With retirement on the horizon, Sally and Jim Butler were keen to downsize and enjoy their work-free years with no mortgage and in a house tailored to their lifestyle. Their existing garden would provide the ideal spot for a new oak frame self build.

Creating an energy-efficient home with low running costs was also a priority. “Our main aim was to build a home that was easy to live in and cheap to run,” says Sally.

The couple worked with an architect and with English Heritage Buildings, which supplied the oak frame, to design their new home. Externally, stained timber cladding and clay roof tiled create a traditional façade.

Inside, the ground floor is largely open plan — the oak frame has been exposed and helps to zone this new home. The interiors are also light-filled and enjoy sea views thanks to large areas of glazing.

The resulting house cost £198,000 to build.

Project Notes

  • Project: Oak frame self build
  • Location: Kent
  • Land cost: Already owned
  • Build cost: £198,000
  • Build time: Jul 2010 – Dec 2015
  • Current value of property: £475,000

The glazed gable allows the couple to enjoy views of the Kent coast from their new home. Local materials typical of Kent, such as stained weatherboarding and clay roof tiles, give this home a traditional feel


The ground floor is largely open plan. The spacious kitchen (the units are from B&Q) leads straight to the garden room, with the kitchen units designed to zone this space (below)

The open plan kitchen and garden room ensure this oak frame home is filled with light
Timber staircase in an open plan oak frame home

The couple’s son, a boat builder, designed and made the timber staircase

A spacious open plan living area in an oak frame home

The couple decided to keep the ground floor open plan — the oak frame helps zone the living, dining, kitchen and garden area

Building on a Budget

Sally and Jim acted as project managers and carried out much of the work on a DIY basis as possible in order to keep to their tight budget.

The couple took on all the labour apart from the installation of the oak frame, roof and windows. Sally learned how to lay bricks, while Jim made all the doors and carried out the plumbing in the bathrooms.

“As soon as we hired any labour we explained that it would be on the condition that we would work alongside them and do as much as we could ourselves — not everyone wanted to work in this way, obviously,” says Sally. “We didn’t care how long the build took as long as we could do it cheaply.”

The couple also lived on site throughout the build, which provided invaluable when they tidied up the site at the end of each day. “We went on eBay and found an old caravan,” says Sally.

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