Sweet'n Low was a prefab bungalow that previously occupied the site. Following the death of the owner, the bungalow was placed on the market.
The property had not been occupied for some time and the garden had become overgrown. In November 2009 we decided to make an offer for the bungalow/site. Sites always have problems, but this one was interesting not least because it had a footpath going through the bungalow.
In December the Council told us, "Should you purchase the property you could, should it be required to allow development to take place, apply to have the footpath diverted under the Town and Country Planning Act. Costs are in the region of £600.00 plus advertising costs (the final tally could be as much as £2000.00), and it will take a considerable amount of time."
As partners, we were not in total agreement whether we should proceed. We had two pessimistic sisters who doubted we could cover our purchase and build costs, and decided at the beginning of February 2010 to pull out.
For the next month we continually looked at and discussed the property. Developers are often accused of building at the lowest possible price. We are in the minority who are unwilling to sacrifice standards for price. We thought it might be financially viable if we could build two properties for a total selling price of £750,000, and approached the planners.
At the beginning of March we were told, "The Local Planning Authority would not grant planning permission for any development that would result in an increase in the number of individual dwelling-houses on the site. There is an increasing emphasis upon focusing all new residential development in the main towns and several of the largest villages only. However, it is unlikely that there would be any objection in principle to a single replacement dwelling (subject to all aspects of design being agreed as satisfactory). Given the relatively generous size of the plot it is quite likely, in my view, that some increase in the overall building size and height could be acceptable here."
After many more visits to the site, once more we decided to purchase. I felt we had become obsessed with the negatives rather than the site positives:
Eddie & Gillian live in Stour Row and love the area and community
the central position of the site within the community
the southern aspect and country views
a good size garden and patio
Stour Row is a conservation area not allowing any additional house building
"The majority see the obstacles, the few see the objectives."
We asked the Architect to draw plans for a luxury 2,300 sq.ft. house, which he submitted for us in mid April.
Paddock House, a new 2,300 sq.ft contemporary standard block-built house close to our plot sold for £665,000. This gave us a price guide.
The plans gave us the opportunity to discuss the rerouting of the footpath with John Williamson at Dorset County Council Rights of Way, and keep the Parish Council members informed, and on our side.
On the 9th May the planning application was deposited via the planning portal to the Council. Our plans showed the house closer to the road than the previous bungalow, because we needed it;
to satisfy the wishes of the next door neighbour
the Birch tree on our neighbour's land had a Tree Preservation Order. The roots of the tree came onto our land and we needed to move the house closer to the road to avoid the roots
the previous bungalow used a septic tank for drainage. The site slope would make it impossible to connect to the mains drain in the road if we were not closer
In the meantime, I had visited Grand Designs Show and been impressed with the Oakwrights stand and build concept. I decided to persuade Eddie to visit with me to the Oakwrights show house at Hereford on 13th May. At a later date, I again visited the show house with Rosemary, my wife.
This had a major impact on us and provided us with a vision of how we could transform the site and create a property with a traditional and contemporary design, and built to exacting specifications, that would be worth £750,000.
A few weeks later, Eddie had a site meeting with the Rights of Way department of the County Council. We had suggested we could divert the footpath along the western boundary of the property, thus narrowing the site by 2 metres. They could not have been more positive in their attitude and thanked us for our co-operation.
In contrast, we had no option but to withdraw our plans because the planner was very unhappy with them. Some of the points he made;
"My initial assessment is that the size of the proposed four double-bed house is much too large and, in particular, the scale and proportion of the building is excessive such that it would appear incongruous and unduly prominent in this rural setting. My second concern is over the position of the proposed dwelling within the plot. I consider that it has been placed too far forward of the adjacent house and that it would have an unfortunate effect upon the reasonable residential amenity thereof. I welcome the use of natural stone but would much prefer to see this complemented with render. Thereafter, the plan form of the building should be revised such that it is broken up into two or three elements e.g. to make it "L" or "T" shaped such that the whole is not built under one roof. In my opinion, these points, together with a significant reduction in the overall footprint size, are the most pressing issues to be addressed in this case."
