‘Our home is almost unrecognisable from the small, three-bedroom semi we bought back in 2002,’ says Dionne.

‘We had big plans for the modest house but we also had the sense to acknowledge that it wasn’t possible for us to do it all in one go. It’s a cliché, but we really could see its potential.

There was room at the side and back to extend, with a good-sized garden to prevent it from looking out of proportion.’

Fact file

  • The owners: Dionne Mayes lives here with her husband Andy, a fireman, and sons Joby, 22, Louis, 16, Alfie, 13, and Frankie, 10
  • The property: An extended 1930s semi-detached house with five bedrooms
  • The location: Stanstead Abbotts, Hertfordshire
  • What they spent: The couple’s kitchen project cost around £28,500

Extending the property

Two extensions over a seven-year period created the space they needed, with the interior reconfigured from project to project. ‘We had so many ideas and didn’t want to have to compromise,’ explains Dionne. ‘The answer was to carry out the work in stages so we could get the house exactly how we wanted it.’

The first building phase, back in 2006, included an extension at the back of the house with a kitchen-diner as well as a playroom-cum-den for the Mayes’ sons. In 2010, a side extension created extra bedrooms upstairs and a home office, bathroom and kitchen downstairs. The long-term plan was to turn this into a large utility room and move all the kitchen units in there, using it as a temporary kitchen while the couple saved up to do what they really wanted, which was to knock the old kitchen and playroom into one open-plan family space.

‘The playroom was a great space but as the boys got older they used it much less,’ says Dionne. ‘What I had craved all this time was a lovely big kitchen, with easy access to the garden and where we would have room to all eat together.’

Kitchen island with television


A popular feature for all the family, the TV is built into a sealed unit at the back of the island so water from the sink cannot leak into it

Knocking through the dividing wall

With the structure already in place, this was a relatively straightforward project – all they needed to do was to knock together the two rooms, but Dionne wanted to wait until she could have the kitchen design that she had set her heart on. ‘If you count the original kitchen and the temporary ones during the building phases, this is actually the fourth kitchen I have had in this house,’ she recalls, ‘so I wanted it to be exactly right.’

The couple obtained some quotes from local builders, and in 2012 the refurbishment began. The dividing wall was knocked down and the walls in the previous kitchen space, where all the old cabinets had been fixed, were re-plastered. Apart from that, the space was in good shape, and as she had been planning the design for so long, Dionne had already decided on the kind of look she was after for the new kitchen. She admits that living in the house during all the building work was hard, but it gave them a good insight into what worked and what didn’t. 

Building bespoke units

‘I wanted bespoke cabinetry that looked like pieces of furniture with a freestanding feel, rather than regular off-the-shelf kitchen units, and in a neutral colour that wasn’t cream,’ Dionne explains. ‘We met up with Adam Wright, from local building company Wrightway Building Services, and I drew him some sketches of what I was looking for.’

Adam built the bespoke units, curving the edges to give a nod to the 1930s style of the house, and Dionne chose a paint shade reminiscent of old white limewash for the cabinetry. The thickset oak work surfaces add a modern country feel to the scheme, and matching oversized ‘mushroom’ handles complete the look.

The couple considered adding glass splashbacks but thought they would look too modern, and this would also have taken them over budget. Instead, they installed painted tongue-and-groove panelling to co-ordinate with the cabinetry, and it was also fitted in the dining area. ‘Our house is always full at dinner time – usually with the boys’ school friends, who come over for tea,’ says Dionne. ‘The kitchen is so easy to keep clean, which is particularly good around the dining table.’

Kitchen island in new extension


A peninsula was designed to fit between the two sets of French doors, which Dionne loves to have open in the summer for dining alfresco

Creating a focal point

With such a big space to fill, Dionne wanted the kitchen to have a central focal point, so Adam designed a shelf unit to house an extractor hood above the range cooker. This, together with the wall units, has had integrated task lighting fitted underneath, which gives the room a subtle glow when the main lights are turned off or dimmed in the evening.

The living area is part of a two-storey extension, but the kitchen, in place of the old playroom, is a single storey with a sloping roof. When the work was being carried out, Dionne asked her builder to remodel the ceiling to echo the angle of the roofline above, to add character and define the different areas. She also asked him to fit a skylight window, as she was concerned that the dining area at the back might be a little on the dark side. ‘Just raising the ceiling made a huge difference, but once the skylight went in, the room was flooded with light,’ she says.

Sitting between the two sets of French doors, the peninsula unit houses a built-in TV on one side, with a ceramic sink on the other. The couple were concerned about fitting a sink into a wooden surface, and so chose a design with a ledge and tap holes so the taps wouldn’t have to be mounted directly onto the wood. This is also a good spot for placing dishcloths and soap so that they are not in contact with the wood.

‘I love the work surfaces but we do have to look after them,’ Dionne explains. ‘I make sure the area around the sink stays dry, and we sand down and oil them a couple of times a year – they really have become more beautiful with age.’

While she had to wait a long time for her dream kitchen, Dionne says that she wouldn’t change a thing. ‘I love being in here,’ she smiles. ‘The space has a wonderful warm, homely feel and the sofa is big enough for us all to pile onto it to watch a movie and enjoy some family time together.’

The costs

Cabinetry and work surfaces £14,000
Building work £5,000
Appliances £4,500
Flooring £2,500
Lighting £1,489
Sink and taps £1,000
TOTAL £28,489

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