Many of us dream of building our own home, creating something for our exact needs.
Yet, when faced with the option of a building site, or moving into a brand new home, you can see why many people take the less risky route.
Not Jane Walsh, 53, and her partner Darren, 52, though. The couple had put in three offers on three different properties in East Molesey, near Hampton Court, that had all been accepted.
One was for a bungalow ripe for a knock-down and rebuild. The second was a ‘doer upper’ project and the third house had already been renovated.
‘We had one day to choose which one to buy,’ says Darren. ‘In the end, the desire to build won out and we went with the bungalow,’ he says.
Darren and Jane co-own their own development management company, albeit commercial not residential, and Darren has always had a desire to build his own home.
So, armed with experience as well as the passion, they decided to follow their hearts.
The couple had already viewed the bungalow with good friend and architect Colm Tamney of AIR Architects before they made their offer, and knew that they wanted to work with him on the design and planning stage.
Their initial thought was to knock down the building and replace it with two semi-detached houses.
One that they would live in and the other that they would sell to help finance the project.
However, after proposing the idea to local planning officers at a pre-planning meeting, they soon changed tack.
‘Local planners have started to enforce a minimum density policy, which meant we could either build a block of four or more flats, or replace it with a similar footprint,’ says Jane. ‘In the end, we went with the latter option and built one house.’
Back to the drawing board, the couple wanted to create a modern home.
However, being next to a conservation area meant their design would need to take into consideration the neighbouring properties that, although new-builds, were designed in a period style.
‘We wanted something that blended in with the existing streetscape, but was contemporary, filled with lots of light, and built using natural materials, including timber,’ says Jane.
‘We did a lot of research ourselves to see what kind of look we wanted and then worked collaboratively with Colm to come up with a layout and overall design.’
The couple, along with Colm, took the new vision to pre-planning again and, this time, their design was more agreeable.
‘The planning officer assigned to us was very supportive,’ says Jane. After some minor amendments and a meeting with their neighbours to inform them of their plans and to alleviate any potential fears, they put in their final planning application in April 2019.
Permission was granted three months later in July 2019 to build a modern two-storey, four-bedroom detached house with garage and broken-plan ground-floor living.
‘Between Colm and ourselves, we worked really hard on the application and submitted a full design and access statement, which included more information than maybe the average person might have done,’ says Jane.
The thorough planning paid off and within two months the bungalow was demolished, groundworks prepared and strip foundations laid, ready for the hybrid masonry, pre-cast timber and steel frame to be built.
Unfortunately the next stage wasn’t as smooth-sailing and, by March 2020, the couple began to notice some serious problems with the main builder/project manager.
‘Work was slow and the quality was poor,’ says Darren. ‘The day we went into lockdown we parted company with him,’ he says.
Thankfully the couple were able to pull together a new team, while keeping some of the original workforce.
‘We didn’t originally want to take on a project management role, but we were able to make it work,’ says Darren.
Luckily for the couple, costs didn’t escalate too much and they weren’t faced with material shortages and profiteering that other self-builders experienced during the pandemic.
‘Fortunately we had already ordered the big-ticket items such as the windows, glass and doors pre-pandemic,’ explains Darren.
In June 2020 the sale of the flat in which they were living completed, which meant they had no choice but to move into their nearly finished home, without a kitchen, front door, bedroom doors and with a temporary screen across the back of the house.
‘It was tough living with builders who arrived early each morning and with all the dust and dirt,’ continues Jane. ‘We had four usable bedrooms; one we used as a living room and office, the second was our bedroom, and the others for my teenage children,’ she says. ‘We didn’t have a kitchen!’
Lots of long days and juggling their work schedule meant that, by August, the interior was complete with just the exterior wood cladding and landscaping to go, which was eventually finished by October.
The house is stunning. The front of the property was designed to be in keeping with the neighbouring period properties.
Finished in Petersen bricks from Denmark laid in a stretcher bond pattern, the slim-shaped bricks are of a similar sandy colour to that used on the rest of the street and helps the house blend into the local vernacular.
However, glazing and Siberian Larch timber cladding on the back of the house creates a contrasting contemporary feel.
Clever design really gives this home the wow factor. As you enter you are provided with a clear sightline from the front door through into the broken-plan kitchen, dining and living area through glazed walls and sliding doors and into the garden beyond.
What’s more, the double-height space in the hallway and the galleried landing with glass balustrading on the first floor emphasises the property’s volume. Subtle design detailing, such as a wall in the open-plan living area with a bioethanol fireplace built in, helps separate the living from the kitchen and dining zones.
And providing even extra evidence of the couples vision, an indoor preserved moss wall in the living space not only looks great, but helps with the acoustics in the broken-plan room.
The couple are both clearly proud of what they have achieved. ‘It was hard work, there’s no doubt about it,’ says Jane.
‘But all our research paid off, and we love spending time in the back of the house. ‘My favourite thing to do is relax on my Yeti chair with a cup of coffee looking out into our beautiful garden.’
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