Jim Lucas and Jennifer Mole have built an exciting contemporary PassivHaus which sits perfectly on its sloping site. The self-build home features a stone clad frontage with a stunning, cedar clad and glazed rear.
Sunnybank may be an all-singing, all-dancing PassivHaus – right down to the embargoed letterbox and cat flap to maintain airtightness – but its exemplary eco credentials were not written in stone from the outset. Instead, ideas and systems evolved, even over the course of the construction, which for many self-builders would induce more than the odd palpitation.
The successful outcome of Sunnybank is clearly a testament to the fluid and flexible dialogue between owners Jennifer Mole and Jim Lucas, and architect Tony Lucas (no relation) of Shoreham on Sea-based Venner Lucas Architects. “To have an architect who ‘gets you’ is the most important thing when taking on a project like this,” explains Jennifer.
Sunnybank Mark I was the site’s former resident, a bungalow built in 1979, with a large sprawling – and thistle-filled – two-acre garden to the rear. “We knocked down the original house as it would have been costlier to adapt,” explains Jennifer. “Knocking down a house to build an eco house isn’t perhaps very eco-friendly, but we did reuse everything from the demolished house.”
After a year-and-a-half in the gestation and planning stages, the 16-month build project began in August 2008. “We had a clear idea about what we wanted,” explains Jennifer. “We wanted an environmentally friendly house and we knew we couldn’t go bigger than the footprint of the original house. The site is on a slope, so digging down made sense. In terms of a brief, we wanted four/five bedrooms and open plan living areas, where we could eat, cook and live all together.” Mindful of the brief and following the various eco twists and turns, what finally emerged was an essentially rectangular four bedroom house arranged over two levels.
The upper entrance level features an arrangement of two parallel corridors, linked by a glass bridge. The space is flooded with light via a rooflight strip along the length of the building, forming a glass division or void between the north and south elevations. The two storey south, garden-facing elevation, clad in heat-treated hardwood and extensively glazed, pulls in great swathes of light. The bedrooms are arranged along this south-facing seam of the upper level, above the main family area on the ground floor — both taking full advantage of views of the immediate garden and surrounding countryside.
The lower level is reached by a bespoke timber staircase, complete with glazed balustrades which allow light entering through the rooflights above to flood down. This open plan area features a galley kitchen, dining area and living space, with an adjoining ‘flexible’ room, currently a playroom.
Although Sunnybank is a Passivhaus, Jennifer explains that sustainability was not the overriding goal when it came to designing the new home; “The eco systems grew organically in conversations with the architect. Tony asked us to consider the idea of making the house airtight and not installing any heating systems at all. So, the woodburning stove is our only heat source. We have the option of underfloor heating in the two bathrooms, and that’s it. But we never use it — we don’t need to. When it was -16°C last winter the house was still 18-19°C indoors.”