With hindsight, being made redundant in 2008 was probably the best thing that could have happened to Allen Dawson. The father of four sons had worked for a number of years as a building contractor and project manager for a company supplying kit houses, before the recession took its toll.

“As a result we took a huge risk and spent a year building this house, which we hoped would advertise my timber framing skills and help promote and develop our timber frame family business,” Allen explains.

Finding a suitable piece of land for their new house proved the first stumbling block for Allen and his wife, Michele. They searched the South-East before making an offer on a village plot nestled at the foot of the South Downs, which came with detailed planning permission for a 300m² Sussex-style house.

The Project

  • Name: Allen and Michele Dawson
  • Build cost: £350,000
  • Build time: 10 months
  • Location: East Sussex

Unfortunately for the couple, their purchaser lost his buyer, and so it looked as if the sale would fall through. The Dawsons, however, came up with an innovative solution: they would buy their purchaser’s house. This would not only secure the chain, but provide them with somewhere to live while they built their new home.

With planning permission in place it was possible to begin engineering the timber frame, which was manufactured by the family’s new company, Benjamin Allen Timber Framed Homes. Trial pits were excavated in order to calculate suitable foundation depths, and the close proximity of several elm trees – coupled with the likelihood of highly shrinkable clay – meant that this ranged from 1.5 to 3m. A pad and beam foundation was suggested in order to avoid the need for such deep trenches, but consequently caused a two-week delay while the engineer designed it, and the steel cages were made — taking the couple £4,000 above their budget.

Fortunately this overspend was offset by the fact that the family (including son Ben, 24, who also works for the business as a framing carpenter) were undertaking much of the work themselves. “We were able to produce a high-quality frame for a fraction of the price we would have paid to another timber frame supplier,” Allen explains. “The specification that we settled on was comparable to a locally based company, but cost almost 30% less.”

It took just three weeks to complete the highly insulated frame, which Allen and Ben worked on together. The sliding sash windows were then fitted to create a secure, watertight shell. Roof tilers started work and the couple scheduled in the trades such as plumbers and carpenters.

Selling their temporary house released enough funds to finish the build and also to construct a pretty weatherboarded garage. After working around the clock to meet their deadline, the family were finally able to move into their new home and crack open the champagne to celebrate.

“Our house has generated so much business, it’s really started to snowball, and we’re now fully up and running as a timber frame company,” says Allen. “People have been able to see the detail and quality of the workmanship in our own home, so although building it was a big gamble at the time, it’s one which has definitely paid off.”

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