Some good friends of mine have recently moved out of their 3-bed 1970’s chalet bungalow on a neat, if rather uninspiring, estate into a nearby rented house while they are having an extension built and major renovations done to said chalet bungalow. It currently has 2 bedrooms and a family bathroom upstairs under the eaves and another bedroom and shower room downstairs along with a large living/dining room and average-sized kitchen. I say average-sized but, in fact, having been built in the 70’s it’s probably significantly larger than the sort of kitchen you would get in a new build today.
Some reports suggest that kitchens are 30% smaller in new builds now than they were in the 1960’s. A recent visit to a 4-bed new family home makes me think that must be true as the kitchen was tiny and out of all proportion with the rest of the house. There was a master bedroom and en-suite in the loft, 3 fairly small bedrooms and a family bathroom on the first floor and a living room and small kitchen on the ground floor. The living room seemed a fairly decent size but only had living room furniture in it whereas, in practice, you would probably need a dining table in there too as the kitchen was so small – certainly too small to fit in a family sized table. The interior designers who did this particular show home had placed a small round table in the kitchen, but even with the table pushed up against the wall so that 2 of the 4 chairs were inaccessible it looked and felt cramped. And, of course, this limited the amount of space there was available for kitchen cupboards so that house would have the usual new-build problem of simply not enough space and particularly not enough storage space.
Is it just me who expects to see a family home with a full sized dining table at which a family could actually eat a meal and occasionally have visitors over for a meal? I know some other studies have shown that Londoners eat out on average 4 times per week (yes, really) but it would be interesting to know what the figures are for the country as a whole – I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t be anywhere near that many times and definitely not for families. Sadly, I suspect that house developers are contributing to the trend of eating in front of the TV. I’d like to think that the major house developers had done their research and this was what people wanted – tiny kitchens in exchange for more bedrooms and bathrooms but I have to wonder how the buyers of those homes feel after a few months living there. And I suspect it has more to do with the very high cost of land in so many parts of the UK and the desire of developers to squeeze as many homes onto the available space as possible. But that’s just me on my soap box again…
Although I don’t usually carry a tape measure with me my gut feeling is that 70’s houses are larger than current new homes and stand on larger plots. So back to the 70s house recently vacated for 6 months by my good friends.
They are, as I said, having major work done – to preserve the back garden which is not overly large they are, unusually, building their extension at the front and side. The side section will take the place of a narrow, under-used strip of garden and the front section will sit on what is now their fairly large, again under-used front lawn. It makes sense at a practical level but I’m just not convinced it will sit well in the street scape where all the neighbouring houses have large front lawns. But they have planning permission so I’m sure it will look better than I think because I can’t imagine a local authority giving planning permission for something that will look out of place – no, wait, of course I can imagine that – I see examples every day in my small home counties town.
Still I think the transformation of a 3-bed chalet bungalow into a proper 4-bed house will be exciting to see – I do know that the layout will work well and it will end up beautifully designed and decorated, and filled with wonderful furniture, art and objets because my friends have great taste. I envy them being involved in the project – so great will be the transformation that it was close to being just as cost effective to knock the whole thing down and start again – the costs were almost identical but it would have taken longer and the additional rent costs would have pushed them over budget . So a transformation it is, rather than a re-build.
I used to believe that creating a totally different house on a street of identical houses would mean that you would spend more on the transformation than you would ever recoup in the value of the house but I have seen several local streets over the years be completely changed and house prices leap into another bracket altogether by just such a thing happening. Starting with one brave, fore-sighted owner doing exactly what my friends are doing.
Only recently I was reading about The Bishop’s Avenue in London which has seen almost all the original Edwardian houses torn down over the past few decades and successively replaced by larger and larger contemporary homes and the same is happening in many of the wealthier commuter towns surrounding London. In Beaconsfield, for instance, I have seen perfectly decent (in fact, very desirable) substantial 5-bed houses torn down to be replaced by 3-storey mini-mansions with 6 bedrooms and 6 bathrooms – who really needs that many bathrooms? Think of the cleaning – even if you aren’t doing it yourself.
So, on the one hand, we have new home developers building ever smaller so-called “family homes” and at the other end of the scale we have people who think that 5 bedrooms and 2 or 3 bathrooms just isn’t enough space. And this is happening in the same areas – I’m not quite sure what that says for the state of the housing market in the UK but there is a huge chasm growing that may never be crossed.