The great hall

The grand living space is flooded with light and views

After moving in to an unremarkable 1950s six bedroom family home with the intention of renovating, Viv and Mike Edwards along with their 2 sons decided that only a new oak frame country style home would do their beautiful rural Hertfordshire location the justice it required.

As first time self-builders the family chose an extremely ambitious project on which to cut their teeth, building a country house measuring an impressive 790 sqm.

“After six months of living in the existing chalet-style house we started to think that the plot deserved a far better property, and talked about replacing it with a new build,” Viv explains. “We looked at various options, but none of the local architects we contacted came up with anything particularly exciting. Then we met Jeremy Rawlings, an architect recognised for designing British period style homes at one of the Homebuilding & Renovating shows with Oakwrights and we immediately clicked.”

“We’ve always preferred the character of older properties and Jeremy’s previous projects were really inspiring,” Viv continues.

The vaulted space makes for a stunning bedroom

The new house was more or less restricted to the size of the existing building’s footprint, but other than that the couple gave Jeremy a fairly free hand with the exterior design.

Jeremy worked with Viv and Mike over a period of time to produce a floorplan that incorporated vaulted ceilings in two thirds of the rooms. From the start the decision was taken that the house would be of the oak frame variety, and these voids enable the internal oak timbers to be showcased and enjoyed throughout the interior.

“We spoke to a number of oak framing companies and particularly liked Oakwrights, who couldn’t have been more helpful,” says Mike, who runs an internet marketing company. “Once we’d made the decision with the oak frame house, we knew we wanted vaulted ceilings in all the bedrooms, as well as in the main entrance hall and living room, to create a real wow factor.”

This decision did inevitably limit the number of rooms achievable upstairs, but with so much space to play with, the design could still incorporate five bedrooms in the main house and an additional bedroom in a self-contained flat.

The main entrance hall opens into an impressive living space, overlooked by a gallery, and featuring a double height window onto the garden.

The planning process proved lengthy, as the planners wanted one external wall of the existing house to be retained. “Keeping one wall would have made oak framing virtually impossible, but in the end we managed to overturn the decision,” says Mike.

By now the family had been living in the existing house for almost three and a half years and were itching to set to work on building its replacement. During their build, Viv, Mike and their boys made the decision to move out into rented accommodation. They stayed there for 18 months in total.

Along one of the edges of the families nine acre plot is a railway tunnel that had caused vibrations in the previous property. As a result of this, Mike researched the problem and sourced anti-vibration matting, to be laid on top of the foundations during the build which provided an expensive but effective solution.

Erecting the timber frame

Erecting the oak frame was a highlight of the build for Viv and Mike, they could see the crane for miles. The huge timbers were lifted into position and traditionally jointed and pegged in place over a 12 week period.

“Although I’d been involved with, and sometimes project managed, building various projects for clients in the past, I’d never done anything on this scale. It put quite a bit of pressure on me when I thought about how this would be a home I’d live in for the rest of my life. As a professional interior designer, I needed to get it just right from the onset,”.

“It helped to have Mike concentrate on the exterior so I could focus all my energy on the interior. The amount of choice was overwhelming, but as we never plan to move house again we were determined to get everything right. Even now, after living here for several years, I still get a buzz when we arrive home.” explained Viv.

Budgeting for the project

Viv and Mike decided against setting a fixed budget because they were unsure about some of the costs at the start of the build. They were keen not to cut corners when it came to quality but once products had been selected, Viv used her industry knowledge to ensure that everything was offered at the best possible prices. “I had the advantage of being able to call on my suppliers for trade prices or below, but this project encouraged me to make new connections as well” she explains.

The oak doors and staircase were made by an amazing craftsman in Somerset, and Viv sourced all of the light fittings including the huge chandelier above the stairs which was imported from a chateau in France.

Other products included Moroccan stone flooring, which was laid in huge slabs in the hallway and kitchen. The kitchen cabinets and island unit was made to Viv’s own design, and everything was set against the backdrop of the sturdy oak frame timbers. “None of our previous furniture was suitable, it all looked far too small, which is why I had most things made bespoke. I was lucky with my interiors background I was able to pull on all my resources for this.”

One of the major challenges in building such a large house was ensuring that it still felt like a home. “We wanted to make sure that every room would be used, so we haven’t got a separate dining room – the table is positioned in the lounge under the galleried landing, and has a lower ceiling for a cosier feel. We also have a separate TV snug, which the boys use all the time. It’s fantastic to have so much space.”

The planning process was lengthy but the build was an enormous success.

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The great hall

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