Planning consent for a replacement oak frame village home in Essex

Written by Pete Tonks – a Regional Architectural Designer within our Architectural Design team


This is a project I designed and submitted a full planning application for back in 2008/2009 in a beautiful spot in Essex owned by our clients. The plot faces the village green in one direction and in another, a large sweeping bend of the River Cam, so in terms of location, this one had it sorted in all respects.


Recognising the potential of the plot

The house situated on our clients’ plot was a post-modernist view of a contemporary village home and in some respects it hit the mark, but I agreed with our clients it was beyond economical updating and remodelling. So, we decided on the route of a demolition and replacement dwelling project.

The site is located within the village framework and also the designated conservation area (CA). Relevant policy stated the demolition of dwellings within the CA is normally resisted unless the proposed new development preserves or enhances the character and appearance of the CA. Furthermore, in respect of replacement dwellings, these will only be permitted if the existing dwelling is lawful and it can be demonstrated that the dwelling is structurally unsound or poorly constructed and that the current property, in terms of design and setting, does not make a positive contribution to the local character of the area and its replacement will result in an improvement of these aspects. Any replacement dwelling should also be of a scale and character that respects neighbouring properties.

In essence, this set of circumstances provided us all with a challenge with various aspects that had to be addressed. This was not going to be as simple a replacement dwelling project as we had initially expected; we had to establish the property was lawful, was unsound or poorly constructed and did not make a positive contribution. All of this, even before we got around to the fun bit: designing the new oak framed house!

A drawing to show the front elevation of our clients' home, designed by Pete Tonks

The architectural design and planning application processes

We worked closely with the local planning authority (LPA) and began by establishing the lawful aspect in that it was an existing dwelling which was being inhabited for private residential use, and this was relatively straightforward.

We then commissioned a structural survey to look at the fabric of the building and its infrastructure in terms of services. Most of the plumbing and electrics were substandard, the house was poorly insulated and featured inefficient doors and windows all of which led to a low performing building. A low performing building has a high carbon footprint and will only get worse over time making it an inefficient and unsustainable place to live for future occupants. The survey work and justification process that we went through met with the LPA’s approval and this aspect had been satisfactorily overcome.

In other words, we got the ‘green light’ to progress to the design stage. As always, I held an in-depth design and planning strategy meeting with our clients to establish the brief for their dream oak frame home. This is the most vital stage of the design process and one we approach it on a very personal level here at Oakwrights. We like to get to know clients and to fully understand what they would like from their project. I am honoured and privileged to be involved in such a personal capacity, so we have to get it right.

With these particular clients, they knew they wanted to create a courtyard feel at the front, with accommodation located to the left of the courtyard, to benefit from the views out to the front towards the village green and to the side overlooking the river. Our clients wanted the main entrance into their future home to be positioned at the rear of this courtyard, and to the right, their garaging and utility area.

This worked really well as the front of the site was generally east facing and therefore we designed the kitchen at the front to get the morning sunrise together with the master bedroom suite and guest bedroom, as our clients liked to be woken naturally by the morning sun. The master bedroom suite consisted of walk-in dressing room, en-suite and sitting area with a balcony looking out over the river. Moving back to the ground floor, the dining room, study and utility area were all positioned to the rear (west), as these are largely evening or private rooms and did not need to get the primary view out.

This drawing captures the vision for the rear elevation

The design of our clients’ formal living room was a little different but ended up being amazing. We decided to locate this at the rear southern corner with a fully glazed elevation out to the garden and river beyond but also to make it the full-height of building within! This was ambitious but I felt it could be very exciting and step away from the norm which is something I am always up for. This full-height vaulted space allowed a gallery view down from the first floor landing and results in a well-connected and cohesive space for our clients.

The ground floor also featured a WC/cloakroom, utility room and linked double garage. In addition to the master bedroom suite upstairs, there is the guest bedroom suite above the linked garage and a further two bedrooms sharing a bathroom. We also designed a double-height gallery space above the front door so that as soon as you enter the building, you know you are in for something a little different.

With regards to the external appearance of this project, our clients liked the classic oak and infill panel, very much along the lines of Tudor manor house. While I do appreciate this vernacular, I did suggest in my opinion it would not honestly reflect the local architecture and would compete with the natural features such as the river and village green.

I worked up some sketches to present their new home as a much simpler, plain lime rendered building with subtle elements of oak frame and for the link and garage to be finished in Cambridgeshire black stained timber weatherboarding over a low brick plinth. We did move away from cladding all of the garage and link-in weatherboarding, as it was felt this would dilute the feel of the courtyard and instead just applied boarding to the front gable.


I absolutely love this house; its simplicity is its charm. If you combine this with the solidity and presence only an oak frame can achieve, then you have perfection in my view. Images showcasing our clients’ completed oak frame home can be viewed in the gallery below.