All our lives we’ve self-built to suit the needs of our circumstances; and when we started out we only built what we could scrape enough money to afford. After that, we built to house us, our young children and our menagerie of birds and animals.

Later, we built to accommodate and survive hormonal teenagers and, later still, to provide accommodation for returning children and our grandchildren. Now it’s just Mrs Snell and I.

Our son and our three grandchildren have moved just four miles down the road, and our daughters live away in London and Kent so we only need to provide for their occasional visits. This house is future-proofed. I am 74 years old this year and it’ll do me for the next 30 years, at least.

property exterior with patio area

David originally purchased two plots; one was later sold to Bruce, the builder he employed for his project, and the two worked together to build both houses

Project Notes

  • Homeowners: David & Linda Snell
  • Location: Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire
  • Size: 150m² (plus lean-to carport)
  • Build Cost: £129,121

For the first time in our lives, we’re not moving on and if it gets done now, then fine. But if it waits until next year, then that’s equally fine.

In actual fact, most of it is now done. Bruce – the man who built my house and, together with his wife Kathy, also built his own on the adjacent plot – hung the doors in April of 2017 and Mark Mathews – who made all the windows and doors for our previous homes in the Forest of Dean – came in and built the cupboards in the utility room and fitted out the dressing room.

However, when we moved in the outside works were glaringly unfinished.

living room with juliet balcony

The glazing, by Express Glazing, continues the house’s pared-down colour scheme inside, but is coloured pale green the exterior

A few weeks later, because both we and Bruce were having to park our cars down the road, Bruce got into the digger, levelled out the joint driveways between our homes and laid them both to pea shingle. We were planning to have a fence between us, but we both decided against that and we’ve left it open.

The front of my house was a mud heap barely covering the liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) tank and Ed, Bruce’s son, got in there and dug a pond, which we lined with a butyl membrane. I then retrieved all of the ferns and wild plants that I’d saved when we first started work on the site and was able to create the wildlife pond that I’d hankered over.

The guttering from the house discharges directly into this pond and the water level moves up and down within its planted banks. I seeded the undulating ground and planted a native hedge around the stone retaining wall to the lane.

Stairbox staircase

The staircase from Stairbox was ordered online. It was one of the last pieces to be completed to preserve it from the traffic through the front door during the build

The rear, when we first moved in, was just a pile of dirt with no fence to the forest beyond. Bruce had cast the slab for his proposed garage and our carport and he now needed to get his equipment and tools into secure and dry storage, so that was his incentive to get on with both tasks.

At the same time, he got on with the construction of the stone retaining wall and steps up to the higher garden level. That meant that he could then lay the natural stone patio area and we, at last, had clean access for us and Harvey.

Originally, the top level was also going to be hard paving, but when Bruce had levelled it out with topsoil from the heap at the back, we changed our minds and seeded it to a lawn.

contemporary style kitchen with red tiles

The kitchen (from Lyndey Bathrooms) features a quartz worktop. The matching up stand provides a seamless finish, while the red tiles add a pop of colour to the room

Younger self-builders might look at our latest house and wonder why it’s not that spectacular or ostentatious. But with our experience in self-building our own homes, comes a knowledge of exactly what we want from this one.

Downstairs we retain our much-loved vaulting in the entrance hall, there is a lounge with a woodburning stove in the corner and a bay window to the lane with the cill set low enough for Harvey to keep a lookout and bark at passing dogs and horses.

main living room

David and his builder (and eventual neighbour), Bruce, worked closely to ensure the build came in close to, or under, budget

The kitchen/dining room is clean, clinical and modern with direct access to the garden. We have a utility room and a downstairs loo.

And then there’s our bedroom: light and airy with patio doors to the rear garden, overlooking the forest — it’s also got a walk-in dressing room and a spacious en suite shower room.

Upstairs is my pride and joy: the top lounge. This can also be a bedroom – with a Juliet balcony looking out over the country with uninterrupted views of the Wye Valley and the Malvern Hills.

And I have the opportunity to plant the garden and, for the first time in my life, see what grows. 

(MORE: The complete guide to self build)

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