Mark Pellant and Abi Torr’s new self-built home in Sussex is the last word in elegant, eco friendly construction.

Mark and Abi are architects and have been specialising in low-energy sustainable design through their practice, Koru Architects, since 2000. When the opportunity to self-build came along it was only natural they would practice what they preach.

A visit to the Construction Resources Centre in London brought to light a relatively unknown Austrian timber system – cross-laminated structural timber panels that form the skeleton of a build rather than the final finish.

The Project

  • Name: Mark Pellant and Abi Tour
  • Build cost: £570,000
  • Build time: 1 year 4 months
  • Location: Sussex

“The panels appealed to us on many levels,” says Mark. “The system is fast to build so less time is needed on site, there’s little wastage, the timber is sourced from sustainable forests, and wood locks carbon into a building which was ideal for our zero-carbon design.”

The couple started looking for a plot back in 2004 where they lived in Hove, but nothing came to fruition until autumn the following year. An estate agent, valuing their home, told them about a house where the owners wanted to sell off a chunk of their garden. Mark and Abi could hardly believe their luck when he passed on the details, enabling them to go into negotiations with the owners directly.

The south-facing site was in a sought-after area of Hove and had street frontage that sloped away at the rear. The metre difference in the gradient wasn’t a concern to the couple, as Mark explains, “Having boundaries makes for a much more interesting design solution than a flat, open space,” he says. “We were able to play around with the different heights and create a split-level home.”

Mark and Abi were used to working alongside one another so this project was no different. Together they designed a three bedroom house with as many sustainable features as possible, a studio for their architectural practice, plenty of daylight and a living room with a connection to the garden.

It took most of 2007 for the couple to complete the drawings because their practice was so busy, and then the following March Abi gave birth to their son, Alexander. Time to be the client, architect, project manager and to run their own business became even more precious.

By September 2009 the project was back on track. The panels were manufactured in one afternoon, driven over from Austria, with the labour team from Ipswich arriving on the same day to screw the panels together. The structural system was completed swiftly and efficiently in just six days.

Despite the build taking longer than expected and costing £120,000 more than the initial budget, Mark and Abi are, quite rightly, extremely proud of their achievement. However, the measure of this house’s success – built exactly to the original specification – is not in how it looks but in how it feels. “If we had tried to save money we would have had to compromise somewhere,” says Abi. “Then we wouldn’t have built the house we really wanted nor would we have stayed true to our ecological design beliefs,” she adds. “In our experience it is the renewables that get cut when the budget becomes tight. But, if we had done that we wouldn’t be living in a house where energy costs nothing and the temperature feels comfortable all year round.”

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