressed by the scope offered by the Stewarts’ sizeable corner site, which benefits from a large L-shaped garden that wraps around two elevations of the house. It also has the original 4m-high brick boundary walls of the old Newbattle Abbey walled gardens and glasshouses.

“Karen and Nial were looking for a larger kitchen and dining room, a larger utility room, a larder, a new garden room, a home office/ guest bedroom and a shower room,” says Amy. “It was quite an ambitious brief, but as there were no issues with the amount of space available, we could design a 59 sq.m extension without having too much of an impact on the garden, which is big enough to soak it all up.”

The extension has a new kitchen at its heart, and culminates in a garden room lounge with an open aspect to the garden. It narrows to just 2m at the utility room and back-door end, reducing any impact on the neighbours. The angle also has the effect of setting the kitchen towards the morning sun, while the rotated garden room benefits from the afternoon and evening sun for longer. And although the extension is large, the bulk of the new structure isn’t visible from the main garden, which gives the impression of a much smaller add-on – something of a boon in the planning process.

“Planning was straightforward, as the design has no impact on the neighbours. It’s completely hidden from the street – you wouldn’t know it was there,” says Amy.

Planning’s gain is the passer-by’s loss: the new extension has quite a dramatic appearance. “I didn’t want a box slung on the side of the building,” says Karen. “It had to be an elegant addition, so we spent lots of time discussing the exterior materials.” And elegance articulated in timber, slate and glass is duly what the family got.

Long horizontal strips of FSC western red cedar, treated for longevity, project along the length of the new structure. “I didn’t want a timber that would weather to grey,” says Karen. “I preferred a crisp finish.” The colour of the hardwood was also carefully chosen to blend in with the red brick of the house. “I liked the idea of the extension folding around the house – embracing it,” she adds. Slate-clad spine walls anchor the extension while also breaking up the long elevation to the side. Karen sourced this material, which is actually large bathroom tiles.

Internally, the extension is broken down into a series of spaces that, while connected, are designed to feel smaller and more homely than a single open-plan area. The kitchen and dining room are the main focal point, with a large triangular roof light at the junction with the existing house, and triple-glazed sliding doors flooding the space with light. Designing the kitchen around two islands has allowed the back wall to be fully glazed to the side garden. Along the opposite wall is a dark-purple feature wall of concealed doors that lead to the utility room, larder and an office/guest bedroom.

“The unusual design of the wall came out of a brain-storm-ing session,” smiles Karen. “I was keen to explore the idea of hiding the doors. Originally we had timber panels in mind; then I considered veneers, but these looked more like wallpaper, an effect I wasn’t keen on. At the time I was working with Acanthus Interiors in Edinburgh, who were helping me with the textiles and fabrics. It was Rebecca at Acanthus who suggested making a sketch exploring the idea of bringing the outside in, which is what this project is all about. We liked the idea of a Japanese blossom design. Craig transferred the sketch onto CAD and a shopfitter laser-cut and factory-painted it. It has transformed the space. And it means that when we have a dinner party we can close all the doors and we have this beautiful feature wall.”

The utility room, accessed through this wall, has individual lockers for each member of the family. “The lockers idea works really well – if everyone abides by it!” says Karen. “When the girls used to come home from school, all their sports kit, bags and hockey sticks were dumped under the stairs, and it got so messy we could never find anything. Now everyone has their own area.”

One of the highlights of the new-look house is the garden room, which is hidden around the corner from the kitchen. This room can be completely closed off with sliding pocket door. “I really wanted a little snug area where I could unwind and watch TV – I don’t normally sit down until after nine o’clock following work and I wanted to be able to retreat with the remote control! It’s so cosy,” says Karen. “We looked at having a woodburner but the flues were huge – Craig worked on lots of elevations with various flues, but we decided to go for a gas fire where we could hide the flue. He was so patient!”

In the event, the Stonecraft fire is more of a feature than an essential, since the extension is heavily insulated and benefits from triple-glazed windows and doors, underfloor heating and roof lights that dramatically increase solar gain.

The Stewarts stayed on site during the six-month con-struc-tion as the build team made sure the process wasn’t too onerous for the family. “We had a great foreman and builder who designed the schedule around us,” says Karen. “It’s impor-tant to go with the flow – go in with a laid-back mindset and be prepared for a few hiccups. We had a couple of those – we couldn’t find the water to turn it off so we had to dig up the driveway; and the glazing got damaged on the way here.”

Despite this, she enjoyed the project. “We had a great team working on site, and Craig was project managing, which was essential to its success. He is so meticulous, with a plan for everything, right down to how the tiles in the en-suite should look – he drew out the tile pattern on the wall. He also mapped out the paving stones in the landscaping around the house. Nothing was left to chance.

“I needed someone who was prepared to partner me on this journey,” concludes Karen. “By the time we submitted the plans for approval, we had it exactly as we wanted. And what has been built is precisely what was on that plan.”

All that talking, it seems, was worth it in the end


Photography David Barbour
Words Caroline Ednie
What A remodelled and extended house from the 1980s
Where Dalkeith, Edinburgh
Architect Craig Amy Architect
Contractor M-Pact Building Services