Dream House week five: A sympathetic extension

At first glance, this thatched, half-timbered old farmhouse looks like the perfect subject for a chocolate-box painting. Inside, there are handsome beamed interiors, low ceilings and flagstone floors. The plan of the building is in two ranges. The larger of these has its main front facing south and east. It contains the drawing room, with a characteristic and generous inglenook fireplace, with a smaller sitting room (without fireplace) adjacent.

The smaller range extends behind the drawing room with a kitchen, whose massive chimneystack, complete with bread oven, is set back to back with the drawing-room fireplace. The kitchen also doubles up as the dining room, as there is nowhere else in the building where this could go. Beyond the kitchen are a utility room, a porch and a downstairs loo, which has been added on to one side.

Upstairs on the first floor, care has been taken to keep the wide old floorboards, and there is an attractive loft bedroom open to the apex of the roof. There are four bedrooms, two bathrooms and also a cellar. The estate agents suggest that this house dates from the 17th century, but, from the pattern of the timber framing, it looks as if it might well be a century older.


The house itself has been completely restored, but the renovation works appear to have stopped short of the former farm outbuildings. These are largely modern utilitarian structures, arranged in an L-shaped configuration and appear to be cheaply constructed of breeze block with corrugated asbestos roofing; probably erected from a standard kit of parts. Ugly though they are now, they do frame the concrete-paved farmyard opposite the house and, if visually improved, they could potentially define the present area more attractively.

These buildings may also be able to provide better garaging, a games room for children or an office or study to work from home. Given that the shape and form of the farm house looks to be fairly original, it may be difficult to extend, except with extreme care.

Estate agent’s view, Edward Cunningham, partner, Knight Frank’s Country Department

* In order to increase value and marketability, this house needs further bedroom accommodation

* I would create a guest annexe with three bedrooms, two bathrooms and an office/study set around a structured courtyard garden with box and yew hedging

* I would include a luxurious Mexican limestone pool, and part of the conversion would include
a pool house with kitchenette, loos and changing facilities  

* All would complement the existing ‘glorious gardens’. A tennis court could also be added  

My approach is to make modest adjustments to the main house to provide extra dining/living space, and to concentrate on providing additional accommodation in a redevelopment of the historic footprint of the farmyard. At the same time, I would replan the yard as a more formal and intensive garden for flowers, vegetables, fruit, herbs and so on, and use this to unite the buildings physically and visually.

The farmhouse has no formal dining room, only a dining kitchen. A glazed extension provides an opportunity for an alternative eating room. To the east, a long, low building would be redeveloped as a garage in the style of an open cart shed facing onto the entrance drive and with gates into the courtyard. This building could also provide secure stores for garden equipment. Traditional materials-brick and local tiles-would be used, and the building would contrast with the large barn on the south side of the yard.

This could be rebuilt as a games room, and I would exploit the height to provide a viewing gallery/occasional guest room with loo, shower and kitchen facilities below. There is scope for garden-staff facilities to be incorporated into the end of the building, and the whole could support, on the southern roof slope, panels to generate electricity and hot water for the whole complex.

Beyond the large barn, and tucked into the south-east corner, a smaller barn could be rebuilt on a domestic scale to provide a study with fireplace and views out over the surrounding countryside. All rainwater should be collected for watering gardens and as grey water in loos and so on. A formal garden is proposed, with a central pond and radiating paths between raised planting beds. An orchard, vegetable and fruit beds could be included, as well as room for flowers and herbs, and would contrast with the lawned areas around the other sides of the old house.

Ptolemy’s verdict

Jane Kennedy is cathedral architect for Ely, and is, therefore, quite undaunted by the challenge of extending this old farmhouse. In order to provide the missing dining room, she has proposed a completely glazed addition to one side of the old farmhouse, leaving all the old beams and timbers exposed.

Next to this addition is a new terrace with a further dining area, and one can imagine, on a characteristic English summer’s day, the comedy of dashing from one table to the other to dodge the showers. Both of these new eating areas look out over a new garden enclosed with planting beds of what might be garden produce, small fruit trees and wildflowers.


With all the old concrete removed and the cars relocated elsewhere, by night, this garden could be a scented and attractive place; sitting in the glass dining room, one could gaze up at the stars in candlelight and feel a part of this garden, but without the chilly draught that so afflicts a typical English evening.

Beyond the garden, all of the old outbuildings have been brought back into use, the modern structures simply reclad in better-quality, but appropriate, materials, so that they remain clearly agricultural in character and not in visual competition with the main house.