It’s the ultimate self build story. Rob and Alithea Dawson bought a 35-acre woodland site for £10,000 and spent seven years in a mobile home trying to get planning on it. They have eventually built themselves a remarkable home in oak on a DIY basis for just £98,500.

Back in 1997, Rob and Alithea set off on an adventure that proved to be one of the most remarkable, against-the-odds self build stories in recent history. They have broken almost every ‘can’t do’ rule in self building to create, by hand, a charming new energy-efficient home out of oak — in the middle of 35 acres they bought as woodland for just £10,000 in the beautiful Powys countryside.

Project Notes

  • Name: Rob and Alithea Dawson
  • Build cost: £98,500
  • Build time: 2 years
  • Region: Powys
  • Company: Castle Ring Oak Frame (owned and run by Rob)

“We were living in Bristol at the time and had a very clear vision that we wanted to build our own home,” explains Rob. “We had dreamed of living in the countryside for some time but, in truth, money was always a barrier. We came across the site – it consisted of 35 acres of forestry clear-fell on the Welsh hills, with no prospect of planning permission, no tracks to it and no power, but it had great views and its own Iron Age hill fort – all for £10,000.”

Clearing the Site

Rob and Alithea took a punt and spent the next three years clearing the site, getting rid of the brash and restocking the area with over 35,000 broad-leaves – predominantly hazel – to establish a coppice for future income. “Persuading the planners to let us build was another matter,” explains Alithea. Eight years after buying the plot, and having already spent five years on site in a mobile home, the family were finally granted outline planning permission, with an agricultural tie but no restrictions on the footprint.

The rear elevation of an oak frame house

Oak Frame

“Having been around the forest and enjoyed the timber for so long, we became convinced that an oak frame home was the way forward,” says Rob. “And so I had to learn all about that. I went down to spend a week on one of Dan Franklin’s legendary timber framing courses in Somerset, which gave me a good grounding in the principles of timber frame buildings, and experience and confidence in how to manipulate timber using ancient hand tools.”

House plans for an oak frame self build

Design

With some idea of the basics, Rob and Alithea set about designing the house themselves, using magazines and exhibitions for inspiration and settling on an open plan L-shaped layout with a wonderful vaulted living space upstairs to enjoy the views. “We came up with the whole design ourselves and employed a local architect to guide us through the planning process.”

Loft bedroom in an oak frame house

The Build

The lorry-load of oak cost £11,000 and it took some three months to shape all the curved timbers. The oak frame has been clad in another softwood stick-built frame to help with another key priority for Rob and Alithea, namely to create an energy-efficient home.

The resulting house – completed in April 2009 after two years on site and coming in at £1,500 under the original £100,000 budget – is not just a miracle of conception, but a beautiful home in its own right. It’s warm and cosy and very much a family home that anyone would dream of living in. It’s a testament to Rob and Alithea’s remarkable vision that they have made what must have seemed at times like a fantasy for them, with next to no budget and a bit of woodland, the most perfect reality.

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Comments
  • Dave Hill

    Nice and short and sweet, can anybody tell me where i can find more about," Dan Franklins legendary timber framing courses?"
    Thanks for your anticipated help.

    Dave

  • Laura Sturgess

    You can find out mre at <a href="http://www.woodenways.com&quot; target="_blank">www.woodenways.com</a>.

    Hope this helps.

  • yas

    Is there any chance of seeing the before pics, before the house was built, woodland?

  • Samuel Joy

    I’m afraid we don’t have access to any pictures of the site before the house was built.

  • Anonymous

    not to put a dampener on things but this was self built over 2 years? with 3 previous clearing and living on land. Did they have jobs during this time or was self building a full time occupation? If they didn’t have jobs then the build cost is ignoring the loss of 1 or 2 salaries over 2/3 years? probably at least the same as the build cost shown alone!

  • Rob and Alithea

    We carried on running 2 businesses to fund the build. These were our organic woodland pig enterprise which enabled us to get planning permission in the first place (every weekend selling our sausages and bacon in Cardiff and Swansea farmers’ markets – tiring let me tell you), whilst also running a small manufacturing business making wooden gates http://www.castle-gates.com
    The building fitted in around the work – it’s what you have to do if you are committed and have no alternative and one of the reason why it took 2 years. Otherwise I think it could have been finished in 9 months.

  • Pete Tonks

    Dear Rob and Alithea

    Being an oak framed designer myself and with many years experience of self-build behind me, i would like to congratulate you on what you have achieved with your build…

    You did the project as true self builders and physically made the thing happen with your own hands. And as you quite rightly respond to the rather negative comment left by "anonymous", you both were working full time and building the house in your own time and through your own funding. If this takes 2 years then why is this a problem….? i think its admirable and this has been validated through your winning of national awards..

    Good effort i say!

    All the best

    Pete

  • Nate Henderson

    I love the commitment to self-build. This is quite a beautiful home, and I can only hope to do this one day! I love the fact that you spent the better part of a decade to do this; it’s both humbling and inspiring!

  • Gerry66

    Congratulations to you both on a beutiful home, I dream of living in 35 acres of woodland. I’m just wondering about getting planning permission to build a house on woodland.
    Can you give me some idea how you overcame the red tape?
    Well Done!

    Gerry

  • Jozie77

    I absolutely love this home. The interior is natural and relaxing. It’s elegant in its simplicity. Although there are things that I would change/add, is there any way to obtain the blueprints? I am ready to invest in building my own little home.

    Also, I don’t know what the weather is like there, but I am located in Vermont (Northeastern, USA)and the temperatures in the winter can get as low as -15 without windchill factored in- how is the heating in this home-sufficient?

    thanks for inviting us all into your private space.

    sincerely,
    Jozie

  • Samuel Joy

    Hi Jozie,

    I’m afraid the only floorplans available for the house are those that can be seen on slide no.10. Glad you like the house and good luck with building your own home.

    Kind regards,
    Sam Joy (Online Editor)

  • Amanda Roe

    Amazing – great inspiration. It’s a dream I have to live in a small cottage away from the hubbub of too many people. The interior is simply beautiful – elegant, warm and relaxed. Bravo!

  • Stuert Miller

    It’s really great . I also so much inspired by this you done a fantastic job . It’s look so beautiful . Designing homes is my passion . Your idea is so innovative thank you for sharing your experience .

  • Joseph Cercy

    What kind of insulation does the home have? You really did some very impressive work, beautiful.

  • […] had come across an article in Homebuilding and Renovating magazine in a B & B up in the Highlands of Scotland, and was taken by the story about how we had built […]

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