Oak framed modern manor replaces former family home in rural Kent

Oak Frame Building Costs

Area: Kent
House Type: Country Home
House Size: 650m2
Build Route: Main contractor & oak frame package
Finance: Private
Build Cost: £1.3M

“To be perfectly honest, self-building hadn’t crossed our minds in almost 30 years of living here,” starts Mel Lewis. Which is all the more surprising considering that what he and wife Pauline have ended up building, on the site of their former family home in a pretty part of Kent, is something that looks like it has been years in the dreaming.

Mel and Pauline moved to this private road as a young couple, attracted to the secluded nature of the location, the easy commute into London and the large leafy plot. “The dormer bungalow itself was functional enough, and served us well over the years but we knew that, due to its size with only two bedrooms upstairs, it really didn’t make enough of the fabulous site and we wanted to do something about it,” explains Pauline.

So, began making plans for a substantial renovation of the dormer bungalow, looking to extend, internally remodel, and make more of the roof space. As plan after plan really failed to give them the space they wanted, an Architect suggested raising the roofline to give them a full second storey. “It certainly would have provided the space that we needed but something was still wrong, as the design of the outside just didn’t look good,” says Pauline. It was then that a wise structural engineer friend gave the plans a fresh look. “He explained how, with the amount of renovation work we would be undertaking, we weren’t really leaving much of the house in place,” she continues. “He argued that stretching the existing house was always going to be difficult from a building point of view, and that building from scratch would allow us to get the house we’d always dreamed of.”

At about this time, and still unsure of such a significant project, Mel took a life-changing drive home from work. “I went past a new oak frame house being built and it just brought everything together for me. It looked fabulous and so full of character for a new home. I drove home, picked up Pauline and we went back to have another look. We both fell in love with it and made a note of the Oakwrights sign outside. Within days we’d gone from a loft conversion to a new build. But we’d seen our dream home, and everything else seemed like a compromise thereafter.”

Designing the house and planning permission 

With the design of the finished house the overriding priority, Mel and Pauline involved themselves heavily in the process with our Architectural Designer. “One of the things we really did well was to take a keen interest in the design process,” says Mel. “So many people rush into the construction element of the project and end up disappointed because they didn’t pay enough attention at an early stage. We knew that the end result for us was everything, and so we studied the plans for hours to see how they would best suit our lifestyle. For instance, on one of the early drafts, the central dining hall atrium space, which was one of the things we loved most about Oakwrights’ homes, was compromised by a large central staircase, which seemed to block out a lot of the light.

We went back and forth with the plans several times, and every time it got a bit closer to what we wanted. Luckily Oakwrights provided us with a 3D virtual walkthrough of the scheme, which was a great too and helped us visualise how the house would work.”

Planning sailed through, so Mel and Pauline then chose to bring a main contractor on board to oversee the project on their behalf. “We realised early on that we needed some expert help, and while Pauline was able to spend time doing valuable research to ensure we achieved the right design features and finishes, we felt the best route for the build would be to put the project in the hands of a professional,” explains Mel. “We chose a local firm, Sennocke Construction, that we’d been recommended. Although they actually specialised in speculative housing we knew they would be able to run an efficient project and had lots of local contacts. We also took on Trevor, our structural engineer friend, who had a wealth of experience and was able to advise on any major technical issues.”


The demolition

Mel and Pauline said farewell to their family home of 30 years and decamped to a house nearby so work could begin in earnest on demolition. “The main contractor made short work of pulling down the house and replacing it with new footings and a floor slab,” says Pauline, who visited the site every day to deal with any issues that might arise. “It was strange at first to see the old house go, but we were so excited at this stage to see real progress and be a step closer to our dream home.”

The main contractor got the project to oversite stage and then handed things over to our Oakwrights team, who delivered and erected the traditional oak frame post and beam structure. “It took several weeks to get the whole thing up, but we soon began to get a very real sense of the craftsmanship and effort that goes into a house of this style,” says Mel.

The build

“Our main contractor then recommenced control of the site, bringing in his own subcontractors along the way.” It wasn’t all plain sailing, though. “One of the main difficulties with the project was that by having both main contractor and package company on board, it was occasionally difficult to get someone to take full responsibility,” explains Mel. “There were quite a few grey areas, and because we relied on the experts, we sometimes felt a little bit in the middle. These weren’t significant problems, but minor issues that crop up on any project. It also perhaps didn’t help that we paid very close attention when assessing the details because to us they were extremely important. It was perhaps just a little different to what a contractor who specialises in houses for other people, and not a specific client, is used to.” It’s not too difficult to imagine that the difference between a standard even upscale developer house and a crafted oak frame home like this is huge.

“We agonised over a lot of the design details,” explains Mel. “The key area of the whole house for us is the central double-height dining hall atrium space. We knew that it would be centrepoint of the house and we wanted it to be light and open. The design really emphasises the huge cathedral-style windows that would face you as you walked into the space, but the problem we saw was that a ‘traditional’ balustrading, with ornate spindles and a heavy handrail, would take away from the openness that we wanted to achieve. We eventually opted for handrail-free large sheets of toughened glass, which are obviously perfect for contemporary homes but we feel, do the job brilliantly in this one too.”

The final step of the journey

The agonising certainly paid off. Refreshingly, this is a beautifully designed home with a real sense of craft that is unique to Mel and Pauline. “It suits our style and it has added so much to our life,” says Pauline. Not least of all thanks to the luxurious indoor pool (heated by one of two ground-source heat pumps that serve the property) and Mel’s basement (a precast concrete basement seemed good common sense as the original house had its own basement space) hideaway, which houses a large games, football-watching and wine-drinking retreat.

“One of the other big concerns for us was the size of the house,” continues Pauline. “We knew that at 650m2 it was going to feel significantly bigger than our previous house (it is in fact 50% bigger) but we wanted to make sure that it still felt manageable and like a home, rather than a show home. In this respect it’s one of the main reasons we loved the Oakwrights style: the post and beam structure enables you to have a relatively open plan flow between spaces but also some structure to it all.

We’ve managed to get the best of both worlds, I think, and have combined this with up-to-date technology by adding a multimedia system throughout. It is obviously a large house with plenty of accommodation, as there’s a guest wing and large living areas and bedrooms, but it certainly feels like a living house that’s designed with people, not show, in mind.”

Mel and Pauline are the first to admit that they were in a relatively lucky position from a financial point of view. “We obviously saved a lot of money by not having to buy a plot, which in this area would have made the project well beyond our means. We knew that we didn’t want to compromise and that, within reason, we could have the design and features that we wanted.”

And this is certainly a home without compromise. It meshes the inherent charm and character of a beautiful oak frame with a modern approach: this is a light, open and, most importantly, informal, welcoming home. There’s very little fuss but plenty of depth and this is after all, a dream home.


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