But the twist of events which followed quite literally increased the couple's self build plans two-fold. The vendors had received planning permission to demolish their 1970s property in order to create two plots; while they had always intended to sell one plot, they had also planned to build themselves a new home on the other. When circumstances no longer permitted them to pursue the latter, they offered Alison and Chris first refusal. The couple, who were keen to resubmit plans for the new design anyway, recognised the potential to create cohesive scheme across two adjacent plots.
Alison began by project managing the build of the barn, with its largely open ground floor and three comfortable first floor bedrooms. Work began on site with the demolition of existing brick and blockwork house; much of the existing material was grubber to create hardcore for ground works. A soil survey had revealed 8m of solid clay and coupled with the removal of a dense border of conifers – to free up additional space and bring further light into the plot – piled foundations were a must. "We decided on a piled concrete raft foundation," explains Alison. "One of the advantages of this type of foundation was that we then had a clean pre-formed base to begin construction." Opportunity was taken whilst the ground workers were on site to also construct the foundations for the farmhouse and install rainwater harvesting systems for both homes.
For the couple, who had previously lived within a 400-year-old thatched cottage complete with "all the inherent problems of a period property," as Alison describes, insulation was imperative not simply for Building Regulations purposes, but in creating a new home with a low heat demand, they consequently specified Oakwrights' LightWall system to encase the internal oak frame. This system consists of factory-made studwork panels with 9mm OSB to the outer face, leaving a service void or opportunity for further insulation. 75mm Kingspan TW55 rigid insulation boards fully enclose the stud frame to minimise cold bridging and a breathing membrane protects this. With most ceilings vaulted on the first floor, Alison opted to insulate – with 120mm-thick Kingspan Kooltherm K7 rigid insulation – between the rafters.
The new home, designed to resemble an old agricultural building, thus functions like a thoroughly modern structure. Heat from the underfloor heating (run on oil) and a woodburning stove on the ground floor rises up the open stairwell, meaning the first floor radiators are rarely required. The couple, who moved into the barn in summer 2010, are now busy planning the build of the farmhouse next door. "We can't wait to see the frame going up next door, having stared at an empty slab for the last year-and-a-half," Alison says. "We learnt so much on our first project that we're looking forward to going onto the next."