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An oak frame family home and room above garage in Warwickshire

Thanks to a change in back-land development rules, Steven and Helen were finally able to fulfil their self-build dream of creating a highly energy efficient home.

Project Details

  • Warwickshire
  • Barn style
  • house: 289m² + garage: 134m²
  • £801,263
  • Self-build
  • 3

For over 20 years, Steven and Helen owned a five bedroom family home nestled within a charming Warwickshire village. The property sat on an acre of land, which provided the perfect place for their three young children to play and enjoy sports together. The shape of the plot itself was long and thin, and the couple always thought it could be suitable for splitting into two. In fact, Steven planted trees at the bottom of the plot in a semi-circle, in the hope that one day they would build their dream home there. However, at the time Steven and Helen were too busy working and raising their family to consider any concrete ideas.

Steven and Helen continued to discuss the potential of their garden, and it was the three years they spent living in Australia that really sparked their self-building plans. Some of the family’s neighbours in Sydney had purchased large plots and had subsequently built their homes on the back of their land. The Australian’s call these sites ‘battle axe’ plots.

“They were very popular,” says Steven. “I remember thinking to myself, ‘we could build within our garden at home!’”

Having returned to the UK, the opportunity arose for Steven to take an early retirement. The family decided the time was right to undertake a project, such as build their own home, and so their self-building journey began.

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Choosing to build with oak

Steven and Helen started their research and looked to Homebuilding & Renovating for inspiration and advice, before meeting our Sales Director, David Grey, through his wife, Rachel.

“To cut a long story short, David and I got talking and he invited us to Hereford to visit Oakwrights’ oak framed show home, The Woodhouse, which Helen and I really liked the look of,” says Steven. “We spoke to a couple of oak framing companies nearby, however, we liked how Oakwrights saw their projects through the whole process; you begin with a design and finish with a house, limiting the number of contractors needing to be involved.”

In March 2014, Pete Tonks, one of our Regional Architectural Designers and a 2020 Homebuilding & Renovating award winner, met with Steve and Helen to learn more about their aspirations for their future home.

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The planning application process

“Planning was potentially a tricky one as most of the village is designated conservation area and also there were a number of Grade II listed buildings in the vicinity,” explains Pete. “In addition to this, developing rear gardens had proved difficult locally in previous years.”

Towards the end of May 2016, Steven and Helen’s full planning application was submitted. Unfortunately, it was said that “in spite of a good design,” the application was refused as the Council could not support what they considered to be a ‘back-land development.’ Undeterred, this decision was appealed in December 2016 and three months later in March 2017, the couple gained planning approval for their beautifully bespoke, three bedroom oak frame home with a three bay room above garage.

“The inspector recognised the development was in the rear garden of Steven and Helen’s current house but could support the proposal due to the high level of design and appropriateness, together with the fact the oak frame build method was very eco-friendly and represented sustainable development,” says Pete.

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Key design decisions

From the outset, Steven and Helen knew they wanted their home to include as much glazing as possible, and so this was an aspect they worked closely with Pete to achieve using our face glazing.

“75% of the ground floor is glass,” smiles Steven. “That was important for us because our garden doesn’t look out onto anyone else; it’s all trees, hedges and lawn. So, we wanted to have that view everywhere we looked.”

To blend in with their woodland surroundings, the glazing is well-balanced with weatherboarding which clads both their home and bespoke outbuilding.

Steven and Helen’s rustic tile roof extends down to create a covered porch area. As you step inside, you are greeted by their light and airy open-plan oak framed living rooms, where you can see and feel the benefits of their glazing. Sunlight streams in and bounces off their bespoke beams, and as the day turns into night, installation of clever lighting ensures they can continue to relish every angle of their home.

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Step into their home

“We wanted to create a big, open-plan space downstairs for our family to enjoy,” says Steven. “So, designed two particularly large rooms on the ground floor, along with three smaller rooms, where we can hide things away, such as the washing machine and coats.”

Steven’s office is positioned within one of these spaces and has been designed in the style of a sunroom, positioned at the front of their home. To join the ground floor with their first floor, Steven and Helen had planned to construct a spiral staircase but found it took up too much space, and so adapted their decision.

“The staircase was one of the trickiest aspects to Pete’s design because essentially it’s a free-floating tube of metal that has been very heavily bolted and cemented into place,” explains Steven.

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All three bedrooms upstairs benefit from double-height, vaulted ceilings, creating an amazing sense of space. In their master bedroom, oak purlins draw your eye to the rear of the room and the glazed king post truss with sling braces.

On the landing, there is a hidden doorway that is cleverly disguised by a bookcase. Stepping through, you arrive onto a gallery landing which is also bathed in natural light from their glazed gable and overlooks their open-plan downstairs area.

It was also important for Steven and Helen that the technological aspects of their new home were low maintenance. So, they opted for underfloor heating in place of radiators, a mechanical ventilation with heat recovery system (MVHR) and an air source heat pump instead of a gas boiler, to work in conjunction with their WrightWall encapsulation panels which were designed and constructed alongside their oak frame off-site in our Herefordshire workshops.

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Bespoke garage

Downstairs, and walking back outside to the front of Steven and Helen’s home is their three bay, oak frame garage.

“The concept for a three bay worked the best but we wanted to drive in sideways rather than through the bays,” says Steven. “Our cars are parked inside the first two bays, and then the back bay is my shed. Initially the room over was going to be used for storage but after discussing with Pete, we opted for a full-hipped roof to create space for living accommodation.”

Stairs lead you to the room above, comprising a kitchen/living room/bedroom and an en-suite shower room.

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Teamwork and experiencing project management

With David Grey’s help, Steven and Helen found a local builder, Andy Keogh, to take on the construction of their home.

“We spoke with a couple of builders, but Andy was definitely the best and most organised,” explains Steven. “He was friendly and we knew immediately we could trust him.”

In July 2017, Andy and his team arrived on-site to begin turning Steven and Helen’s architectural drawings into their reality.

Andy Keogh is such a great builder and has so much project management experience,” says Steven. “I oversaw the build and he asked me all the right questions at all the right times rather than let me fall over on my face: we couldn’t have done it without him!”

Andy and his team undertook all our groundworks, Oakwrights’ teams erected the frame, encapsulation and the glazing, and then Andy came back to finish everything off,” continues Steven. “So, I only really had two contractors working on this project, Andy and his team, and Oakwrights.”

The construction of Steven and Helen’s home was held up by five weeks due to the amount of snow we experienced in the winter of 2017, and subsequently the Christmas period that followed. Although, this didn’t matter to the family and before they knew it, they were moving in.

“What really appeals to us about our home is the combination of the traditional craftsmanship used to create our oak frame with the new technology inside, such as our underfloor heating and so on, not forgetting the space and light we have created. Helen and I still find ourselves reflecting on this house, and it certainly has not lost its appeal,” concludes Steven.

We spoke to a couple of oak framing companies nearby, however, we liked how Oakwrights saw their projects through the whole process.


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