How then have he and wife Kate ended up with a brand new house? “We had always lived in old properties — 300 to 400 years old. I just think new houses tend to lack character. But we were searching for years for a typical old Kent/Sussex-style cottage.
Finding something in the right location at the right price proved near impossible, though. A couple of times we came close, but we always ended up in a bidding war and unfortunately my pockets are not that deep,” explains Paul. “Or we would find the right house, but there would be a big oast house looming over it. When we bought the plot, an old farmhouse with outbuildings stood on the site and the plan was to renovate and extend, but as we dug deeper we soon found that it just wasn’t viable to rescue them, so they had to be demolished.”
The couple bought the secluded plot and existing buildings, complete with half an acre, in 2007 for £560,000, then purchased an additional 30 acres of adjoining land for £200,000. Plans were drawn up for a traditional Kent-style house, a rural self build designed not only to fit in with the local vernacular, but also to look as though it was a building that had evolved over the years.
In order to achieve this look, the main section of the house was designed to replicate an old Kent farmhouse, with handmade clay roof tiles and facing tiles on the first floor, with lime render infill panels between the oak frame on the ground floor, complete with an overhanging gable end. Projecting out from this is a section designed to look like a later addition, with partial timber weatherboarding over brick, and dormer-style windows. In addition, a smaller single storey ‘extension’ has been included in the design, fully weatherboarded and painted in a different colour. To complete the illusion of a house which has been added to over many years, a number of different window styles have been used, varying sliding sashes and pretty casements.
The plans were quickly approved with no changes – and not a neighbour in sight to object – despite the fact that the new house was 50 per cent larger than the farmhouse that had originally stood on the site.
Oakwrights was commissioned to build the oak frame that makes up the main construction element of the house and is largely responsible for the characterful, old-fashioned look.
On entering through the oak frame porch, you are met by a striking double-height dining hall, with light pouring in from above, drawing out the detailing of the exposed oak frame and bouncing off the whitish tones of the limestone flooring. “It looks great, but it is rather impractical actually,” says Paul. “We can’t reach the windows above the stairs, over the void.”
The ground floor also features a large open plan kitchen/diner, again with limestone floors and with painted bespoke hand-built units, plus a big range cooker to complete the farmhouse-style room. In the living room stands a brick-built open fireplace and there is a wealth of timber throughout, giving the house a sense of warmth and quality. A large utility room, snug and study have also been included in the ground floor layout.
On the first floor are four large bedrooms, one en suite and a family bathroom, all of which lead off a central galleried landing area, whilst provision has been made for a fifth bedroom on the second floor, although as of yet this has not been completed.
Mysterious double doors set into a section of wall are the only suggestion to the plans that await. Throughout the remarkably quick seven-month build, the Lauders took a deliberately hands-off approach, leaving the project in the hands of a main contractor and subcontractors who they had worked with on previous projects, visiting weekly to check on the progress of the build.
The very highest-quality materials have been used throughout the house, with Paul and Kate taking the view that there is absolutely no point in building a home in such a breathtaking location then ruining it with plastic windows and inferior roof tiles.
Paul was adamant that he didn’t want a “modern box” and the house most certainly has not disappointed him in this respect, with its interestingly shaped rooms, sloping ceilings and exposed timber beams. “It isn’t until you live in a house that you realise what you really want,” says Paul, “despite pouring over plans for hours before building began.”
In fact, the couple have a few fairly major changes lined up for the house. “We didn’t think we wanted a separate dining room, but have now decided that we do,” says Paul, “so we are about to start an extension project.” On top of this, Paul is also not a fan of the concept of the en suite bathroom. “We have an en suite adjoining our master bedroom and I really feel that it ruins the room,” he says. “I just can’t see what the problem is with having to walk ten feet rather than five to get to the bathroom, so we are going to have it taken out. I like the way the bathroom is always located somewhere a little more unexpected in old houses.”
Around three months prior to the completion of the house, Paul started to organise the landscaping aspect of the project, which now forms such a vital part of the finished house. “I would urge other selfbuilders to bear in mind the cost of landscaping when setting out a budget,” says Paul, who spent an additional £110,000 on the garden, patio, driveways and paths that now make up the stunning scheme. “It was the location that really sold this plot to us, so getting the landscaping right was a crucial part of the build.” One of the main features of the house is its extensive flagstone patio, leading out from the dining area of the kitchen and affording amazing views.
But can the owner of this beautiful new house, with such spot-on detailing and high-end finishes, really be disappointed with the end result? “I suppose I still take the view that new houses do lack the charm that comes with age and the natural wear and tear of older properties, but living in this house does have many benefits. We have underfloor heating throughout, powered by a ground-source heat pump, which is just a fantastic way to heat a house,” says Paul. “It is a really pleasant house to live in, too, and has the warmth and comfort that comes with modern insulation. I guess that we’d say this is as close to the real thing as we could get — it really is a good compromise,” he concludes.