When Jennifer Hope graduated in Business Entrepreneurship from Strathclyde University in 2013, she quickly put what she had learnt to the test resulting in an initiative that offers a solution to Britain’s housing shortage — and the building of her first home with her partner Mark Higgins.
As the daughter of Ian and Anne Hope, of Hope Homes Scotland, Jennifer had a firm base in the world of construction, and was working alongside pupils as part of the Knockroon Enterprise Initiative (a Hope Homes neighbourhood development scheme in conjunction with The Prince’s Foundation for Building Community). The pupils were tasked with designing and constructing eco-friendly garden products and as Jennifer and Mark were searching for an affordable home, the concept of an energy-efficient housing company was born.
So, in the year Jennifer turned 21, she also founded the aptly The Wee House Company and they built their own 40m² home for just £59,000.
- Name: Jennifer Hope and Mark Higgins
- Build cost: £59,000 (£1,475/m²)
- Build time: 2 months
- Location: East Ayrshire, Scotland
Fortunately there was an available plot of land adjoining Jennifer’s parents’ rural property in Ayrshire, Scotland. As the small home had been designed to exceed regulatory standards, it was eligible for mortgage lending, and easily passed through the planning process.
Jennifer and Mark wanted to build a home that was highly energy efficient, and affordable. The answer was to design a scaled-down house which Jennifer did with the help of her father and some input from Ben Pentreath, the architect involved in Knockroon.
The small house is naturally well-lit thanks to thoughtful window positioning and French doors
Space Saving Design
Given the size of the floorplan, the interiors feel surprisingly spacious, with a kitchen and living area separated from the bedroom and bathroom by a small area of circulation space. It’s here that the property’s one, albeit good-sized, cupboard is located. Due to the home’s limited space, designing in creative storage solutions was a must. “We had to be innovative to fit enough bedroom storage in for two people, so I designed two wardrobes either side of the bed that also incorporate bedside tables. The joiners who were working on the house were more than happy to build them for us from MDF, which also meant they were very cost-effective,” explains Jennifer.
A built-in storage seat positioned in the entrance porch is another clever idea, which Jennifer again commissioned the joiners to craft. Finished with a high-level shelf and a row of coat hooks, it makes the small space both practical and welcoming. Internally, the Wee House has been injected with character thanks to a considered interior scheme. Traditional deep-moulded skirting boards, four-panelled doors, and walls lined with painted vertical beaded MDF board that look like tongue-and-groove.
The bespoke wardrobes were made by the couple’s joiners and feature built-in bedside tables to make use of every inch of space
Budget and Eco
As well as sticking to a minimum size that would keep costs down, Jennifer and Mark made sure they decided on all of their fixtures, finishes and suppliers before they started to build. That way, they kept a firm grasp on their budget and there were no surprises.
They also made a saving on the roof by opting for an easily transportable Prelaq Nova roof (by Dobel Nova), over slate or tile. This is a modern pre-painted steel that can be used for wall cladding as well as for roofs. It has a 30-year guarantee and costs just £9/m². On top of this the product also has green credentials as it uses no potentially toxic CFC gases and is fully recyclable.
Below the steel roof, Jennifer used under-slating felt and 18mm sarking; a ventilator nailed between rafters provides a continuous ventilation duct. Two layers of quilt insulation, each 200mm thick, have been placed between and over the trusses.
The benefit of the highly insulated 9mm MDF walls is that they’re also fire-retardant. Inside, all the floors – except from the bedroom floor – are painted chipboard. Using such a limited palette of materials cuts costs and will work well for buying power as a company.
The kitchen is small but well designed which ensures it is practical. The dining table can be opened out to seat four when they have guests
Jennifer and Mark managed the project themselves and handled everything from obtaining planning and a building warrant, to the groundworks. Forward planning meant that the house was prefabricated and erected on the site in just six weeks.
The Wee House Company was registered in June 2013 – dad Ian is also a partner – and the company now build and erect a Wee House to order virtually anywhere in a matter of weeks. Although designed for permanent living, houses can also be portable if required.
Like so many building projects, the devil is always in the detail, and in this instance the unique selling point is a design that can be customised to create a bespoke home to suit the individual’s needs. “Essentially it’s a self-build home for people who don’t have the time to self-build,” says Jennifer.