Barn style home with oak frame in Cambridgeshire village

Oak Frame Building Costs

Area: Cambridgeshire
House Type: Accurate replica of local barn
House Size: 174m2
Build Route: Oak frame & LightWall plus hand cut warm roof with Kingspan rigid insulation. External finishes: Black weatherboard with brick plinth & slate roof
Finance: Own funds
Build Cost: £295,934

Open Plan Layout

A vernacular scheme consisting of a weather boarded barn-style home and a rendered farmhouse

Alison and Chris spent seven years quietly planning to build their own home, and a further three looking for their ideal plot. When they opened the local paper and spotted a site for sale with magnificent views over private parkland, they were “90% sure” it was the plot for them before even stepping foot on it. 

“We had some fairly strict criteria,” explains Alison. “The plot had to have a south or south-west facing garden looking over the countryside, but also be within a village setting with no through road or traffic noise. It was going to be a tall order.”

Nestled within a picturesque Cambridgeshire village in a conservation area, the former garden plot ticked all of the right boxes. The all-important south-facing aspect was crucial to the couple’s long-held ambitions to build an oak frame home filled with light.

Face-glazing to the rear

“We both love natural light, but also love old buildings, and had over time developed a concept for a home with a traditional exterior but with contemporary interiors and lots of glazing on the rear elevation,” explains Alison. “When we saw this plot I instantly went on Google Earth and saw that it met our requirements. I made an appointment to view it the next morning and made an offer that evening.”

But the events that followed 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 allowed them to pursue building a new home, they offered Alison and Chris first refusal on the entire piece of land. The couple, who were keen to resubmit plans for the new design anyway, recognised the potential from having two adjacent plots.

Together with our regional Architectural Designer Pete Tonks, a design for a weather boarded barn-style home and a rendered farmhouse was developed. The latter becoming the couple’s long-term home. Inside both, guests are greeted by an internal oak frame and glorious views through extensive rear glazing. The sensitive design was met with approval from the planners and conservation officers. 

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 the existing brick and blockwork house. A soil survey had revealed 8m of solid clay, so piled foundations were a must. To free up additional space and bring further light into the plot, a dense border of conifers were removed. 

“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.

The couple had previously lived within a 400-year-old thatched cottage complete with “all the inherent problems of a period property,” as Alison describes. This meant insulation was imperative not simply for Building Regulations purposes, but in creating a new home with a low heat demand. They consequently specified our WrightWall excapsulation system to encase the internal oak frame.
Heat from the underfloor heating (run on oil) and a wood burning stove on the ground floor rises up the open stairwell, meaning the first floor radiators are rarely required. 

Project management: a full-time role

Following the sale of her business, Alison was in a fortunate position in being able to take on full-time project management. “You can’t plan enough” she advises. “I was in my comfort zone with respect to scheduling the project, contractor management, purchasing materials and hiring plant. The build itself was, however, a huge learning curve and a one-off oak frame building is not a standard timber frame build.” Alison credits sitting down with the technician who prepared her plans for Building Regulations as a helpful aid when it came to understanding the finer details.

The couple rented a property within a 25-minute drive. “Living nearer would have made things slightly easier,” admits Alison, who was on site nearly every day at 8am to open up, and often still present in the evening to sign for the occasional late delivery. A highly organised approach meant materials arrived on site as and when required.

Black weatherboarding add a contemporary finish

Gaining planning and conservation consent

The couple did think about turning the two plots back into one. But, discussion with a local planning consultant revealed that with a precedent already established for two homes, (particularly in context of the local authority’s housing density policy), they were unlikely to receive planning to do so. Their thoughts soon settled upon building two houses. 

Set within a Conservation Area in a village lined with thatched cottages and other such listed buildings, the couple were fortunate to receive planning for their sensitively redesigned scheme on first application. Engaging with the planning and conservation officers from an early stage was key. Recommendations were taken on board, that included reducing the height of the two storey side ‘extension’ to one, helping to shape the final design. The ‘extension’ which houses a utility and WC now resides between a catslide roof.

Alison and Chris also discussed their plans with neighbours and the local parish council from the outset. “In this way, the planning submission was of no surprise to anyone and the majority of any potential objections had already been overcome and incorporated into the design,” says Alison.

However, specifying materials for approval was difficult at times. When several carefully selected brick samples for the barn’s plinth course were rejected by the local conservation officer, Alison decided to take extensive photography of the surrounding period buildings. With new tumbled brick samples sourced to match the brick of a local listed pub, she presented her documentary findings again. Needless to say, her selection was duly approved second-time around. Find out more about planning here.

Download floorplans

The best of both design styles

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