Extension ideas for small houses to maximise limited living space

Don't move, improve your small home with a thoughtful extension
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  • It’s amazing what even the smallest amount of extra room can do to improve the space quality of a small home. From smart loft conversions to slim side-return extensions there are plenty of options to improve the layout of a smaller property. Not only will smart extension ideas for small houses add much-needed space, the right renovation will add value too.

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    A single-storey rear extension is often the most planning permission-friendly extension project, and can often be achieved under permitted development. Do keep in mind the balance between house and garden option, as swallowing up too much valuable garden space can reduce the properties value.

    A simple side extension is also planner-friendly and can widen a narrow kitchen without stealing precious outdoor space. Side-returns are a common choice for terraced properties, which often have a half-width kitchen tacked onto the rear. This space might otherwise be wasted if not utilised by an extension.

    Extension ideas for small houses

    1. Double the downstairs floor plan

    house exterior with extension

    Image credit: David Giles

    Small period properties can offer a slightly awkward layout, with narrow rooms and corridor-like hallways adjoining spaces. This compact design can increase how small the house feels. Adding a moderate open-plan extension across the back will open up the downstairs to make the whole house feel more generous. Just altering the downstairs layout will be enough to alter the feel of the whole house because it allows you to spend the most social time in the downstairs space. Limiting the extension to one storey keeps costs lower.

    2. Create a relationship with the outside

    rear extension with glass doors

    image credit: Chris Snook

    A glass extension with retracting doors is the perfect way to create a seamless flow from indoors to an outside space, instantly preventing a small kitchen from feeling enclosed. This Edwardian house features a modern rear extension which allows the kitchen-dining area to seamlessly flow into the beautifully landscaped garden.

    3. Add a small side extension

    Image credit: Alasdair MacIntosh

    Extending out to the side, even as little as a mere metre you can vastly improve the feel of a cramped kitchen. Especially when you choose a steel framed glass structure that will add a garden room feel, connecting the outside to the indoor space. The glass extension will flood the room with natural light, which will help to make a small kitchen space feel airy and more generous in size.

    Related: Kitchen extension ideas – to maximise the potential of your extended space

    4. Give a small space more functionality

    kitchen extension idea

    image credit: David Giles

    With a smart extension a small kitchen can become a more sizeable space for cooking, eating and socialising. Extending out to the permitted border allows adequate extra space to make the existing plot feel much bigger. Giving the one room a multifunctional aspect helps to make a small space feel more valuable in terms of how usable it becomes – you’re effectively getting three rooms for the price of one.

    5. Elongate a narrow kitchen


    Image credit: Lizzie Orme

    Even the smallest of extensions has the power to totally transform the downstairs layout of a home. In this narrow kitchen an area extended beyond the existing kitchen allows extra space for the room to become more functional. Adding double doors, which open out onto a garden, allows for a seamless transition from indoor to outdoors, helping to enhance the sense of space.

    6. Make use of existing space and keep it light

    Image credit: Simon Whitmore

    To help your small space feel bigger and brighter be mindful to keep the decor and design choices light enhancing. For any room extensions, look to add as many windows and glass aspects as you can, to ensure the room is filled with natural light.

    ‘If a budget is tight, your money is probably better spent improving the quality of the space that you already have,’ advises Nick Varey, Founder and Principal Architect, Studio Varey Architects. ‘Extending can be a costly endeavour, but a home can be vastly improved with more light and better internal layouts. Look to replace rear facing windows at ground floor with larger doors to bring in more light. Also removing internal walls to create more generous open-planned areas will give the feel of a larger home, at a reduced cost.’

    7. Use the side return to your advantage

    kitchen side return extension

    Image credit: Veronica Rodriguez

    A simple side extension is the ideal way to widen a narrow kitchen without stealing precious outdoor space – because the space is otherwise redundant. ‘Side-returns are a common choice for terraced properties, which often have a half-width kitchen tacked onto the rear,’ says Lisa Morton at Vale Garden Houses. Always check planning permission, as side extensions can often be less forgiving than rear extensions when it comes to granted permission, due to the space being closer to the boundary walls.

    8. Build upwards

    loft conversion costs

    Image credit: Simon Whitmore

    In a small home you may not have the luxury to extend out into the grounds, it can therefore be best to work upwards. Maximise space by using the attic to add valuable extra living space. Loft extensions are one of the most popular solutions for all homes when it comes to adding more room, but particularly smaller properties.

    Need more inspiration? Read Loft conversion ideas – how to create extra rooms in your attic space

    9. Let the light in with glass panels

    Kitchen extension with glass sliding doors

    Image credit: Colin Poole

    By installing glass panels and sliding doors for a space that opens up completely to the garden beyond the space will instantly feel a gained sense of space. This smart extension doesn’t go out further into the garden, it uses the space vertically to flood the room and incorporate the garden.

    Pick and position wall and base units by thinking about the outside space too. In this kitchen the honeyed tones cabinetry helps to draw the eye up and out, while the lower cupboards are grounding a darker shade. All the design aspects work in tandem to open up the space, without having to make a larger footprint for extending. A high traffic throughway will need a hardwearing floor so choose a durable dark-tiled version.

    10. Convert the garage

    How to convert a garage

    Image credit: David Giles

    In a small home all space is premium. If you don’t use your garage for its intended purpose, which many of us don’t, then it’s a wasted opportunity to create more liveable rooms. A standard sized garage can be comfortably transformed into an extra bedroom and ensuite or extended kitchen space.

    Planning Portal advises, ‘Planning permission is not usually required, providing the work is internal and does not involve enlarging the building.’

    ‘If your intention is to convert a garage into a separate house (regardless of who will occupy it), then planning permission may be required no matter what work is involved. We advise that you discuss such proposals with your local planning authority to ensure that any work you do is lawful and correctly permissioned.’

    What are the best rooms to extend in a small house?

    What are the best rooms to extend in a small home to maximise the space? ‘In small homes, every bit of space is vitally important’ says Nick Varey at Studio Varey Architects. ‘If the small home has external space to the rear that can be extended into. This is going to be your best opportunity to create a more generous internal layout. In this instance, extending the living space is going to bring about the greatest improvement in the quality and feel of the home; particularly with our adapting work / home lifestyles, which now see more people than ever working from home.’

    If extending into a garden isn’t an option (with a flat or apartment, for example), then it is vital to seek out wasted and under-utilised spaces so you can convert them into more functional areas of your home’ Nick advises. ‘When working on small homes, we focus on two primary spaces – creating a generous open-planned kitchen/living/dining area and a decent sized bedroom. To maximise these areas, we look to ‘steal’ space from bathrooms that are often more generous than they need to be in small homes, as well as corridors.’

    How can you add space on a budget?

    ‘If you own a house, then the cheapest area to extend into is going to be the existing roof space’ says Nick, provided the head height is good. ‘This is an area of the property that is useable but often not maximised. If the head height is there, you can turn this space into a functional room with little more than loft insulation, a flooring upgrade, a few roof lights and decoration! If there isn’t enough head height, consider extending to the rear of the roof with a mansard, pod addition or dormer.’

    How much does a small extension cost?

    There are many factors to consider when looking to extend your property that can impact the cost of works. Nick tells Ideal Home, ‘When advising clients early on, we provide guide estimate prices based on the cost per square foot of recently completed projects. A good ball park for the cost of a quality extension in e.g. London, is to budget somewhere in the region of £250 – £350 per square foot.’

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