In theory self-building should get easier the more often you do it, but this, our third major building project, was by far the most complicated — largely because it has also been by the far the most ambitious. The house was built in a period style due to its location – an ultra modern home would have looked somewhat out of place in the heart of a village comprised largely of period properties. But we have managed to put a modern twist on this classic design by making the interiors light and spacious, using smart technology throughout the house and adding a modern annexe onto the rear.
Emma and I are both great admirers of the simple, yet formal elegance of 18th century houses, but with the price tag for an original rectory or farmhouse around Oxford starting at £1.5m, even unmodernised, it was both far more realistic and affordable to set about creating what we wanted from scratch.
Having already lived in the village for several years, and with plans to settle there for the foreseeable future, Emma and I were keen to create something in keeping and not too controversial with the neighbours, and so spent a great deal of time researching the proportions and details of local houses and rectories.
At the back of the house, however, where the site is very private and less contentious in planning terms, we wanted to create something strikingly modern: a glass dining room with a minimal structure and floor-to-ceiling glass to create an apparently seamless flow of space between inside and out.
Creating a building in steel and glass, however, where the finished floor both inside and out needs to be exactly level, proved an immense challenge. It required precision, forward planning, and the co-ordination of 22 different trades. We could not have achieved this without the help of architect Jonathan Dennis and carpenter – and de facto site foreman – Rob Tipping, who took responsibility on site for making sure each trade sequenced together and got the detail right.
Despite the stress it created, the result is still a joy to me every time I see it – a sleek, modern structure with crisp, clean lines. It is a wonderful room all year round: when the double doors are thrown open in the summer and the kitchen dining room and terrace work as a single space, or when the doors are closed in winter, and we can sit and enjoy a meal in comfort and warmth, yet still somehow feel as if we are sitting out in the frost-covered garden.
Apart from the open plan layout of the kitchen breakfast room, and the contemporary kitchen furniture from Bulthaup, much of the interior design is traditional, but with a modern twist introduced through furniture, accessories and fixtures and fittings.
I still want to build another house to use up more of the design ideas inspired by the projects featured in H&R, but Emma has finally persuaded me that this time we should stay put and settle down, particularly for the sake of our three children, Freddie, George and Lily.