Everything happens for a reason – including disappointments, believes Joanne McGee. ‘We’d been living in a single-level flat and wanted more space, so we started looking for a house. We got as far as selling our place and an offer being accepted on a property we’d seen when, suddenly, our buyer pulled out. It was after this that we struggled to find another.’

The McGees started considering alternatives, and turning the flat into a two-storey maisonette by converting the loft was soon on the agenda. ‘It seemed an ideal solution, partly because we loved the area we lived in,’ says Joanne. ‘Plus, we’d noticed while house-hunting that most rooms in the houses we viewed were smaller than the ones in our flat. In many ways, it seemed crazy to move and, with hindsight, we’re relieved the house sale fell through because we’ve ended up with more space than if we’d moved!’

Fact file

  • The owners: Joanne McGee, a picture librarian for a publishing company, lives here with her husband, Stuart, a roadside technician for a travel assistance firm, and their daughter, Meggan, one
  • The property: A two-storey 1930s maisonette
  • The location: Bromley, south-east London
  • What they spent: The couple bought the maisonette in September 2004 for £180,000 and spent around £62,000 converting and furnishing the loft. The property has recently been valued at around £300,000

Planning the conversion

Having decided to convert the roof space, the McGees considered having two bedrooms and a bathroom in the loft, retaining a third bedroom downstairs and extending the original kitchen by knocking through into the spare room. Their plans changed dramatically, however, when they visited the National Home Improvement Show and booked a consultation with Hugo Tugman from architectural services company Architect Your Home.

‘Hugo considered all our ideas before coming up with an alternative solution. He suggested we turn the loft into one open-plan living space and keep all the bedrooms downstairs,’ explains Joanne, who admits she wasn’t initially convinced. ‘Once we got home and started thinking about Hugo’s suggestion, it made complete sense. We didn’t have our daughter Meggan at that point, but having children was part of the plan long-term, so splitting bedrooms over two floors didn’t seem right.’

To maximise the space, the McGees wanted a rear dormer and hip-to-gable conversion instead of only a rear dormer. This added cost would stretch the couple’s finances to the limit, so they employed loft conversion company Econoloft to design and build the shell and staircase.

loft-extensionA rear dormer and hip-to-gable conversion designed and built by Econoloft has maximised the available space in the couple’s loft

Beginning the build

‘To save money, Stuart – who is very practical – took on the rest of the work, calling in favours from friends whenever he needed any help,’ says Joanne. ‘That included plasterboarding, plastering, electrics, plumbing, painting – everything else, basically! We were both surprised with what he achieved.’

Joanne and Stuart chose Econoloft for several reasons. ‘What impressed us most was that we never felt as if we were being given the hard sell by its representative, who visited several times,’ says Joanne, who had seen the standard of the company’s work elsewhere. ‘We also looked at other lofts that the company had completed and were impressed by the quality.’

Econoloft also looked after the planning permission process, and once the necessary approval was in place, the work on the loft conversion began in April 2012. While the McGees continued to live downstairs in their existing space, the company finished the shell of the conversion eight weeks later. The loft wasn’t totally transformed into the new storey, however, until June 2013.

‘It took so much longer because we finished it ourselves,’ says Joanne. ‘Working full-time meant having to fit in the required jobs after work and at weekends.’

loft-extension-storage2The McGees have saved money by designing and building the large shelving system themselves

Fulfilling fire regulations

It’s rare that construction work happens without the occasional hiccup along the way, as Joanne and Stuart discovered. Although the original plans indicated a fire door being installed at the top of the staircase, the McGees felt that it wasn’t aesthetically pleasing and chose not to install one when they undertook the task of finishing off the interior work. ‘One thing we learnt was that because we chose not to have the door at the top or bottom of the stairs leading into the loft, we didn’t comply with fire regulations – despite having a wired-in smoke alarm system,’ says Joanne. ‘We were told that we would need a sprinkler system – not only would that have proved expensive, but it was hard to find a company that would fit one, as they’re usually only installed in businesses.’

The McGees investigated further and came across an AOV (automatic opening vent) to solve the problem. ‘Essentially, it’s a skylight connected to a motor, which in turn is linked to the smoke alarms,’ explains Joanne. ‘If the alarms go off, the skylight opens to let out smoke, giving us time to leave through the front door, which is two flights down. There is a fireman’s override switch at the door to close it once we’re out. As long as the correct size window was installed, it was considered to have met building regulations approval.’

It didn’t originally go to plan, however, as the couple installed the incorrect size. ‘We had to replace it for the next size up,’ admits Joanne. ‘Thank goodness for Ebay, because we were able to sell our “only opened once, in for a day” Velux skylight on there.’

The only other problem the couple encountered involved getting their sofa up the narrow staircase. ‘When we bought it we explained there wasn’t much room but we were assured that the sofa would virtually come apart in tiny pieces,’ says Joanne. ‘On delivery, not only did the sofa not fit up the staircase, but we weren’t able to take it apart, either. We ended up removing the front skylight and using a ladder, rope and helpful neighbours to get it into the house!’

loft-extension-kitchenThe handleless cream gloss kitchen design from Wren Living, including the curved units in the island, provides ample storage space. The Neff oven has a Slide&Hide door, designed to provide more room to move around the area

Completing the project

To finance the loft conversion, the McGees remortgaged for the cost of the shell plus several thousand pounds on top. ‘We didn’t really set a budget,’ explains Joanne. ‘Knowing it would be a slow job, we were able to pay for much of it as we went along. As we were intending to stay in the property for a while, we were happy to spend money on the project, although we didn’t go mad. I could have done, though – especially when it came to the wonderful kitchens and accessories I saw.’

Joanne is particularly proud of what Stuart has achieved throughout the project. ‘It’s amazing, considering he’s never done anything like it before – after all, a house is quite different to a car!’ The kitchen worktops are an example of his fine work. ‘Having paid a lot for them, we arranged for a carpenter to install the worktops because we didn’t want to end up ruining them. But when that fell through and we just wanted them finished, Stuart decided to have a go himself. He watched lots of YouTube videos showing the job being done, bought a router and started cutting,’ she says.

Despite the challenges along the way, the hard work and time put in has paid off, and the McGees couldn’t be happier with the end result. ‘I’m so pleased that we decided to listen to the advice and use the top floor as living space rather than bedrooms, because it’s so light and airy,’ enthuses Joanne. ‘We spend all our time up here, which is exactly what we wanted.’

The costs

Loft conversion £36,600
Kitchen £12,000
Plastering, skirting and insulation £4,000
Walnut flooring and workstops £3,500
Gas/electrics £1,900
Automatic opening vent £1,400
New roof £1,300
Tools and materials £570
Lighting £540
Heating (cast-iron radiator) £420
Paint £150
TOTAL £62,380

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