The granny flat – but not as you know it

Forget the 60s-style bungalow. Interior designer and TV presenter Sophie Robinson’s annexe for her mum Claire is light, bright and totally modern.

When Sophie’s mum Claire moved out of her marital home following a separation, the pair decided to build a two-bedroom weatherboard cabin next to Sophie’s house in East Sussex. Here Sophie explains how they did it.

Sophie Robinson and mum Claire
Painted in French Grey (littlegreene.com), the walls and units allow the kitchen to blend into the background and make the sofa area the focal point. Image: Megan Taylor

Why a granny annexe? It was a bit of a lightbulb moment. Mum was back renting, and my husband Tom, who’s a builder, and I were thinking of making the move from London to the
countryside. It made sense for Mum and I to combine our finances and invest in a property with more land to build upon.

granny flat living room
The neutral backdrop enabled Sophie to incorporate more colourful accents throughout the space, including a vibrant sofa from sofa.com and side table from habitat.co.uk. Image: Megan Taylor

What was the space before you renovated it? It was an unused single-storey garage/studio space but an eyesore to look at. Luckily it was built on the same footprint of land and had a drainage system already in place, which meant we didn’t need to spend time or additional costs on planning permission and so could invest more in the actual design.

granny flat dining room
Sophie clad the internal walls and sliding barn door in tongue-and-groove panelling: ‘I wanted the space to be in keeping with a modern country aesthetic but also to add texture.’ The table and chairs are both by ercol.com. Image: Megan Taylor

How long did the build take? We spent a year sourcing the right property. It took time as we needed an affordable house that could either be partitioned off to have a separate front door, kitchen and bathroom space, or one that had an existing outbuilding in the grounds, to allow us all privacy and independence. Once we found a property that ticked all boxes, the renovation took a year to complete.

granny flat bedroom
Claire wanted a dramatic deep velvet upholstered bed in the master bedroom, and added hints of pale pink and lilac throughout for cohesion. The bed is by buttonandsprung.com. Image: Alun Callender

What are the benefits? As I’m a full-time interior designer, it is so lovely to have my mum there to help with childcare, look after the dog if needs be and chat through ideas with. I thought it would be my mum popping in for a cup of tea, but it’s the other way round!

granny annexe
The views were key to the design of the space. Sophie used huge picture-frame windows from velfac.co.uk to achieve the look. Image: Alun Callender 

How much did the annexe cost to renovate? The total was £130,000. It would have been more expensive if the plumbing hadn’t previously been installed and if Tom wasn’t a builder. That definitely helped save on costs!

Where did you splurge and where did you save? We spent a good chunk of money on the underfloor heating system as we didn’t want to compromise the aesthetic for radiators. We saved money on the kitchen by making our own cupboard fronts out of MDF and using a mixture of high-street furniture and designer items bought in sales to decorate the space.

To find out more, visit sophierobinson.co.uk

Get the look

Sophie’s pared-back style is all about functional pieces and bold accents

Cushion, £110, amara.com

Cushion, £59, goodhoodstore.com

Bar stool, £69, cultfurniture.com

Rug (120cm x 180cm), £350, floorstory.co.uk

Sofa, £1,099, swooneditions.com

Pendant light, £109, heals.com

Dining table, £1,075, habitat.co.uk

My other home’s a pod…

Whether you’re looking to build a granny flat or an escape cabin, there is something to suit every style and budget.

The space-age one

space age pod
frederikvercruysse.com

This futuristic-looking bespoke mobile pod opens at the sides to reveal a gridded interior for storing small items, working and sleeping. When the aeroplane-like ‘nose’ is open, it also functions as a roof for a small indoor/outdoor space. Prices start at £60,000 for a similar pod, dmva-architecten.be

The ‘shoffice’ one

shed office
alanwilliamsphotography.com

Sales of modern sheds are being fuelled by a growing tribe of homeworkers, who prefer to work in what is being dubbed as a ‘shoffice’ – a shed that doubles as an office. They’re also being installed as cheaper and easier alternatives to basements or attic conversions. A similar build to this one would cost £93,000, platform5architects.com

The garden studio one

garden podClad in timber shingle, this insulated sphere is primarily used as a garden office, but due to its unique shape and the generous natural light from the roof dome, could also be used as a playroom, studio or meditation den. Each pod is made to order and delivered and installed as an integrated package. Prices start from £15,000 for 3m, archipod.com

The home from home one

wooden podWith underfloor heating, insulated walls clad in redwood tongue-and-groove panelling, and the interior created in partnership with a professional interior design company to tailor-make your requirements, you may not ever want to leave this wooden pod! Prices start from £21,600 for 3m x 4.7m, gardenhideouts.co.uk

The techy one

tech podModular construction firm Bauhu has pulled out all the stops and given the traditional granny flat a modern makeover with its range of prefabricated, portable and bespoke structures. They can be made with automated CCTV and alarms, central control system with touchscreen TV for lights etc, and smart communication to allow status updates to both local and remote locations. Prices from £60,000 for 30sq m, bauhu.com

The sustainable one

black podThis modular Scandinavian house is made using carbon-neutral materials that can either be bought off the shelf or tailor-made to measure all spaces and budgets. Off-the-shelf prices start from £45,000 for 25sq m, kotodesign.co.uk

Before you build… here’s what you need to know

PLANNING

The first step is to look into planning permission requirements with your local planning authority (LPA). Some temporary-style structures such as leisure buildings that are not going to be lived in may not require planning permission, but it is vital to get the all-clear before you start any building work.

SIZING

A good way of finding out how big you want your extension to be is to mark out a footprint on the considered area using string and pegs. After placing some of the bigger items such as a sofa or washing machine within the space, you will get a feel for how big you need it to be.

DESIGN

Creating your space with an architect or local carpenter will help you create your ideal build. If you have a more simple structure in mind, though, DIY stores sell pre-cut kits that come partially assembled.

COSTS

If you’re building an annexe extension, bear in mind that you may need to pay council tax on this. However, if the annexe is used by a family member or the main house owner, this council tax is payable at the reduced rate of 50 per cent of your banding.

DETAILS 

If you have a smaller space to work with, be clever with your furniture. Use multipurpose pieces such as ottomans that double up as seating and storage units, and divan beds with storage drawers.

Report by Nicole Gray