Mark and Sam Benbow could not be described as self build novices. With four previous projects under their tool belts, the couple have an enviable wealth of experience. Despite this, their first foray into oak framing brought plenty of fresh challenges, not least juggling the build around full-time jobs and their sons, Tom and Ollie.
The couple dearly wanted to move back to the village Sam was brought up in, and although they hadn’t planned on self building again, after their own house was sold they found themselves in the familiar territory of looking at plots. “We knew of package company Border Oak because they are based nearby and have built dozens of homes in many of the local villages. They also have a fantastic reputation,” says Mark, a project manager.
In a piece of good fortune, Border Oak had a plot on their books that matched Mark and Sam’s requirements. The plot in question was one of four located within the Conservation Area and surrounded by listed Mediaeval oak frames, with planning already approved.
Work on the foundations began in January 2004. The ground floor of the house is of conventional brick and block, combined with internal oak frame dividing walls. A fully exposed green oak frame sits above the masonry with insulated infill panels faced in lime render.
Mark and Sam used Border Oak’s package for part of the build and self-managed the rest. They were determined to only use subcontractors familiar with the exacting specification, and able to meet the standard of workmanship that would do justice to the oak frame. “When the guys came to erect the oak frame in April, the project really seemed to take off,” says Mark. “It was exciting to see the house take shape over a couple of weeks — definitely a highlight.”
Once the oak frame had been erected and completed with Border Oak’s specialised infill panels, Mark arranged for the saffron-coloured lime render to be applied. The working elements of the panel itself are applied in various layers and made to fit each opening exactly, with expansion joints and gasket seals to take account of the natural timber shrinkage.
The couple tackled most of the interior finishing themselves over the coming months. Mark also cleaned and waxed all the beams and woodwork, as well as digging and laying the foundations for an oak cart shed and landscaping the entire garden.
Now the oak has mellowed to a silvery hue and the handmade roof tiles are collecting lichen, the ‘newness’ and prominence of the house has softened against its Mediaeval counterparts. “But thankfully there are none of the maintenance issues inherent with these older properties,” says Sam.
Building their home has changed the family’s lives in more ways than they initially imagined. So impressed with Mark’s work, the director of Border Oak was keen to recruit him, so ironically Mark now helps other families build their dream homes. “The boys are very proud of their daddy and to live in a house that he built — and so am I,” beams Sam.