What first gave you the idea to contemplate a self build project?
We have always had a keen interest in property, but having lived in a heavily beamed 400 year old thatched cottage with it’s inherent problems & then a Potton Heritage house which was lovely, but not unique nor oak framed, we began some 10 years ago to formulate the idea of building an oak framed house to our own design with a traditional exterior, which totally belied a contemporary, light interior within.
How long did it take you to find your building plot? Was it easy or was it difficult?
It took around 3 years to find the plot because we had a fairly strict set of criteria as we were looking for somewhere to build which would be our long term home e.g. large enough plot, attractive village, on a no through road, south facing garden, overlooking countryside & commutable travelling distance for my husband Chris for work!
Once you had found your building plot how did you decide on what style of house to build?
We had always envisaged building a house that looked traditional but the plot was in a Conservation Area & having discussed this with Pete Tonks our Architectural Designer & the council planning department, it confirmed that a traditional looking design was more likely to gain planning approval.
The 0.4 acre plot originally had a rather unattractive 1970’s house on it, & the site had planning permission to demolish the existing house & to build 2 detached houses, but only half of the site was for sale as the owners were planning to self build on the the other half . Later however they decided not to build & offered us the whole site, which gave us the opportunity to go back to the drawing board to change the plot split & subsequent design of both houses.
As the site is in a traditional Cambridgeshire farming village, the scheme we came up with was for a traditional black weatherboarded “barn” with a traditional rendered “farmhouse” next to it. Although both houses are designed to look very established from the front, the back of each uses extensive oak sub frame glazing to make the most of the light & the views.
We have just completed the barn & the groundworks & slab for the farmhouse have also been finished, ready for the arrival of the next oak frame in April 2012.
How did you end up working with Oakwrights and why?
Having looked at a number of Oakwright’s competitors we felt that Oakwright’s best understood our design philosophy of a traditional yet contemporary design, & this was demonstrated by their portfolio of completed properties & the design of the Oakwright’s showhouse. A stay in the showhouse helped to cement our choice of company, having not been impressed with the examples we were shown by Oakwright’s competitors.
In addition, Oakwright’s architectural designer Pete Tonks understood what we were trying to achieve, & his proximity to our site was important in facilitating meetings with both ourselves & council planning.
What was the planning process like?
The planning process was fairly protracted & it took almost 2 years from our starting point with a pre approved design for one house on half of the site, through to full planning approval for the new scheme of 2 houses.
Working with Conservation bought additional challenges in terms of detail to the building design & materials approval. During this time I worked closely with Pete Tonks & attended meetings with planning, putting together presentations with examples of historic buildings & materials found in the surrounding Conservation villages. Through great team work & Pete’s bullishness, we ended up having to make very few changes to our proposed designs to achieve full planning permission, even though the combined footprint of both houses was much larger than the existing planning approval, so quite a result!
How did you go about finding your general builder?
We did not have a general builder but used a number of sub-contractors but with the barn being a weatherboarded building, the joiner was the principal contractor.
How involved were you in your build process?
I Project managed the build from start to finish including the employment & scheduling of contractors, ordering of all materials & plant & did some labouring myself where I could! The build had it’s moments but on the whole I loved every minute of it!
What type of heating system have you used?
Oil fired boiler installed in the barn with underfloor heating downstairs & radiators upstairs to reduce installation costs. However, as part of the groundworks for the whole site we have drilled 3x 60 metre boreholes with heat collectors & the manifold all ready for the installation of a ground source heat pump for the underfloor heating in the farmhouse.
What type of windows have you installed?
Handmade softwood casement windows to meet the requirements of the Conservation Officer with metal conservation rooflights in the roof. A bank of fixed rooflights brings excellent light to the landing space.
What would you describe the internal style of decoration as?
The barn is largely open plan downstairs with two full height part walls & a double sided log burner dividing the “rooms”. The internal style is a cross between contemporary & traditional, to have wide appeal should we decide to sell the barn in the future.
The open tread staircase with glass balustrades is visible from all angles of the open plan living area, & it is therefore important that the staircase stands as a piece of “furniture” in it’s own right & was made of English Ash by a local joiner to our design. The doors are also all handmade from Ash as we felt this offered an interesting & harmonising contrast to the oak of the barn. The kitchen has modern gloss cream units tempered with a mix of granite & oak worktops. On the upstairs landing stained glass wall panels allow additional borrowed light from the landing rooflights into the 3rd bedroom.
What was the high point and what was the low point of your build?
The low point was the groundworks: a combination of the added expense of piling both slabs & working through a cold, wet winter in a solid, sticky, clay soil, combined with issues with the first groundworks team. The high point was watching the frame being erected: after the somewhat painful groundworks phase it was great to see the shape of the building finally emerging above the landscape.
Will you be self building again?
Yes, we are now planning in detail the build of the oak frame farmhouse next door & can’t wait to make a start next year
What were Oakwrights like to work with?
We were impressed with Oakwright’s design team as they seemed to have a very good understanding of what we were trying to achieve, & with the help of their knowledge & experience we came up with an excellent design, & the end result is even better than we could have envisaged.
We were also lucky to have the continuity of Roland Horwood our frame designer being on site for the erection of the frame & Lightwall. The frame erection team were also excellent to work with.
The guy that Oakwrights recommended to do our building regulation drawings was also excellent. In addition to working through & explaining the drawings, invaluable as I was managing my first build, he also spent time tweaking things internally, so that the end result was perfect.