The best of both design styles

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 Photo credit: Mark Welsh

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

Alison Farrell-Price and Chris Price spent seven years quietly formulating plans to build their own home, and a further three looking for their ideal plot. So when they opened the local paper and chanced upon 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 Photo credit: Mark Welsh

“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 twist of events that followed quite literally 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 permitted them to pursue the latter, 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 to create a cohesive scheme across two adjacent plots.

Alison and Chris decided to commission us to create their oak frame after being impressed by our portfolio of homes that combined traditional detailing with contemporary glazing. Together with our regional Architectural Designer Pete Tonks, who had prior dealings with the local authority for the area; a vernacular scheme consisting of 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. Much of the existing material was grubber to create hard-core for ground works. 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.

For the couple, who had previously lived within a 400-year-old thatched cottage complete with “all the inherent problems of a period property,” as Alison describes, insulation was imperative not simply for Building Regulations purposes, but in creating a new home with a low heat demand. They consequently specified our LightWall excapsulation system to encase the internal oak frame.

This system consists of factory-made studwork panels with 9mm OSB to the outer face, leaving a service void or opportunity for further insulation. 75mm Kingspan TW55 rigid insulation boards fully enclose the stud frame to minimise cold bridging and a breathing membrane protects this. With most ceilings vaulted on the first floor, Alison opted to insulate – with 120mm-thick Kingspan Kooltherm K7 rigid insulation – between the rafters.

The new home, designed to resemble an old agricultural building but functioning like a thoroughly modern structure. Heat from the underfloor heating (run on oil) and a woodburning stove on the ground floor rises up the open stairwell, meaning the first floor radiators are rarely required. The couple, who moved into the barn in summer 2010, are now busy planning the build of the farmhouse next door. “We can’t wait to see the frame going up next door, having stared at an empty slab for the last year-and-a-half,” Alison says. “We learnt so much on our first project that we’re looking forward to going onto the next.”

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 considerable 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. “If the trades were running slightly behind, I’d contact suppliers to postpone delivery; I’d rather have the materials stored at their yard than hanging about on site,” she explains. She did, however, hire a container to hold essentials.
The couple extended this meticulous approach to the interiors, which resulted in some savvy savings.

Their self-designed staircase is one such fine example, costing a snip of the price of a model by a bespoke staircase designer and manufacturer. As the centrepiece of the open plan ground floor, and one of the first sights upon entering the house, Alison and Chris knew it should be a piece of furniture in its own right. “Inspiration for the design came from a TV programme; I literally paused the shot and showed it to a local joiner,” smiles Alison, who commissioned the template glass balustrades separately. Now, the open-tread English ash staircase allows light entering through rooflights to flood down to the ground floor. 

Black weatherboarding add a contemporary finish Photo credit: Mark Welsh

Gaining planning and conservation consent

The couple did give thought to 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 at times difficult. 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. More information about planning can be found on our planning page.


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