A space odyssey
IF YOU have a house or flat with a bad layout, or you're thinking about buying one, changing the layout can be expensive and won't necessarily be easy, but it could transform your home life.
Cottages and small terraced houses (or converted flats in them) are some of the worst offenders when it comes to bad layouts.
Common problems include no hallway (you come straight into the reception room), the staircase in the middle of the reception rooms (this looks really odd if the rooms have been knocked through but the staircase hasn't been moved), a downstairs bathroom or an upstairs bathroom accessible only through a bedroom, making the bedroom little more than a corridor.
While living rooms, dining rooms and kitchens can be 'corridor' rooms, if they have to be, bathrooms and bedrooms obviously can't.
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Putting up a partition wall is an easy and inexpensive (costing around several hundred pounds) way of creating privacy in a corridor room, but there are rooms where it isn't a quick fix – if the window is in the wrong place, for example.
The trend these days for is for big kitchen-diners/family rooms, but if your home has the bathroom at the end of the kitchen (a common problem in small, period houses), it stops you from having a kitchen-diner with good access to and views of the garden and it's also, of course, inconvenient to have the bathroom so far from the bedrooms.
Moving a bathroom isn't the easiest or cheapest job and it will depend (unless you choose a macerating loo) on the position of the soil pipe, but a good plumber can do it in two or three days.
A bathroom is the one room that can be internal (without a window), which may be a compromise worth making if it improves the layout.
A bathroom can also be shoehorned into a really small space, especially if you're prepared to sacrifice the bath for a shower cubicle, or have no cubicle at all (a wet room, for example).
While putting up walls is often a solution to layout problems, taking them down can work just as well.
Knocking two reception rooms into one is commonly done, as is taking out a wall between the kitchen and an adjoining room to create a large kitchen-diner.
Thirties houses are popular with families, but they usually have small, narrow kitchens that aren't suited to family life.
Extending at the back of the house to create a big family room is the ideal solution, but if you can't afford an extension, opening up the kitchen to the dining room can create a much more practical and pleasant room.
Of course, the problem with removing walls is that some of them are holding up the house, so you will need to consult a structural engineer at the planning stage.
In addition, you may need a party wall agreement with your neighbours if you're doing structural work or cutting in to a shared wall or floor/ceiling.
If you live in a flat, the best layout is often the same as the flats above and below yours, as you don't want your bedroom underneath someone else's living room, for example.
Changing the layout is often more difficult in flats because you usually need the freeholder's permission to make alterations, or the permission of your fellow freeholders if you own a share of the freehold.
If the new layout differs from the floor plan on the flat's lease, you may need a deed of variation (drawn up by a solicitor) to reflect the changes and avoid problems when you sell.
If reconfiguring the existing space doesn't solve your home's layout problems, increasing the living space, either by building an extension or converting the loft, garage or cellar, is the next best option, although it's usually more expensive.
That said, extensions and conversions generally add value and make your home more future-proof.
Many houses (although not flats and maisonettes) have permitted development rights, so as long as you stick to the rules, you can often extend and convert without applying for planning permission.
Go to www.planningportal.gov.uk to find out more.