After searching for several months in their chosen area of rural Herefordshire, Kate Morris and her first husband, Mark, heard through friends about a plot that had recently been awarded outline planning permission on appeal in a small hamlet.
As a designer with a portfolio ranging from whole house restorations to homewares, Kate already possessed a good range of professional instincts that could be transferred to her own project.
“I felt the house belonged in the rear corner of the plot to exploit the sense of seclusion, and also to create a larger patio and garden,” Kate explains. “We also knew a vernacular design – without being slavishly old fashioned – would best suit the surrounding area and our own style.”
- Name: Kate Morris
- Build time: 12 months
- Location: Herefordshire
Planning the Design
After investigating the various construction options available Kate chose a hybrid, super-insulated system she had seen locally. “I was impressed by the thermal properties of structural insulated panels (SIPs) and the speed of forming a ‘dry’ shell, but I was concerned that the house might feel a little soulless without the oak frame — the texture and warmth of oak beams really help characterise the interior spaces,” says Kate.
Working closely with Border Oak, Kate’s bespoke design took shape and was finished in lime render over a deep brick plinth with painted windows. “Planning was approved without incident and we started work straight away as we were excited to transform our ideas into reality,” Kate reflects.
Kate has ingeniously squeezed every inch of practical space from the layout, including a secret study area behind the stairs, an additional snug (which could equally become a playroom, study or bedroom) and an unexpected en suite bathroom, complete with free standing double-ended bath, tucked within the garage roof.
The deliberate use of a limited palette of natural materials such as weatherboarding, lime render and reclaimed clay tiles evoke a timeless subtlety
The stone tiles are one of Kate’s favourite features and she is pleased with the patina they have developed over time. The kitchen, from Handmade Kitchens Direct, is light, with windows on three sides, and large enough to accommodate a big table and armchairs
The project was undertaken through a combination of package contract, local subcontractors and Mark and Kate’s own DIY. Border Oak made and erected the oak frame and the SIPs shell, and then Kate took on the project while working full time and being pregnant with daughter Molly. “Mark was often working away and so I assumed the roles of project manager, designer, specifier and general dogsbody — ensuring the builders always had what they needed.”
The young couple took their time to complete the build, focusing on quality and detail. “Luckily, Mark loved spending every spare minute on the project and really wanted to take on the physical work whenever he was home,” says Kate. This proved cost effective and enabled them to personalise the house. “People often comment on the atmosphere here, which might be the result of the endless hours of hard work we both lavished on the project!”
Tragically, Mark died just before the house was finished and so didn’t get to see the impressive result of their shared endeavour. “There are so many elements of Mark in the cottage, from the woodburner he spray-painted the perfect colour, to the cupboard doors he didn’t quite finish — I’m sure he would have felt very at home here.”
The bathrooms and flooring were supplied by White Hall Flooring
The relaxed palette of the building allows it to sit within a broad range of neighbouring properties and Kate has found that the natural materials also weather beautifully — gathering age and a certain softness over time.
The interiors, like the exterior, exude period charm, with natural materials and soft textures which enhance the characterful oak frame. “I found it especially difficult to source the perfect fabrics though,” reflects Kate, “so eventually I decided to establish my own homewares company. The colours and textures are influenced by the Herefordshire countryside, and the homes I have created — and it all started here at Ryelands.”
The ceiling in the main bedroom has been vaulted and faced in tongue and groove boarding to create interest and texture
“I’m delighted with the end result and love the fact it feels both calm and welcoming — it has so much character even though it’s a new home, and is everything I could have hoped for.
“I have found that building a house is a pretty addictive pastime though,” warns Kate.
Kate’s range of homewares and fabrics can be viewed at Miltonandmanor.co.uk.