When architect Tom Russell, of practice Emmett Russell Architects, and his wife Hannah came across a rundown cottage on a hillside plot in Bristol back in August 2011, they instantly saw the potential to create a family home, but knew it would take some work — weighing up the benefits of the site against the challenges the location presented.

“The plot with the almost derelict caretaker’s cottage was at the end of a narrow residential Georgian street making any build tough logistically — plus there were neighbours to think about,” he says.

Project Notes

  • Name: Tom and Hannah Russell
  • Build cost: £260,000 (£1,925/m²)
  • Build time: 10 months
  • Location: Bristol

The Design

For Tom, the first – and perhaps most important – decision to be made was whether to demolish the cottage and build new, or to renovate what was already there.

“Our decision-making process about the plot and the cottage was driven by cost,” explains Tom. “Building a new house does not attract VAT whereas extending the cottage would.” They decided to retain the existing cottage on site to be used as a future rental.

“The house is a simple diagram divided along the principles set down by American architect Louis Kahn, where the spaces are defined by those who are served and those who are serving — meaning all of the ‘served’ rooms are on the south-facing side and those for the servant, i.e. supporting spaces, are on the north side of the house.”

The courtyard entrance

Wishing to create a relationship between the old cottage and the new build, Tom designed an entrance courtyard to the property built in brick to sympathise with the existing dwelling, while the timber visible on the first floor of this elevation gives a hint to what lies beyond

Planning Permission

“After spending a year or so developing designs, and negotiating with neighbours, securing planning permission for the house was relatively straightforward. Being on a hillside and in a Conservation Area we made an effort to ensure the property wasn’t too high and didn’t block anyone else’s views,” says Tom.

Open plan kitchen/dining/living space

Carefully positioned on the south-facing side of the home, the open plan kitchen/dining/living space acts as the hub of family life

The Build

The floor was built using beam and block and the house is of timber frame construction, which was also key to being able to achieve the insulation levels. However, due to the restricted access, no large lorries could access the site. Therefore instead of having a prefabricated timber frame delivered to site and erected in a couple of days, the timber frame had to be stick-built on site and took six weeks.

Marrying old with new, a brick courtyard within the historic walled garden has been built to act as a modest entrance.

Family bathroom with a rooflight to allow light and privacy

In keeping with the internal monochrome palette, grey tiles and panels provide a crisp contrast to the white sanitaryware in the family bathroom. A rooflight above allows light to enter this space while offering a high degree of privacy

Eco Credentials

The eco features that have been designed into the house are multiple.

The roof and walls have Warmcel insulation within the main structure wrapped with wood-fibre insulation externally. To ensure airtightness, triple-glazed Velfac windows and a mechanical ventilation heat recovery system to counteract condensation and promote air flow were installed.

Solar panels have also been added to provide the home with hot water and a large highly insulated hot water tank has been installed to store the water, with a system boiler rather than a combi-boiler acting as a back-up when needed. There us also a boiler plus a woodburning stove and underfloor heating to the ground floor for the winter months.

Tom’s careful planning has paid off; “Our gas bill is 85 per cent less than similar-sized conventional homes and it is always comfortable and draught free.”

Veranda on the south-facing rear facade

The painted timber-clad south-facing rear façade features a large veranda with louvres above — acting as a shaded extension to the house and preventing overheating in the summer months. Triple-glazed windows from Velfac help efficience

Rooflight above the kitchen

Light flows through the space thanks to a rooflight above the Howdens kitchen and sliding doors from Velfac

Child's bedroom with mezzanine sleeping area

Space is maximised by using a mezzanine bed to allow workspace beneath

Homeowner Tom Russell

Upgraded finishes such as the polished concrete floor add wow-factor while remaining warm underfoot thanks to Tom installing underfloor heating

Author: Nicola Owen

Our Sponsors