Add some glamour to your interior: The story of how Aisling Shannon Rusk renovated her Belfast period property.
As an architect Aisling was in an ideal position to tackle the renovation of the Edwardian home she and her husband bought back in 2012.
“The house had an old-fashioned décor at the time of buying, with heavily patterned wallpaper and carpets and dark furniture and colour schemes, and yet it immediately jumped out because of the amount of outdoor space – both a yard and a garden beyond – which is rare for this part of Belfast, and the potential to extend and improve,” she explains.
Here are some of the ingredients that made her renovation and extension project a success:
1. Retain the character of the building
“We really love period architecture, and wanted to retain the original features the house had such as cornicing, doors, baluster and cast iron fireplaces, but at the same time introduce something much more open, bright and contemporary,” explains Aisling.
It was upon inspection of aerial photographs that Aisling saw that other houses on the terrace had already extended at the back, so she knew it was possible.
Her solution downstairs was therefore to replace the long galley-style kitchen and outside toilet and coal shed with a large open-plan kitchen/ dining/living space that opens out onto the garden.
The original front room, formerly knocked together to form a front-to-back reception room, was reinstated with the addition of a ‘book nook’ and a WC/ utility room squeezed in between the two ground floor rooms.
Among other design features she also added a light well to illuminate the upper and lower stories.
2. Extension in contemporary style
“We wanted the new bit to look new, not like it had always been there, because that seems more ‘honest’,” explains Aisling. Within Belfast’s industrial heritage of mill buildings and factories, white glazed bricks were often used to illuminate tight rear spaces and courtyards – and so Aisling decided to use glazed brick, too – white in the internal lightwell and black to the rear.
“An early conversation with a local Planning Officer suggested some potential discomfort with us deviating from red brick, but in the end we persevered and there were no issues,” she adds.
The new extension also has a flat roof, covered in a proprietary membrane.
3. Scandi inspired interiors
“I love the understated simplicity of Scandinavian design and its selective use of timber,” confides Aisling.
“The walls are painted white to maximise light into the spaces, and the original brick party wall has been left exposed to add texture and colour.”
“We have favoured compact, mid-century vintage furniture (often on legs to help small floor spaces feel as big as possible) and embraced an industrial aesthetic when it came to elements such as lights. We took our time to select just the right pieces, in materials like metal and concrete.”
4. Quirky interior design ideas
One of the most successful and inexpensive lighting features is above the dining area where Aisling used electrical conduit and bare bulbs to create a dimmable feature strip.
And to make their long, narrow bathroom work well, Aisling sourced a straight-edged corner bath from a German company to give them a decent-sized, full-width bath. “It has been very successful, despite a long lead-in time which caused a slight delay,” she adds.
5. Polished concrete floor
The first step was to remove the uneven, non-original concrete floor throughout and replace it with a new, insulated one with underfloor heating for the revamped kitchen/ dining/living room at the rear.
“We opted to put the insulation beneath the concrete slab so that we had seven inches (slab plus screed) of thermal mass to hold the heat from the underfloor heating for slow release – it is slower to heat up but also slower to lose its heat – we keep our heat on at a low temperature throughout the winter and have found this an extremely cosy house and very inexpensive to heat.”
The heat source is gas with a condensing combi boiler.
6. Connection to the garden
“A benefit of working with existing buildings is that materials that are removed can be reused as a feature elsewhere,” comments Aisling.
“We did our back garden a few months after we moved in using bricks that had been removed from the house, and leftover black glazed brick for the planter/retaining wall.”
“Although it’s small, we were keen to have even a little bit of grass for the kids – it’s also a really cost-efficient ground covering. The manhole is concealed within the lawn.”
7. Practical considerations
“It’s a lovely house to live in, and we’re really happy here. One compromise is storage – now that we have two kids we could definitely do with more of it, but we have floored the loft and put in a loft ladder, which is a great help.
“If we were to do the project over again we might also make the kitchen roof light openable for added ventilation flexibility – you can’t have too much air flow in a kitchen! But otherwise we wouldn’t change a thing.”
Original house: 120 sqm
Extension: 24.5 sqm
Purchase cost (2012): £140,000
Construction cost: £36,000
Total project cost: £58,000 including professional and application fees, kitchen and bathrooms, finishes, full garden works, lighting, appliances, etc.
House value: £250,000