Period features vs. Practical living

As we get into planning our next phase of work, we’ve got a few big decisions to make that will drive everything else we do. One of those decisions is whether we extend the kitchen into our side return. For those of you wondering what a ‘side return’ is, I’ll take a second to explain. The floor plans of Victorian houses in the UK are a bit L-shaped; the front of the house is wider than the back, and they’re very long and skinny. This gives you outside space that runs up one side of the house (the side return), supplying light whilst also acting as a bit of a sound barrier between you and at least one of your neighbours. A lot of people will extend into the side return to earn extra space and turn the ‘L’ into more of a rectangle.

Back to our house. Our kitchen is a pretty good size as is. If the layout were better and the floors were all the same level, the shape would work well. But if we were to shorten it by removing our utility space at the back, and widen it by going into the side return, we would make a large, square room that would connect up with our reception rooms. It would be more efficient to heat, and would give us the option of adding a downstairs bathroom without having to tuck it somewhere really awkward. On paper, it seems like a no-brainer, and after seeing a neighbours house I know it would look stunning. However, if we went ahead we would lose two period features that completely stole my heart the first time we viewed our home – a big bay window in the kitchen that perfectly holds our 8-seater table, and a set of original stained-glass french doors that lead out to the back garden. So that’s the decision we’ve been debating – period features vs. plenty of practical living space.

If you hadn’t already guessed, I’m a bit of a romantic when it comes to houses. I love original features even if they are a bit restrictive, impractical, or expensive to maintain. When we were house hunting, we toured a number of properties that had been ‘modernised’ by developers. Fireplaces were stripped out, coving and skirting boards ‘updated’, carpet laid; only the walls remained. Everything was perfectly nice, clean and easy to maintain but I couldn’t see past the ghosts of what once had been there; it simply felt empty and sad.

It probably won’t surprise you, given the paragraph above, that we’ve currently decided not to go ahead with the side return; I just can’t bring myself to take away two things that made me fall in love with the house in the first place. And once an original feature is gone, it’s quite hard to replace. Even though we’ve made our decision, I’d love to hear your points of view. Am I being sentimental and silly? Should we put emotions to the side and embrace the space that we may need in ten years time? Or do you think we’re doing the right thing?

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One comment

  1. There is something charming about houses with rooms inside rooms inside rooms. It keeps drawing you in with curiosity about what comes next. It is as if you are inside a living fairy tale with loads of new stories to hear. A little niche or corner gives a new place to go sit and see with a new perspective. Leaving the period design feels right in this case because it maintains design continuity. If you wanted a new place with straight lines, you would not have chosen a Victorian home. Cudos on your decision! Also, there may be a way to level your kitchen floor in the two front areas, making steps to the back area more obvious so no tripping. Can a second bathroom be put in that area with laundry, taking out the kitchen sink? Would it be possible to put a decorative strip at each level change to make the step obvious enough to avoid tripping, if the floor remains as is? What do the construction designers have to say about the floor?

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