“We never set out to build at all,” Tracy Head begins, describing her new three bedroom home. “We wanted a barn conversion, but couldn’t find one locally. We saw this Colt bungalow and thought we could make it into a barn-style house.”
Initially the plan was to renovate the Colthouse, but a cold winter – and the subsequent discovery of the bungalow’s scant insulation– along with a serious look at the costings, saw Tracy and husband Steve switch plans from renovation to demolition.
“It wasn’t an easy decision, but it was the right one. We said that we weren’t allowed to look back and wonder ‘what if we had renovated?’ We just went forward,” says Tracy.
- Homeowners: Tracy and Steve Head
- Project: Traditional self build
- Location: Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire
- Size: 400m²
- Build time: Jul 2014 – Dec 2015
- Plot cost: £825,000 (2013)
- Build Cost: £625,000
Having already spoken to architect Shaun Tanner of Day Tanner about the potential renovation project, Tracy and Steve returned with an idea for a new house: “We told him that we wanted a long, single-room barn with overhanging roofs and lots of glazing facing the garden,” Tracy begins. “It was going to be an oak frame house, but it got tricky with the long span, and we had to come up with a new solution.”
“The decision was made to design a similar looking build, but to drop the oak frame design and use insulated blockwork for the external and internal load-bearing walls,” Colin Buckett, who project managed the build, explains. An oak frame roof structure (under which the first floor rooms are tucked) would then sit on top.
“Structural engineers designed the load-bearing masonry walls, structural steels and concrete pad stones required to support the first floor, and the engineered green oak trusses and beams that would not only act as the roof support but would also become the main internal features,” he adds.
The design process – along with the planning application – was relatively painless. After a couple of meetings and ‘a few tweaks’, the Heads had the design they were after. The process was expedited by the family’s decision to build on top of the existing foundations.
The Heads worked to a tight budget, adjusted after the plans changed from renovation to self build, but were shocked by the initial quotes they were getting from main contractors and oak frame specialists: “We’d had quotes of a million pounds to build the house. Once we hired our project manager, he sat down with us and the architect and we worked out some rough costings, and we decided to coordinate the trades ourselves,” Tracy explains. “We ended up coming in at about £625,000 to build this 400m² house and the garage.”
The Heads moved into the annexe on site in April 2014, demolished the old house in July 2014 and moved into their new home in December 2015. The annexe, despite being a tight squeeze for the family of four, proved to be a key element in the build process, acting as a test site for elements – from the colour palette, the windows and doors, through to the flooring, sanitaryware and kitchen – that would later be replicated in the house.
“Do as much research as possible before the build begins,” she continues. “Once it starts the questions are endless and answers are expected quickly. And don’t let a trade talk you out of an idea just because they haven’t come across it before.
“The decision to hire a project manager took a lot of the stress away; he dealt with the separate trades and any problems that cropped up, including navigating site access on a tight entrance,” says Tracy.
With the architect instructed to design a shell and let interior designer Tracy finish off the scheme, the Heads handled all the procurement themselves, from the fittings to the bricks, finding bargains all the way through the process — Tracy singles out the doors and stone flooring as two of the best buys.
The kitchen is deVOL, though Tracy sourced the worktop separately. It sits at one end of the large kitchen/dining/living space that also features bi-fold doors to the garden, and two woodburning stoves — though the primary heat source is underfloor heating.
There’s also a sitting room and study on the ground floor while upstairs is the master suite, two further generously apportioned bedrooms and a family bathroom. “The architect originally wanted us to have an extra bedroom,” Tracy adds. “I think he was thinking of long-term plans and resale, but we decided to have that space as a gallery area because it would let more light into the family area below.”
Tracy puts her contentment with the finished house down to the decisions she made early in the process: “I don’t think there is anything I’d change now,” she laughs “We thought about it all too long and hard when we signed off the design!”