Alvin and Amanda Augstein’s new home looks like it has been there for centuries.
Alvin and Amanda’s brand new self-built house in Cambridgeshire is the latest in a series of major building projects they have undertaken. The couple practically fizz with excitement and enthusiasm for building — an energy that is highly evident in the way they carried out much of the work on the project themselves, with Alvin taking on all the brickwork (more of which later) as well as carpentry, plumbing and groundworks.
When Alvin and Amanda managed to pick up an old 90m² prefab bungalow, set back from the road in a private part of a pretty village, they of course recognised its potential. “The location was fantastic, with ridge and furrow meadows to the rear and side,” explains Amanda. “It was in a Conservation Area, so we knew that planning consent would be scrutinised more than usual, but nothing suggested our plans to replace the house with a traditional-style cottage – admittedly, at 240m², a large cottage – would be tricky.” The scheme, conceived by Alan, was indeed passed with the only stipulations concerning ridge height and distance from neighbours – the added fire risk that thatch brings meant the house had to be at least 6m away from neighbouring properties.
This is a pretty remarkable new-build home. For a start, thatch is such a difficult (and expensive) material in which to cover your roof that it’s hardly ever used on new homes. Although a lot of the perceived problems with thatch are just that – of perception rather than reality – it is difficult to get right. And, as Alvin says, “The number of people who can do it well are dwindling all the time. We were very lucky in that we found a local firm, Dodson Brothers – of whom the master thatcher, Richard Leonard, is an old school friend – who carried it out as a supply and fix job.”
Thanks in a large part to the thatch, this is a new house that is impeccably immersed in traditional cottage style. Cambridgeshire is known for its buff-coloured bricks, but Alvin and Amanda specified an interesting narrow-gauge buff brick from the Netherlands — and the way they have used it is highly imaginative. For starters, a deep plinth around the foot of the walls complements the sturdy feeling from the roof, while the Flemish bond accentuates the extra length of the brick itself. Best of all, on sections of the external walls, Alvin has created a series of Herringbone patterned areas that really help to draw attention to the gable ends.
The project took a snip over a year to complete and, a year or so after moving in, the Augsteins are, as is a self-builder’s custom, forgetting the bad bits, being occasionally picky about what they’ve done but, by and large, thrilled with what they have achieved. Alvin and Amanda certainly haven’t taken the easy route when it comes to building a new house — but the results speak for themselves. “It’s simply our perfect family home,” Amanda concludes.