Dave Shakespeare’s beautifully crafted model railway became so big that he and his wife Julie needed a bigger home. Not wanting to move, they decided to build a new home in their own back garden.

It was a radical solution, spurred on by their dream of building a more eco-friendly home that would embrace the garden Julie had painstakingly created over the past 18 years. What they didn’t bargain for, however, was a year-long battle to get planning permission, or that the garden would be virtually destroyed during the process.

“In spite of the set-backs, it was a great adventure,” said Dave. “I had self built our last house and later extended it, so I knew what to expect.” But before they could contemplate building a new home, they had to demolish their own sitting room extension and reinstate the original layout of their previous house to create access down the side. Skip to the remainder of the story.

The Project

  • Name: Dave and Julie Shakespeare
  • Build cost: £180,000 (£632/m²)
  • Build time: Three years
  • Location: Lincolnshire

garden and large pond behind Dave and Julie Shakespeare's eco home

Local Ancaster stone has been used, in keeping with the village’s conservation status

Cooke & Lewis kitchen units paired with an Indian Black Pearl granite worktop

The stylish kitchen features Cooke & Lewis units, with Indian Black Pearl granite worktops

the garden room adjoins the kitchen and has large windows

The garden room is full of natural light and offers fantastic views of their beautiful garden

the hallway and model train

Model railway enthusiast Dave rebuilt his world reknowned track in a specially dedicated room upstairs

Dave paved the drive and built the wall himself

Dave spent several months paving the 14,500-brick drive and building a 25 x 1.8m brick and stone wall

Building finally began in June 2010. The delays with planning had been frustrating, but the extra time gave them chance to tweak the design to perfection and plan everything to the finest detail so there would be no hold-ups once building got under way.

“We invested in the fabric of the house and made sure everything was done properly, and to the highest standard, from the outset,” said Dave. “We were lucky because we lived in the old house until we reached the point where we could move into this one.”

Dave and Julie took the practical elements of the build in their stride, relying on ‘tried, tested and trusted’ tradespeople to also go the extra mile.

The first hurdle was to get the concrete foundations laid in the wake of torrential rain. Collapsed trenches had to be excavated again and due to the difficult site access, they had to use pumped trench flow concrete.

The couple employed a builder/bricklayer friend to lay the footings, facing bricks and the limestone, whilst they did all the labouring. Dave laid all the blockwork after the bricklayer went home and at weekends too.

The complex roof design was the next big challenge. Several lengthy steel beams had to be manoeuvred into place with a crane ready for fishplate joining above the 100mm block walls.

“One unusual decision we made was to use the on site crane to lift all of our extra-thick plasterboard on to the first floor, months before it could be roofed over,” said Dave. “It was a big gamble. The one-tonne packs proved too heavy, even for our over-engineered floors, and we had to quickly redistribute the load over every room. Julie rose to the challenge with meticulous wrapping and waterproofing and, as a result, we didn’t lose a single board.”

“We had used the internet to source high-quality materials at honest prices – especially in the kitchen and bathrooms – leaving money for a no-expense-spared exterior and low-maintenance interior,” said Dave.

They had also achieved their goal of creating an energy-efficient home. “During an unusually cold and extended winter, our ground-source heat pump maintained a house temperature of 22°C, 24 hours a day,” said Dave. “We are an all-electric house, and our winter monthly consumption has never exceeded £160. During the warmer periods, our solar panel provides the majority of our hot water needs and costs pennies to run.”

Dave and Julie kept a strict account of their day-to-day expenditure and a close eye on the long-term costs, even though they did not set themselves a budget. They also worked to a policy of zero waste — amazingly, just two bricks were left over from the 9,500 ordered.

Despite the early hiccups, Dave and Julie finally achieved the house of their dreams, and few things gave them more pleasure than sitting in the garden room and soaking up the glorious view.

The exhaustive planning certainly paid off. Dave even started rebuilding the model railway in a specially designated room upstairs.

Post-publication: December 2014

Unfortunately shortly after Dave and Julie moved in, Dave discovered he had an aggressive form of cancer and was told he had just months to live. Defying all odds, he and Julie launched into an intense self-help regime, which initialy helped to reverse the prognosis. At the time of publication in November 2013, we heard that Dave was doing well, and when interviewed Dave said “We built ourselves a beautiful home and I am determined to be around to enjoy it.” 

Thankfully he did get to enjoy the fruits of all of his hard labour for some time, but sadly Dave passed away in 2014.

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