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Everything you need to know about side return extensions

If you live in a victorian property with a back garden, there’s a good chance the property features the much maligned ‘side return’. A common architectural feature of the time, where one side of the house has a narrow strip of land leading from a kitchen or living room door, along the side of the house to the back garden. 

At the time of construction, it can only be assumed that side returns were intended to provide residents of the home with an easy way to get to the outside loo. However, today these ugly design elements serve no practical purpose, other than perhaps as a place to store the recycling boxes or children’s garden toys.

What’s more, these dark and dingy spaces take up valuable space which could be better utilised, which is where the side return extension comes in. The side return extension is a home improvement which in recent years has become hugely popular, particularly in certain areas of London where outside living area is at an absolute premium so homeowners don’t want to reduce the size of their garden with a rear extension.

The project works by removing the exterior wall that makes up the side return, then extending it up to the boundary with next door. Looking at your home from the outside this may seem like you would only gain a few feet worth of space inside but don’t be deceived, this small increase in size can make a dramatic difference to how spacious the home feels.

Open up

Many side returns in victorian and edwardian homes run along both the home’s kitchen and living room, which means if you’ve always fancied going open plan, doing so while extending into the side return is a great time to do so. You’ll go from two or three smaller rooms to one huge, bright and airy contemporary space.

Remember during this renovation you could even move the rooms about, putting the kitchen to the front of the house and living/dining area to rear for example.

 Photo Credit: EOS Rooflights . Via Flickr. CC License

Let in the light

Side return extensions can be traditional bricks and mortar extensions or they can be conservatories. If you go for a single story brick extension then a great way to brighten your home is by the addition of a series of skylights or atrium roof to flood the space with natural light, which also helps to make the area seem even larger.

You could bring in further light by also removing the rear wall to replace it with a glass wall of bi-folding patio doors. Check our guide to ‘Bringing the outside in’ for more.

Blend or contrast?

One of the biggest considerations to make before you start the project is whether you want the new structure to match the period architectural aesthetics of the property or if you want to go for a contemporary looking extension which contrasts with the rest of the building.

Accenting the traditional look of the overall property with a modern twist can have stunning results, but the contrasting option needs to be pulled off well.

If your property is a listed building then you may only be able to get approval to extend it by using materials that are in keeping with the existing period style of the property.

Gain a bathroom

While victorian properties can have a great many enviable features such as beautiful period floor tiles, ceiling roses original fireplaces. Compared to modern property’s they have a distinct lacking in bathroom facilities. Which in most are pokey rooms hastily built into already existing areas of the property at some point in the last century.

Happily however, smaller side returns make great candidates for conversion into family bathrooms. While having a shower on the ground floor may not seem ideal, the extra facility will dramatically decrease the shower queue at 730am every weekday morning. Another option is to create a small WC room and then use the rest of the new space as a laundry/utilities room, freeing up more room in the kitchen for appliances.

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