Bespoke oak frame home in rural Kent village

Oak Frame Building Costs

House Size: 254m2

A planning consent story from the perspective of Oakwrights Architectural Designer, Pete Tonks:

This project holds fond memories for me as it was one of my earlier joint projects with Oakwrights back in 2007/2008. The brief for Project Hilltop was to provide a new bespoke designed post and beam oak framed home for a really great couple with a young family.

The site was pretty much textbook dream scenario… rural location, check… accessed down a nice winding track road with minimum neighbours, check… a woodland to one end of the plot, check.. open countryside views, check.. you get the picture anyway. It was just perfect…

However, the existing white weather boarded bungalow that sat on the site was far from perfect and was beyond economical upgrade. The dwelling was originally constructed in the 1940’s and had been subject to extensions over the years to all 4 elevations. As a result of the extensions, the footprint was of a decent size but the property suffered from poor levels of natural daylight and had no positive attributes in terms of thermal performance and carbon demand.

I had to approach this project from a slightly different perspective than normal as the clients worked within the industry with combined experience in land valuation and acquisitions as well as being chartered surveyors. As such, it was agreed that I would still create the concept for the site, design the scheme and produce all of the drawn content for the application but that the clients would prepare supporting statements, complete the planning forms and negotiate with the planners leading up to and during the planning application.

This is not a situation that has repeated itself since but certainly on this occasion it seemed to work very well. The site itself was located in the Green Belt and also an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) where development is resisted generally so as to protect the open rural nature and character. The main criteria to consider with replacement dwellings in such locations can be found within the relevant planning policy but general common sense rules apply such as the effect of the proposals on the landscape with bulk, scale, volume and mass being the key drivers.

We had to approach the planning process in a number of phases so as to make the planning policy constraints work for us because the first application achieved a replacement dwelling at 52% greater volume than the existing which was there or thereabouts within policy parameters and although the planning officer considered the replacement dwelling to be above the level which would typically be acceptable, the eco credentials of oak frame and insulated encapsulation panels, ground source heating, solar heating and rainwater harvesting all added up to a sensible replacement dwelling proposal which was duly approved.

However, soon after the initial planning approval was obtained, it was the clients wish to construct a full footprint basement under the new dwelling to house some of the eco-hub infrastructure and components such as the geo-thermal heat stores and central vacuum collectors. If we had gone in for the basement as part of the initial planning application, it is likely that the overall size of the above ground house would have ended up being less than the approved 52% so as to get the figures at around the same level. This is certainly one way of doing it but bear in mind each planning application will have a design process time attached to it as well as the process time to put each planning application through the local authority. It is also worth bearing in mind that while this planning strategy worked with Tunbridge Wells District Council, in that they considered a proposed basement does not add to the visual bulk and therefore intrusiveness of the proposal. I have had similar projects refused by other local planning authorities, which in principle have been identical to this scheme but refused because it was felt a basement would add to the visual bulk and therefore could be considered intrusive.

Each site has to be judged on its merits and we will always look at the various options for our clients to ensure we are maximising the site while at the same time protecting their investment. Bear in mind that redevelopment proposals in open rural locations may have to be ‘nibbled at’ in terms of gaining planning permission and as long as you understand this and you have time on your side, this may be the appropriate ‘long game’ approach to get you where you want to be.

Moving on to the design of the house itself, I designed the ground floor to be pretty much open plan throughout to create good flow and family connection. The design is based on a simple H-plan with the right hand wing incorporating kitchen/dining/utility and the left hand wing incorporating the living room and snug. These two wings are connected by the central glazed atrium with staircase and bridge landing across to join the two wings.

At first floor, there are 4 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms with all of the roof spaces being fully vaulted to really get the best out of the volume we could achieve via the planning process and also this allows the oak frame to really ‘sing’. Externally, my vision for this project was to ensure no two parts of the building were the same and also to mix things up a bit with regards to ridge levels, eaves levels, roof geometry as well as classic combinations of soft clay tiles, lime render, handmade bricks and different fenestration combinations. The end result is a building with quirkiness and charm that will stand the test of time and only get better with age. More importantly, it will be an amazing family home for the Parkers for generations to come and a legacy to us all.


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