On our visit to the Oakwrights show house, I remember it being mentioned that the design of the house was constrained by the width of the site. Following the rejection by the Planner, we contacted Oakwrights who provided us with the dimensions of their show house. They were a perfect match for our site.
In mid-June we made an appointment for a consultation meeting with the Planner.
Prior to that meeting I wrote a short letter to him, including a photo of the Oakwrights show house, stating the reasons why we wanted the house closer to the road, and;
our view is that our houses have to be in harmony with the countryside, our next house has to be an improvement on the previous build.
Following the design and application stage of the house at Stour Row, we decided to have an oak 'Post and Beam' country home from Oakwrights, with natural stone, rendering and a large amount of glazing at the south-facing rear
the task we have, with direction, is to create an impressive house that maximises the potential of a long but narrow site
We started the meeting with the Planner with the pictures of the Oakwrights show house on the table, rather than the plans. To be fair, the Planner did us a favour by rejecting our previous plan. The meeting concluded with the Planner being happy to recommend approval.
On the basis that the planning committee might ask us to reduce the house size when we submitted our plans, we added a further 'private' room downstairs. A couple of months later our plans were passed and the outcome was that we ended up with a 2,800 sq.ft. house that was closer to the road than our previous application.
We then had to go back to the Council Licensing Department to obtain agreement to divert the footpath. This consisted of a 3 month consultation period with all interested parties and local advertisements to allow for objections.
Throughout the planning process we had kept the local community informed about the re-routing of the footpath.
Of course, we then have to comply with the Building Conditions. The next stumbling block was the existing bungalow had a bat roost. A bat mitigation plan was required and agreed. This dictated the date - 1st November - when we were able to demolish the bungalow.
On 25th November we received confirmation of the order for the Footpath Diversion.
We looked at a number of timber frame providers, but Oakwrights especially impressed us with their technical efficiency and capability to meet our exacting requirements.
In September we started discussions with the Oakwrights team. With our Architect, we visited Hereford at the beginning of November to go through the model. Experience of the show house allowed Oakwrights to make suggestions towards altering and improving the frame drawings.
We looked for ways that we could deliver an outstanding blend of traditional and contemporary oak home design with this property, and then set about creating it.
In most cases, a home is the most important piece of architecture that somebody will own. We insisted that our Architect looked at our design in a different way; it's good for living in. We wanted the interior to fulfill the requirements of the people living in it, to respond to their needs, helping to keep them healthy and enjoy their new home.
SPACE: The feeling of space physically and emotionally makes us feel better. The structure of the house was held together by the timber frame. We could build as many - or as few - walls as we required to provide a spacious open plan style.
Upstairs we did away with the loft. We were able to create a large galleried landing with a vaulted ceiling overlooking both the front and back doors. There could be 4 double bedrooms or one could be converted to use as an additional reception room having fantastic country views.
LIGHT: For the health and well being of the occupants we flooded the house with light, from the glazed front porch to the extensive and attractive glazed rear gables facing south.
LIGHTING: Inside the house are all LED 5.4W bulbs – all low wattage but extremely bright. A mixture of down-lights and spot-lights are used, apart from the one indulgence of a 12-arm chic black crystal chandelier placed above the staircase adding a further WOW factor.
OAK FRAME: The beautifully crafted solidity provided by the oak frame gives this home a unique character whilst remaining in harmony with it's surroundings. It is the character of the Oakwrights frame that brings the interior of the house to life.
LOW ENERGY COSTS: On a previous build (of two houses) we had installed air source heating which, although expensive to install, is extremely efficient, environmentally friendly and reliable. Our customers who had purchased these two properties are extremely impressed with the systems and say how cheap they are to run in relation to other heating systems.
We prefer to use under-floor heating systems to lose the appearance of radiators and also to achieve a more constant temperature throughout the home. On this build we used under-floor heating both on the ground and first floor.
VENTILATION: This house would have air permeability of less than 5m3, making it as airtight as possible.
