John Hughes and Harriet Wilson dedicated two years to building a traditional-style – but thoroughly eco friendly – cottage within Exmoor National Park.
If there was ever an exercise in building a traditional-style home without compromising on 21st century comforts, then the self-built home of John, Harriet and their five-year-old daughter Honey, in Exmoor National Park, is exemplar.
The site was originally home to a timber-clad chalet and electricity was the only available service. “It was truly primitive: the old man who lived there sourced his water from the stream,” smiles Harriet.
The couple chanced upon the chalet’s sale – which included planning for a replacement dwelling – in a local paper. John is a period building specialist and expert in traditional plasters, however both he and Harriet wanted to tackle building a new home from scratch. “And when we saw this for sale, we thought: you can’t go wrong with building a house on such a special site,” he affirms. Indeed, the opportunity to build a home in both a fiercely protected Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and within a National Park is also a rarity.
After snapping up the chalet for £190,000, the couple developed their ideas for a three-bed home. “Most of the other potential buyers were proposing contemporary replacements, with lots of glazing,” reflects Harriet. “What we wanted was something more traditional in appearance, in keeping with the existing houses and sensitive to the site.”
The cottage as it now stands is clad in random stone – laid in lime mortar – with Yorkshire granite setts used decoratively for the window and door surrounds. Timber also features prominently: the oak casement windows and fascia boards help place the house within its woodland surroundings. Reclaimed Delabole roof slates complete the traditional façade.
Inside the two storey building, the double-height kitchen/dining area – with mezzanine library above – is undoubtedly the main focus. Here, the deep window cills are indicative of the dense, well-insulated structure which lies behind the traditional exterior stonework.
Together the couple managed the project. John would often spend the day on site, occasionally camping over, while Harriet organised the paperwork and materials specification from their existing home, a 20-minute commute away.
The finished house is undoubtedly a triumph — it’s even upheld by local planners as a shining example of how a new home within the National Park should be designed and built. For the couple, self-building has provided the perfect opportunity to showcase their skills in traditional building to construct a home for modern family living.