A tiny, awkward plot measuring 170m² in total and with a serious slope to boot? Step forward Barry and Flora Joyce — self-builders with serious vision.

Barry and Flora had been toying with the idea of building their own home but their fruitless search for a building plot – within walking distance of the centre of the Derbyshire town they had devoted much of their lives to – had always led them to believe that it would never really happen.

Luck would come in the shape of a group of local friends — one set of whom owned a bungalow at the end of a quiet street of 1960s houses and had recently gained planning permission to replace a garage in their garden with a new house.

It was another set of friends, architects Pippa Mansel and George Jones of Mansel Architects, who the bungalow owners turned to in order to get the thing through planning approval in the first instance, and who told Barry and Flora about the new plot on the scene.

The Project

  • Name: Barry and Flora Joyce
  • Build cost: £232,500 (£1,856/m²)
  • Build time: 1 year
  • Location: Derbyshire

“Some other people had first refusal, but when they decided against it, we jumped at the chance,” explains Barry. “Given the nature of the plot, it’s no wonder really!” And that is really at the heart of the achievement here — possibly one of the most unlikely looking building plots you could wish to see, off a shared drive, measuring just 170m² in total and, to add to the fun, enjoying a fairly steep slope up to the rear. All that was there – and, frankly, all that looked like could be ever there – was a garage, but luckily architects Pippa and George had a double helping of vision.

George takes up the story “In many ways the plot actually suited Barry and Flora’s brief for their home for retirement. Obviously they wanted a smaller home – it would have been difficult to achieve anything else on this site, of course – but they also didn’t want lots of garden to have to maintain. They wanted private, south-facing patio space, lots of light and were very much in mind of their future living requirements. So although this is quite clearly not a bungalow, we put all the living accommodation at first floor level as well as the master bedroom suite and, coupled with a wide staircase/landing off a structural wall strong enough to take a stairlift, will provide a self-contained ‘flat’ if and when the need arises.”

As for the construction, Pippa and George specified a solid ground floor slab with a masonry ground floor wall structure — off which sits a beam and block first floor structure and a stickbuilt timber frame first floor wall structure. The upper part of the house is clad in open-jointed cedar whilst the lower half is painted lime/cement and sand mix render.

Key to the success of the project was maximising the use of the limited site. To that end, Barry and Flora asked their architect friends to extend the floor area on the upper storey to allow it to jetty out, giving them an all-important extra half-metre for those little luxuries — an extra-large shower in the en suite and a walk-in pantry off the kitchen.

What is so impressive about this project is not just its clever solution to a difficult site, however. All too many contemporary-style empty-nester self-builds fail because they are crammed full of a lifelong collection of antique furniture or knick-knacks — old plates being a speciality. Barry and Flora seem to have enjoyed the rather cathartic (they admit) process of getting new furniture and modern decor and are fully subscribed to light, open, modern living. “It’s a wonderful place to live,” says Barry.

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