During a visit to a building exhibition the previous year, we had been impressed by the ventilation and heat recovery system we had seen. From a building point of view it got over the problem of us not wanting to have trickle vents in the large glazed rear elevation of the property. Nor would there be a need for any extractors in the bathrooms, so no reason to drill holes in a property that we are trying to keep air tight.
From an efficiency point of view, the vast majority of the energy from the outgoing stale air will be returned clean. The system draws heat away from particular hot spots in the house (e.g. the kitchen and bathrooms) and redistributes it as warm, filtered, preconditioned air into the living areas of the house.
The system changes the air in the property every 2 hours. That is beneficial for asthma sufferers and it also contains a pollen filter. Each area of the house has temperature control.
Additionally, there is a wood burner in the lounge. The wood burner and heat exchanger, with the benefit of the insulation, should be sufficient to heat the house.
KITCHEN: From our own experiences we know that a large larder/fridge is a great advantage, so we opted for a tall double unit providing plenty of storage room. We chose a cream oak hand painted shaker style kitchen with black star galaxy granite worktops.
The black Rangemaster cooker came with an induction hob and double ovens – we chose to have electric rather than gas because the modern version is surprisingly more economical for the user, with instantaneous heat control. A black and stainless steel extractor is fitted above.
Keeping to the forefront of technology, a steam tap is incorporated within the sink mixer taps to provide boiling water for hot drinks (eliminating the need for a kettle). A waste disposal unit is also installed as well as recycling bins which are built into the kitchen. The dishwasher, microwave and refrigerator units are all Neff.
STAIRS: We had a clear idea of what we wanted to achieve. We wanted the appearance of treads coming out of the wall with no stair strings visible and we wanted glazed panels between the newel posts rather than spindles to give it a modern, open feel.
FLOORS: Upstairs carpet. Ground floor we liked the idea of having contrasting materials but were also aware of the need to blend the materials into each other effectively. With this in mind we found two products, Amtico (timber effect) and Karndean (limestone effect to define the hallway) flooring.
These products are more expensive than using actual timber and limestone, but we felt they had more advantages, and perfectly complimented each other, and the property. They are extremely hardwearing, easy to clean, work well with under floor heating to provide a warm floor area, pet friendly, and it feels and sounds good underfoot.
We decided that a flat reinforced raft foundation slab was preferable to deep trench foundations and footings, both for H&S and potential tree root movements. Snow was forecast, so we covered the foundation slab with straw from a local farmer and bubble wrap.
In January 2011 we removed the protective covering and set out the block work, from drawings supplied by Oakwrights, for the oak posts to stand on. Previously when we set out the height of the reinforced slab, we set it in the ground by an additional depth of 350mm so that the internal drains could go over the top of the slab meaning more accuracy could be achieved later in the build with regards positioning sanitary ware. This meant increasing the thickness of the ground floor insulation (prior to the screed being laid) which would have the added benefit of increasing the insulation value of the final build.
We were given a date for Oakwrights to be on site, and a week prior to that we instructed the scaffolders to erect the scaffold (for a 14 week hire period) except for one small area at the front for loading/access of materials. On a fresh, dry Monday morning on 8th February two lorries pulled up outside the site at 8am, shortly followed by Tim Griffiths, Oakwrights designer, and a van full of Oakwrights erecting crew.
After the traditional first cup of coffee, and site induction, the erectors promptly took up their roles on the site unloading the oak into various piles with the aid of the hi-ab on the lorries. The lorries left site by 9.30am and at 9.45am the crane arrived and took approximately 1 hour to set up in position ready for work to commence.
For a small Dorset village, the oak frame and crane created quite a stir in the community over the next few days, we had lots of spectators and cars stopping to watch as the frame grew so quickly. The crane was a big hit with the neighbour's kids who spent a lot of time in their gardens watching.
Many of the villagers commented on the unbelievable speed of the frame build, as well as comments about 'how nice to see traditional methods still being used' and 'how attractive the frame looked'.
