Me and my home: Growing space

Two families into one house doesn't go. Alex Mattis hears about the Woods' solution
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The Independent Online

Tim and I got married two years ago. I had two sons - George, 12, and Joe, 11 - from my previous marriage, while Tim had three children - Thomas, 13, Johnny, 11, and Harriet, 9 - from his. So we suddenly found ourselves with rather a big family. Until then, I'd been living with the boys in a rented house, but Tim had bought this place. We decided that, rather than move, we'd extend it to accommodate everybody. It would have been madness not to, really. It's such a great setting. We're two minutes' walk from town, but can sit here staring at the cows. We were also lucky that we have a huge garden that we could steal a big chunk from without really noticing.

Jane Wood, a teacher, is married to Tim, a GP. They live with Jane's two sons and Tim's three children in a 19th-century cottage in Gillingham, Dorset

Tim and I got married two years ago. I had two sons - George, 12, and Joe, 11 - from my previous marriage, while Tim had three children - Thomas, 13, Johnny, 11, and Harriet, 9 - from his. So we suddenly found ourselves with rather a big family. Until then, I'd been living with the boys in a rented house, but Tim had bought this place. We decided that, rather than move, we'd extend it to accommodate everybody. It would have been madness not to, really. It's such a great setting. We're two minutes' walk from town, but can sit here staring at the cows. We were also lucky that we have a huge garden that we could steal a big chunk from without really noticing.

But the main reason we extended, instead of moving, was cost. The price of a six-bedroom house with a large garden would have been humungous, whereas this was an economical way of getting the space we needed. It also meant we could have the house exactly as we wanted.

We hired an architect and changed everything. Bedrooms became bathrooms and kitchens became living rooms. The house went from four bedrooms to six. We knew we wanted a bedroom each for the children, and that we needed at least three loos.

Another priority was having a huge family room that incorporates a kitchen, dining room and sitting room. That's what I've always, always wanted. They don't build houses with rooms that big. With five kids, I spend a lot of time cooking, so I didn't want to be tucked away in some poky back room with no one to talk to.

The whole thing took just over six months. It was pretty good. When we moved in, it was all decorated, except for the floor of the big room. I had to spend a few days grovelling around on my hands and knees but, otherwise, it was all up and running. Our builders were great. The architect always works with them, so they've built a close relationship. Sometimes you get builders who don't know what the architect's banging on about. But we never had that scenario where you come on site and find they've put the bathroom in the wrong place.

It was important the extension looked like it had always been here, so we used reclaimed stone and roof tiles. We had the whole house sandblasted so the old stone looked like the new. Then we had the roof retiled, mixing in our old tiles with the reclaimed tiles we'd bought. We also had new windows throughout the whole house.

To buy this house now - or rather, then - I reckon would have been £200,000 more than we paid for the extension. We simply couldn't have done it. We'd have to have had kids sharing. I know that isn't the end of the world, but we wouldn't have had anywhere near as much space.

That said, we were really bad at keeping within budget. The original build was meant to cost £80,000 and we lost sight of it totally. Things like the kitchen were extra, and I was determined to have an Aga. But we had so much space, it seemed churlish to only have a little one. There are lots of little extra 500 quids and thousand quids that mean you can easily spend another £10,000, £20,000 or £30,000. My kitchen tiles are handmade glass and I really loved them. I tried to find cheaper things, but I was almost in tears in the shop thinking, "I just want those." Then I said to myself: "I will probably never do this kitchen again. It'll last me 10 or 15 years." And that cost spread over 15 years - well, they're a real bargain.

The children were very much involved with the project. Tim and I waited until we had planning permission before telling them we were going to move in together and do it. Then we all sat round the kitchen table with the plans. They were very excited. They each chose their bedroom on the plan, and how they wanted to decorate it. I'd like to think they all love this as their home. When my parents split up, my dad put a sunbed in my room and turned it into his office. But I know our children like it here, because when we talk about winning the lottery, they want to stay. They want to buy the field opposite and have quad bikes and a skate park, but none of them want to move.

Our situation means we get every other weekend without any children, which is like being a born-again 20-year-old. And we get holiday time where we can go off and have a week somewhere, which is amazing at this point in our lives. Our friends who are still married to their first partners can't do that. So it does have its up side. Not having your children around takes a lot of getting used to, but it can be quite nice.

I think what we did worked very well. It's a great family house. If I did it again, I'd make the entrance hall bigger, because I totally underestimated how many shoes, school bags and coats would be living there. But, other than that, I don't think I'd change a thing.

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