Whether you want to expand upwards, backwards or sideways, an unconventional extension can add quality and value to any home. The classic glass-backed extension may still be the most common – it’s ideal for gaining extra footage and a closer connection to the outside – but thinking outside of the box when it comes to extending your home can offer extra rewards in terms of improving how you use that space.

There are plenty of creative extensions being created around the UK, but here we took a closer look at three inspiring case studies – a rear extension, a side extension and a loft conversion – to discover what lessons and tips can be learnt from the architects behind them.

dedraft rear house extensions
Triple-height rear extension in deDraft’s Hackney project
Ståle Eriksen

The rear extension

Adding height to a rear extension, like in this Hackney project by deDraft, can transform a whole home, top to bottom

A rear extension is a tried and tested solution for rationalising the ground floor of a multi-level home, creating enough room for a modern, open-plan kitchen, dining and living space. But sometimes it’s possible to coincidentally extend the floors above, to fit in an extra study room or bathroom, or even just to offer a more generous-feeling space.

This extension to a semi-detached family home in Hackney, by architecture and interiors studio deDraft, shows what can be possible on a small footprint. Featuring a Corten steel exterior, this triple-storey volume incorporates a garden-facing dining space, with a double-height ceiling that allows it to be visually connected to the living rooms on the floor above. A washroom has also been slotted in on the upper floor.

The upgrade was relatively easy to navigate. Previously divided up into two flats, the house already had a sizeable extension. So when owners Lotti Benardout and Andrew Bredon first moved in, the challenge was more to do with reworking the building’s layout than persuading the council to grant planning permission. But the thinking behind this renovation was not to simply add square metres – it was to create more functional and comfortable living spaces in the house.

dedraft hackney rear extension
New double-height kitchen/diner created by deDraft’s unique rear extension
Ståle Eriksen

The new extension is just over a metre taller than its predecessor and also more sunken into the ground, creating room for the higher ceilings. A combination of large windows and skylights allows a surprising amount of light to filter in, while a new staircase made from cast concrete creates a more open connection between the home’s four storeys.

‘By increasing the height and forming a double-height space, the house opens up to the rear garden on multiple levels, both visually and for access,’ explains architect and deDraft director Grant Straghan. ‘This feels a true luxury and, with natural light flooding in, gives each room a unique atmosphere throughout the day.’ dedraft.co.uk

Tips for success

■ While tall extensions can be difficult to achieve on mid-terrace properties, a semi-detached or end-of-terrace house is often a good candidate. With fewer adjoining neighbours to upset, obstacles such as overlooking windows and rights to light become easier to tackle.

■ Access is key to getting the layout to work; the position and configuration of the main staircase needs to line up with the new spaces, otherwise it’s probably not worth the effort.

szczepaniak astridge loft extension
A full panoramic window sets this loft extension by Szczepaniak Astridge apart
Edmund Sumner

The loft conversion

Turning an attic into a private sanctuary can create a sense of escape. This project by Szczepaniak Astridge is a perfect example

The scope for experimentation is more limited when it comes to loft extensions, but there are still plenty of alternatives to the standard conversion. This Japanese-inspired rework of an Edwardian terraced home, by architects Szczepaniak Astridge, shows how distinctive details and a minimalist approach can elevate a design to new heights.

The converted loft creates a new bedroom for the owners, architectural photographer Edmund Sumner and his wife, writer and consultant Yuki. The couple wanted to create a space that would feel like a retreat; Yuki recalls a conversation with architect Simon Astridge, in which she described the experience of a tea room in Japan, which is where she is from.

‘You walk through an entrance intentionally made small, to signify that you are leaving behind your normal social status, as well as all your worries, to focus on an intimate conversation with your host,’ she says.

szczepaniak astridge loft extension
Inside the sanctuary-like loft conversion by Szczepaniak Astridge

To create a space that offered a similar feeling, Astridge stripped the room down to a series of key elements: a custom-made plywood bed that defines the layout, a wall of windows reminiscent of Shoji screens and a teak bath heated by a wood-burning stove. Other than that the space is largely empty, which enhances the feeling of a sanctuary. Aside from an inconspicuous closet built into the corner wall, clutter is relegated to other parts of the house.

The Japanese influence extends to the materials palette, which combines cork flooring, a folded steel staircase and a clay-mud wall finish by Clayworks. szc-ast.com

Tips for success

■ Smart storage is essential to a minimalist loft conversion. Slotting closets into the walls or within the staircase volume can help to keep your space clutter-free.

■ A window wall is only a good idea if your property doesn’t overlook your neighbours. Other types of glazing, such as skylights or panoramic windows, can offer you a similar experience of openness without compromising your privacy.

side extension by yard architects
Side return extension by YARD Architects
Emanuelis Stasaitis

The side extension

Adding contrast with a side infill can make an extension special. Key to this project by YARD Architects is its defining materials palette

This renovation of a Victorian townhouse in Islington puts a new spin on one of the most common types of extension around. The side return is a popular solution for Victorian terraces, as it is straightforward to build and doesn’t involve reducing the size of the garden. You simply infill the slither of land between the house and the boundary wall to create a small portion of extra space for a kitchen or living room at the rear of the ground floor.

Designed by YARD Architects, this project challenges the idea that a side return extension needs to feel like part of the main house, by using contrasting materials to highlight it as a new addition. While the adjoining kitchen features traditional white plaster walls, marble surfaces and French doors, this space is a cosy dining area with natural clay plaster, an oak bench seat and a modern pivoting window.

side extension by yard architects
A smart use of materials sets this extension by YARD Architects apart
Emanuelis Stasaitis

‘Keeping a side return somewhat separate in design from the original building means you have the freedom to explore different materials and designs,’ explains the studio’s co-founder Simon Graham. ‘This creates an interesting point of contrast while still complementing the original building.’

A roof made up of large sloping skylights helps to minimise the extension’s impact on other rooms in the house and makes it invisible to neighbours. To help tie this more minimal element in with the rest of the design, oak louvres have been installed. ‘These allow filtered light into the extension whilst helping to maintain a sense of enclosure,’ says Graham. yardarchitects.co.uk

Tips for success

■ Contrasting new and old works well in characterful period properties. The idea is to retain or restore the original features in the main house, while allowing the extension to have a much more contemporary feel.

■ Don’t try to squeeze too many functions into one side extension, or you risk hindering the quality and useability of the space. The key is to plan the space with a particular purpose in mind and make that your main focus.