Surrounded by family heirlooms, personal treasures and comfortable ‘clutter’, Malane Howard had no desire to move from her traditional executive-style estate house into a striking glass and steel new build squeezed into the side of a railway embankment. Yet within weeks of moving she vowed she would never return to their old style of living. “Once you get rid of all the clutter, you begin to realise how little you really need,” she says. “It gives you a great sense of freedom.”
“We had always wanted to build our own house so we could create exactly what we wanted,” says Malane. “We found a plot we really liked and had the house plans drawn up, but the sale became really complicated and it fell through. We were back to square one.” But not for long. Having come so close to fulfilling their dream, they didn’t want to waste any more time and started looking at land in more challenging locations — land which developers and other self builders would probably avoid at all costs.
“We saw this plot and almost dismissed it out of hand because it was so steep and in such an unusual location,” says Keith. “Then we climbed to the top and realised it was actually quite big — 450m x 420m. It was far from perfect but, by this time, we were desperate to get something moving.”
“The architect’s spec was like a telephone directory because it covered every single detail and contained the answer to any question a builder might throw at us,” says Keith. “It was worth its weight in gold.” The downside was that when they put the project out to tender, builders took one look at the spec and turned them down flat.
Four months later and still without a builder, Malane and Keith responded to an advert in the local paper for Ecohomes. They had finally found a company which was on their wavelength. “Paul Thompson gave us a price which suited our budget, the team came on site in September and didn’t leave until the project was finished,” says Keith.
The aim was to position the house against one side of the plot, leaving just enough room for pedestrian access between themselves and the neighbour. This meant excavating half the plot, before building a 12-inch thick retaining concrete wall which would effectively surround the house on three sides. “It looked like a quarry,” recalls Keith. “The sheer wall at the back measured 5.5 metres high.” But the excavation soon hit a major problem.
Eventually, the Howards were able to get on with finishing their home. Untreated cedar wood and floor-to-ceiling windows, specially made by Ecohomes to the Howards’ design, add to the striking design.
“It’s a very efficient house to run,” says Keith. “The insulation is half as much again as the Building Regulations require; it’s south facing so it’s never cold, even in winter; and there’s an overhang which reduces the amount of heat and glare coming in directly through the glass.”
When it came to the interior, Ian suggested a totally streamlined look which is completely different to the Howards’ previous home. As a result, there are no skirtings, door frames are stylishly simple and all the hinges are of industrial strength and design. Glossy Parapan surfaces have been used on the kitchen units for easy maintenance and most of the furniture has been designed and built by themselves or imported from Italy. “The look is clutter-free and very minimal, which is the complete opposite to the way we used to live,” says Malane. “But I wouldn’t go back to the old way of life after living here.”