A time scale of 4 days had previously been discussed with Oakwrights, at the planning stage, for the erection of the oak frame to be completed. We found it difficult to believe that the whole frame, with the number of components involved, could possibly be completed in such a short span of time.
So we were even more surprised to see how quickly and efficiently the whole job was carried out with staff working well into the evening (by floodlight), and after 2½ days it was complete.
Eddie has many years experience in carpentry and felt that the erection crew were a great credit to Oakwrights – they all knew exactly what they should be doing at any point in time and carried out the whole build in an extremely professional and efficient manner.
With Oakwrights finished so quickly we had to pull forward the next stage. Luckily the bricklayers were working on our other site which was due to take a backseat once the Stour Row build was underway. So with one phone call they were on site the next day building block work up to DPC height.
We had decided to make the timber infill panels ourselves on site, so whilst the bricklayers were continuing with the outer skin the timber panels were being constructed and fitted inside the frame up to first floor joist height.
1st Floor joists were then put into place and weather deck flooring which then enabled the roof to be fitted whilst the bricklayers were still on the ground floor carrying out block and stonework. Once the roof was insulated, and felt and batten had been fitted, the first floor wall panels could be made and fitted. Windows were also fitted within the panels.
So after 4 week’s of the build commencing, the frame was now completely in the dry although the weather (for February) had been remarkably kind to us. With everything now in the dry, internal works e.g. plumbing, electrics, carpentry could get going on the inside, as well as stone and block work still continuing outside.
We always prefer to use skilled local tradesmen, who are well known to us and work for us on a regular basis. They all get on well with each other, provide an excellent service and quality of work, and they all work well together as a team and help each other out when required. This makes for a much happier atmosphere on site.
Insulation is high on our list of priorities when building a property, as the opportunity only really occurs once during the build. As well as a layer of 350mm of insulation under the floor screed, during the build we also fitted 70mm of cavity insulation as well as 100mm insulation between the timber panels and plasterboard. In the roof, there was equivalent of 400mm of insulation over and between rafters. In all, some one and a half artic lorry loads of insulation was used in the build.
Although the ecologist had only located one bat in the demolished bungalow, the bat mitigation plan stated we had to reinstate an area in the roof of the new house for bats.
We had a time pressure, the roof had to be completed by the end of March.
We were ahead of schedule on the build so comfortably had the roof completed externally (and plaster boarded internally) on time, with ‘bat tiles’ incorporated into the roof.
By the end of April, the external shell of the property was completed and the scaffold was able to be taken down at the end of the 14 week hire. Inside work was also well underway and we were up to the stage where all the first fix trades had finished and the plastering had been completed. We then moved into the second fix stage and the decorators did as much as they could at this stage.
We had already been looking around at kitchens, and decided to use a local firm who supply and fit high quality kitchens and appliances. Likewise for the sanitary ware, again choosing a local firm to supply top of the range items for all the bathrooms and cloakroom.
We contacted a joinery company in Poole recommended to us by another local builder. They listened to our requirements and were able to build us the stairs that we had described. The fitting was somewhat fiddly, but the finished staircase looked fantastic and exactly what we were trying to achieve.
Whilst the internal second fix works were going on, we were also concentrating on the outside area, starting from the rear of the property and working towards the front. We built a raised terraced area at the back of the property with a stone retaining wall incorporating tiered steps leading down into the large lawned area.
We erected close board fencing around the perimeter of the back garden to provide privacy for the occupants. A log and bin store were also built out of timber. The paving on the terrace extends around the side of the property and into a path to the front door. Fencing is also continued along each side of the property, with a small picket fence along the road frontage. The drive, where four vehicles can easily park, is finished off with Cotswold stone topping.
Stour Homes build individual, exceptionally high standard homes, by skilled local builders for discerning customers willing to pay for quality and attention to detail.
Sourcing skilled and local tradesmen with whom we have experience and good working relationships has enabled us to provide support to the local economy in hard times without compromising our dedication to our buyer and the finished product.
It has given us an enormous amount of pleasure to build a home that fills us with pride. As one local stated, "This is the best house in the village".
Written by David Coulter