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How to convert a garage into an accessible 2-bed cottage?

When Julie first got in contact with us in June 2019, she was in the process of buying a property near Haworth. But it wasn’t the main house that she was looking for help with. It was a separate double garage building that was positioned next to the house that she had earmarked for her mother and step-father to move into. Her mother wasn’t well and they were struggling to cope in their current house. Julie wanted to provide somewhere for them where they could feel independent whilst also being close enough to be able to provide daily support, somewhere they could call home for whatever time they have left.

When somebody calls us about their current home or a new one they’re in the process of buying we can usually access floorplans online. However, because this was a separate garage building it wasn’t included on the plans. You can usually convert garages into living space within Permitted Development i.e. you don’t need planning permission, as long as you stay within the current footprint. But without seeing it we weren’t sure whether it would be big enough to convert without extending.

Julie opted to buy into a 2-hour consultation with us at the property to discuss options, feasibility and initial ideas. It meant that she needed to ask for permission to visit from the vendor but he was willing for us to do that. So, a week after we initially spoke on the phone we met with Julie and her husband at the house.

When we first drove down the driveway, we could see what Julie had fallen for. The house and garages were built on a beautiful plot, surrounded by woodland. It was an idyllic location and we could immediately see the potential there was to create a home with incredible views for her parents. However, what was harder to see was how it all be configured as the garages were absolutely full of the vendors’ stuff.

After a good root around and walking around the space we knew that the building could provide the space needed for two people to live comfortably. The key challenges were going to be making the most of the views (which are spectacular), making sure everything was accessible and future-proofed for any deterioration in health, and making sure there was enough light coming into the property.

The plot is on a large slope and the garage is built on the slope beneath the main house so part of the garage roof is also the patio for the main house, so no ability to add roof windows. But it also means that the slope continues down from the garages into a large expanse of woodland, with potential to create a decking space with views over the trees.

That first consultation meeting was mainly spent reassuring Julie that the footprint was large enough to create what she wanted, talking through some potential options for configuration and really understanding the needs when it came to accessibility and the way they live as a family. Lastly, we measured everything thoroughly so that we could create a floorplan drawing to scale.

Julie came away from that meeting buzzing about the possibilities and subsequently bought into a 3-stage design process with us which included:

  1. Initial layout and configuration options including 2D floorplans and 3D visuals

  2. Opportunity to feedback and refine/amend the designs

  3. Production of working drawings for the builder to quote and work from

So, we got to work on thinking about the possible options for configuring the space and how to make the best use of an awkward building shape and the constraints around light. This was the first project we’d worked on where there was no layout already in place to work with. Literally, anything could go anywhere: from the front door and hallway to the bedroom and bathroom positions, it was up to us to design a home that flowed and worked for this specific family.

This meant that we shared six different layout options with Julie and her family to start with. This may sound like a lot but each had its own merits and we wanted to allow them to drive the decision making rather than us forcing them down a particular path. It meant that they could choose between a more open plan living space or a more zoned off kitchen, how large a hallway they needed, whether they needed a separate utility room as well as access points to the bathroom.

We had a meeting to discuss the layout options once they’d had some time to review and discuss as a family. It was clear that a more open plan living space was what they wanted, but it also needed to provide a cosy living area that felt like a proper living room. A grand hallway wasn’t necessary but they did want space to hang coats, take your shoes off and store the wheelchair. And a utility space was also useful as they didn’t want the washing machine and laundry to be in the main living space.

As part of the feedback we also discussed the longer-term future and whether we needed to be thinking about it as a potential holiday let too. This led us to suggesting the idea of adding a second bedroom which would increase the potential for the home to be let in the future.

A significant chunk of the garage had been allocated to the new water purification system and biomass heating system that were going to be installed as well as some outside storage. But even when you carved out enough space for a bedroom from that they were still left with plenty of room.

The key element to getting it right was to ensure that the main bedroom was able to get enough natural light. We did this by incorporating a corridor with a large window at the front of the property and then an internal window placed at a height that retains privacy between the bedroom and the corridor. The second bedroom also needed an en-suite to make sure that somebody didn’t then need to walk all the way round from that bedroom to the main bathroom.

So, we drew up final floorplans for both a 1-bed and 2-bed layout and Julie and her family decided to go-ahead with the 2-bed option. Although it would cost a little more to create, the long-term return potential was too good an opportunity to miss.

We drew up final plans for the builder which included:

  • Roof structure

  • Tanking requirements given that some of the walls were below ground level

  • Roof windows including size and placement

  • Internal doors to ensure wide access for wheelchair (this included the use of pocket doors everywhere)

  • First fix plumbing requirements including size and power of radiators

  • First fix electrical requirements including all sockets, switches (including relevant heights for access purposes) and lights

The whole process took 2 months from the initial phone call from Julie to the final plans and drawings being available for the builder.

Julie already had a builder lined up based on recommendations from friends and family so felt confident working directly with him once the house purchase was complete. Unfortunately, the exchange and completion took a little longer than they’d hoped or anticipated. But eventually they got the keys at the end of August and Julie didn’t waste any time getting going with the build.

Although there are still some bits and pieces to finish off inside (like painting the second bedroom and utility space) and the outside decking area has yet to be started, the main part of the house is now a home. All done in less than four months, even with a fair bit of decorating done themselves, impressive work!

We were so pleased when Julie invited us back to visit and seeing her parents in their new home made us feel incredibly proud and emotional. Seeing a design come to life is always rewarding, but seeing directly how design can impact on people’s lives and wellbeing was really special.

Next on Julie’s list is the main house. It’s been neglected for a long time. It only has a working toilet downstairs even though the bedrooms are all upstairs, lots of ‘dead’ zones and no front door. They need to raise the funds to do the work but we’re hoping to start working with them on the designs in the Spring. On the basis of how good a job they’ve done on the garages we can’t wait to work on it with them!

If you are thinking about converting a garage or out house or making changes in your home and need some help or interior design inspiration, do get in touch with us here. And don't forget to follow us via Instagram, Facebook and our upcoming blogs.

Fresh Start Living is based in Leeds, West Yorkshire and covers surrounding areas as well as offering a remote interior design service.

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