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Transform a period property with a side return extension

A bit on the side: Light and airy, ‘side return’ extensions can easily transform a period home and add value

  • Extending into the alleyways alongside Victorian homes can increase space
  • It is a great way to transform a small kitchen into a vibrant communal area
  •  Installing skylights or a glass dome will make the space brighter 


Most Victorian and Edwardian houses share a classic layout. These properties have a small pokey kitchen at the rear which doesn’t extend to the full width of the building.

There’s a pointless stretch of unusable alleyway, a few metres wide, so many have taken up the challenge, knocking out the side wall and expanding the kitchen into this netherworld to bring in air and light.

Such projects are known as ‘side returns’ and are superb for updating 19th-century homes for 21st-century living, making the kitchen the main communal area. 

Easy breezy: Skylights let light flood into a kitchen turning it into a comfortable living space

They take an average of three months to complete and usually come under ‘permitted development’ rights, so you won’t need to apply for planning permission unless you live in a conservation area.

Since the sideways expansion will normally be single-storey, skylights can pull the sun down into the new kitchen or kitchen-diner, bringing out the colour in your units and décor — especially if your side return is combined with French or bi-fold doors between the kitchen and garden. 

Velux skylights start at about £650 for a non-opening model 60 cm x 60 cm.

Or for maximum effect, a lantern — a glass pyramid that sits on the roof, rather than flat skylights — will attract the sun’s beams from all angles. You can get a basic 1 m x 1.5 m unit from Wickes for £1,190.

But for something a bit more swish, dome-shaped lanterns lend a striking aspect. Try David Salisbury where impressive domes start at £18,000 for lanterns 2.5 m in diameter.

If you’re concerned that the extra sun could make your kitchen-diner a bit too warm in the summer, then sail blinds, designed to hang loose and billow with a breeze, will soften the glare while looking stylish. 

ShadeSail Blinds can custom make shades. Expect to pay in the region of £500.

Once you’ve brought all the extra light in, don’t squander it.

Keep the flooring and unit colour light — and if you’re daring enough in a period building, high-gloss surfaces such as Corian will see light bounce everywhere (expect to pay about £150 per metre for Corian worktops).

A wraparound extension can include a side return and extending the rear of the house into the garden.

It transforms a dingy, barely ventilated scullery into a room with a range and island on one side, and dining table and sofas on the other.

Sentinel Design and Build created just such an extension in Nunhead, south London. 

The build cost £180,000 without the architect’s fees. It turned a 31 sq m kitchen into a 51 sq m kitchen-diner.

Steve Corbyn, MD of Sentinel, says: ‘Clients often can’t see that even a small gap at the side can open up the kitchen-diner. They are amazed by the gain. Pinterest is a good resource to gather ideas.’

Some people like to make the expansion seamless, others like to differentiate this new space by exposing the new structural elements such as steel beams, or giving it a separate flooring and colour scheme. 

This can create a different zone — perhaps you want a cosy nook for reading with wooden floors and softer lighting, or somewhere colourful for the children to play while you prepare dinner.

Architect Amos Goldreich designed a side-return where the materials change between the original structure and the area that has been added.

The original kitchen works in smooth whites and greys, where the new zone uses exposed brickwork and light timber shelving, with frameless skylights bringing in lots of sun.

The project, which also involved remodelling the kitchen, cost £190,000 including the architect’s fees.

For real visual impact, you can have the whole expansion constructed from glazed panes — a contrast that maximises the light entry and sense of space gained.

It means even on a winter’s day, with the doors closed, you feel like you are outside. Check out ODC Glass.

What your home needs is an… Arch light

Habitat offers a black lamp with a cream rattan shade (pictured, £65, Argos).

Habitat offers a black lamp with a cream rattan shade (pictured, £65, Argos).

Let’s remember the late, great Achille Castiglioni, the Italian designer who, in the 1960s, created the arch light. This innovation, named after its shape, illuminates objects several feet from its base and replaces a central light.

The light comes into its own at this time of year when darkness starts to fall at about 3.30pm — which is why your home needs one, especially since The Range and others supply so many elegant and inexpensive versions of the original Castiglioni model.

If you want the real Castiglioni Arco Floor Lamp, it costs £1,990 at the Conran Shop. 

But for £49.99, you can acquire a chrome arch light with a spherical shade from The Range. La Redoute’s So’Home chrome light costs £32.45.

Should you prefer other finishes to chrome, John Lewis has the antique brass Angus lamp with a cream shade (£92), while Habitat offers a black lamp with a cream rattan shade (£65).

Pooky supplies the antique silver Astaire (£315) which the company says can change angle and direction in the same effortless way as the late great Fred Astaire, master of the light fantastic.

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