Sunday, July 14, 2019

Benson Row - 03

Penrith, Cumbria. Saturday 29-June-2019.

The user requirements are simple:
  1. Fit a downstairs loo. 
  2. Level off the landing. 
Benson row is a three bedroomed house and has one bathroom upstairs. To have a downstairs toilet would avoid contention, enable Mary’s mum to visit, and make the property more lettable on Airbnb.

Currently to get from our bedroom to the bathroom means going along the landing which goes down five steps and up six steps. Not good in the middle of the night or not entirely sober. This curious arrangement is the result of the history of the building.

Originally Benson Row was three dwellings. Three one-up, one-down properties in a back-to-back-to-back arrangement at right angles to the rest of the terrace. Each with its own door and staircase. They shared a communal loo in the yard and shared a wash house with the rest of the terrace. At some point the rear two properties were knocked into one by opening up a doorway between the downstairs rooms and again between the upstairs rooms.

Then in 1975 the previous owner’s father converted the front property and the back two into one large house. They took out all three staircases and put in the current arrangement of one Y-shaped staircase (or T-shaped if you’re looking plan view) that goes up to halfway landing and then splits left and right to access the front and back halves of the property. The middle room upstairs was the bathroom. He later split the front bedroom 1 into a smaller bedroom and bathroom and turned the previous bathroom into bedroom.

There is not enough headroom under the halfway landing to fit in a downstairs toilet. The original idea was that we could kill two birds with one stone by rearranging the staircase to raise the headroom underneath enough to get a toilet in and level off the landing.

Working with a building surveyor we went through dozens of permutations of spiral, U-shaped and Z-shaped staircases. Ideally using the existing, or previous stairwells. We were trying to avoid breaking through the stone wall that divides the properties. We could not come up with a design that would conform to current regulations regarding treads, risers, angles and headroom.

When we relented on the idea of not breaking through the wall we finally thought we could create an arrangement that would work. Then we realised that would impede the headroom down into the cellar and that idea crashed at the last minute.

Other solutions meant stealing space from the dining room.

Following our first dinner party on the Saturday we realised that it would make the dining room too narrow to be practicable. So any arrangement that stole from the dining room was out. Back to the drawing board.

In discussions with our kitchen designer and building surveyor we hit on a compromise solution that would actually work. The kitchen is large enough that we could steal space from the back wall and fit a toilet where the back door is. To do that we would have to block up the kitchen door, replace it by window and reopen one of the doors that was blocked up in 1975. It would actually work. The compromise is that we give up on levelling the landing. And here is the plan.

We could fit in the washing machine as well making a mini-utility room.

The new kitchen design is not fundamentally different from the one we had already agreed.

Apart from moving the washing machine behind the false wall and putting the dishwasher in it's place, everything else is pretty much like-for-like with the first design.

We had a couple of builders round to quote for the door blocking up and reopening. The second one had a more radical suggestion: knock down the wall between the dining room in the kitchen by putting in a huge steel beam that would allow the dining room to expand backwards and compensate for the space stolen by the stairs in the previously abandoned plan.

Mary had always liked the idea of an open plan kitchen-diner. I have reluctantly agreed to this. It does however allow us to achieve both of the original objectives: a downstairs loo, a level landing and, with a fair wind, possibly even a downstairs shower which would be a bonus.

The builder is going in to start ripping out the stud walls to see exactly how the new staircase can be installed. We will be getting a structural engineer to do calculations on the size of beam required to hold up the upstairs when we take out that wall.

Watch this space...

No comments: