Claire and Andrew Alderson’s new Cornwall self built home is a masterclass in balance — light yet soft and liveable on the inside, contemporary but at one with the surroundings outside.
As with so many self builds these days, Claire’s construction project started out with a hefty dose of demolition — the removal of a 1960s bungalow. But practically everything else about the self build Claire undertook with husband Andrew and daughters Jessica and Loulou in Cornwall is extra special — not least the once-in-a-lifetime site with its sumptuous coastal views over a south Cornwall fishing village and cove.
Claire and Andrew had renovated several previous houses all with the help of their friend, architect Robert Evans from Evans Vettori Architects — and so one of the first things they did upon finding the site was to get him down from Derbyshire to take a look. “The house obviously needed to reflect the views,” says Claire, “but the conclusion we came to with Robert was that, to ensure the quality of the light benefited the whole house, a largely open plan arrangement was essential.”
The Aldersons also wanted a two storey home and in order to ensure it didn’t exceed the existing house’s ridge height, that meant a flat roof. The project enjoyed a clear run through the planning committee, thanks in part to a rousing speech by Claire and the couple’s commitment to work with the planners rather than against them.
A Quantity surveyor was employed who, Claire claims, found material savings well in excess of his fee. But it was the project manager who would drive the build. “We wanted a project manager to really co-ordinate things on site,” says Claire, who scoured the internet and came across Robin Van der Bij, who runs design and build company Ecohouse.
“We always knew that we wanted to make this, as much as possible, an energy-efficient home with low running costs,” Claire says, “and in Robin we found the perfect match. He understood the particular issues of organising a housebuilding project, but looked at everything from an eco perspective.” Andrew and Claire then appointed a reputable local building firm, T&D Carter, to handle the construction.
The site is steeply sloping and topsoil-heavy, and so additional costs were ensued due to the builders having to go nearly four metres down in order to find solid ground to build into. “The construction solution is particularly interesting,” explains Robin. “We suggested that the structure effectively consist of two boxes sitting on top of each other. The lower storey would be built of aircrete blockwork filled with 100mm Kingpsan Kooltherm (and a 25mm cavity) with the top floor of timber frame.”
There can be no doubt that the project has been a huge success. The design is the very best of contemporary style but thanks to its use of natural materials on the outside – locally sourced cedar and slate dominate – and ‘into the hill’ feel, it’s not the kind of design that imposes itself. It’s polite and considerate. Inside, the rooms feel perfectly proportioned – at 220m² the house’s size is refreshingly realistic – and incredibly light. Just as importantly, it performs very well and initial bills are tiny. “We wanted a home that would do justice to the site,” says Claire. And, boy, do they have it.