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"We started out wanting an oak framed garage and ended up with an entire oak-framed house," laughs Paul Gooch. “Building a new house had never really crossed our minds before - although we’d tackled some major renovation projects - but once we’d seen examples of oak-framed homes there was no going back and we had to have one."

The couple and their children - Samuel 15 and Elena 11 – had been living in the same Northamptonshire village for nine years, and wanted to buy somewhere with a larger garden, so when a bungalow on two thirds of an acre came up for sale just up the lane they decided to take a look. "We went to view it on the Saturday and by the Monday we'd agreed to buy it," recalls Margaret, "but at the time we planned to extend by building upwards into the roof space and adding an oak-framed garage with room above in the grounds."


Architects were invited to come up with designs for the remodelling work, but instead they unanimously recommended knocking down the property and starting from scratch. "There was nothing we particularly liked about the bungalow, and we realised that a new build would make more sense as we could reclaim the VAT, which would be a huge benefit,".


The couple had invited specialist oak-framing company Oakwrights to quote for an oak-framed garage, but now their thoughts turned to building a brand new house and they returned to Oakwrights for ideas. "We went to see a couple of their houses and fell in love with them, so from that point there was never going to be another option," says Margaret, a human resources director.

pecialist oak-framing company Oakwrights


floor plans

frame drawings

Oakwrights' recommended designer worked with the family to draw up initial plans for the new house, and another architect then completed the building control drawings. “We thought about the way we live, and ended up designing a house with an open plan ground floor layout and no family bathroom. All five bedrooms have their own en-suite showers and there’s only one bath in the whole place,” explains Paul.

"At first we thought a 300m2 house would be plenty big enough, but the more we looked at the layout the more we kept adding, until we ended up with 400m2 of living space. The master bedroom in particular is bigger than we'd anticipated – it's almost like a small apartment!"
The Gooches had purchased the mock-stone bungalow in the summer of 2005, but it took a further two years before building work started on site. "We’d read so many horror stories about people going over budget and not being able to complete their builds, and we really wanted to get it right," says Paul, who heads a consultancy business.


Despite the couple's diligence, and various consultations with the neighbours, a number of villagers submitted letters of complaint to the council, and at one point the couple withdrew their application, fearing it would be rejected. Over time the front facade morphed from a fairly contemporary structure with large areas of glazing to a more traditional design, as preferred by the planners - who felt it should echo other buildings in the village. The back of the house is more modern in design, with balconies, folding/sliding doors and a single-storey dining room which leads out onto the patio. "When we saw drawings of the house in stone it looked a bit too overpowering, so we decided to break it up by building some elements using replica reclaimed bricks," Margaret explains.


Planning permission was eventually granted and - two years after purchasing the bungalow - work could begin on site. The Gooches had rented out their cottage in the village and moved into the old bungalow during the planning process, but needed to find alterative accommodation while their new house was being built. They rented locally and sold their cottage to help fund the build, but one year into the project they needed to move again, and rented another house for a further five months.

"We had four different builders quoting for the job, but never really reached a point where we could compare like for like," recalls Paul. "Each builder quotes in a unique way, and groups the work differently, so nailing down the budget was probably the most difficult part of the whole process. We ended up going with a local building contractor, based on his reputation, and saw several high quality houses he'd built."


The Oakwrights' frame is exposed throughout the interior
The builder left site for two weeks while Oakwrights erected the frame

The Oakwrights' frame is exposed throughout the interior and the company also made the feature window in the family room. Soil tests were taken for the NHBC guarantee, and the ground level was lowered by half a metre across the plot to ensure the ridge height of the new property did not dramatically exceed that of its predecessor – involving one hundred 20-ton lorries of soil being removed. This resulted in engaging a professional landscape designer to redesign the whole outside space. Once the 1950s bungalow had been demolished new standard strip foundations were excavated for the replacement house. The builder managed the project and proved to be an ideal choice – talking everything through with the family and ensuring a trouble-free build.


This left the Gooches free to research and purchase bathrooms, tiles, flooring, light fittings and their kitchen, which the builder then fitted. Metal windows were sourced at a self-build show, and have been fitted in hardwood iroko frames to the rear with stone mullions to the front of the house, made to order at a quarry.


"We enjoyed getting involved and went to the Oakwrights factory to take some pictures of our frame being made,” Margaret recalls. “The builder left site for two weeks while Oakwrights erected the frame and after just ten days we could see the skeleton of our new home, which was incredible." Our builder set up scaffolding around the perimeter of the slab which Oakwrights could work off while dropping the oak frame onto the prepared foundations. The crane and lorries arrived and were unloaded, with the foreman instructing his team about the sequence of the frame erection, which was traditionally pegged together.


"The frame got wet and marked, so we employed someone to clean the timbers with oxalic acid before they were waxed internally,” says Paul. “The builders were on site during the cleaning process, which wasn’t ideal, but we were on a deadline and needed to keep going." The building contractor used his own masons and bricklayers to lay the local stone and new brickwork, with random painted bricks helping to give the impression that these are reclaimed. Exposed brickwork also makes a statement in the open plan kitchen, where green and blue painted cabinets are fitted and limestone flooring has been laid over underfloor heating. This room steps down into a relaxed dining area and cinema room to the rear of the house, with folding/sliding doors opening to the garden beyond. Oak steps lead up into the sitting room, which has glass walls and doors into the hallway beyond, enabling an entire circuit of the ground floor to be completed. The flowing layout and extensive use of glass creates an extremely light and open feel, and means that it’s possible to see through the house to the garden from the front door - one of the family's specific requirements.


"The oak frame has moved and cracked, as expected, which meant we needed to have some small areas of plastering redone, but we've had no problems at all – it's all gone really well and the oak is beautiful," says Paul.

"Our underfloor heating is powered by two ground source heat pumps and energy bills are around half those of our previous cottage, despite this house being twice the size. The wow factor and character of the oak frame, teamed with modern technology, really is the perfect combination.

Watching the oak frame go up so quickly felt like real progress, and we could really start to envisage the finished rooms.


What was the high point of the project?

Watching the oak frame go up so quickly felt like real progress, and we could really start to envisage the finished rooms. 

...and the low point?

We got to a point where we never wanted to see another tap, tile or basin again – we had so many to choose! 

What was your best buy?

Limestone flooring was imported from Israel though a company in London for £28 per m2 - which saved a significant amount of money. 

...and your biggest extravagance?

The American cooker hood was expensive, but we wanted something rugged and industrial-looking for such a large space. 

Do you have a top tip?

Spend as much time as you can on the planning stages, design for the way you live and reference your builder. We couldn't have been more pleased with our builder and his team.


The Floorplan
The ground floor of the house revolves around a central hallway, with all rooms leading off from this space – creating a flowing floorplan. A relaxing sitting room steps down into the vaulted cinema room, beside the single-storey dining area which leads up steps into the kitchen. Upstairs there are four en-suite bedrooms with a gym/games room above the garage.

Oak frame and feature windows – Oakwrights
Design – PJT Design: www.pjtdesign.co.uk

[Words Courtesy of Self Build & Design Magazine]

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