Melissa Brooks and James Warner’s new home is designed to have minimal impact on its beautiful and secluded site within Dartmoor National Park.

The couple moved to an Edwardian country home on the north-eastern edge of Dartmoor 22 years ago. It was large, draughty, and expensive to heat and maintain. When their daughter left home, they decided it was time to downsize to somewhere more manageable.

Conveniently, their home had 13 acres of field and woodland and a small run-down bungalow was on this land. Originally built as gardener’s accommodation in the 1930s, it had been rented out in recent years and with this residential status, came legitimate means to apply to Dartmoor National Park for planning permission for a replacement dwelling. It was on this sloping site, that Melissa and James would decide to self build.

The Project

  • Name: Melissa Brooks and James Warner
  • Build cost: £500,000 (£2,083/m²)
  • Build time: 1 year 5 months
  • Location: Devon
stone and timber clad sloping site home

The house is partially buried into the hillside and framed with granite walls to reduce its impact

The Brief

Local architect Annie Martin – who they had known since she was a child – was approached to take on the design. Their brief was for a small, modestly scaled contemporary home which would:

  • feel light and open
  • be easier to maintain
  • have large windows and easy access to outside space
  • provide plenty of storage

The highest priority though, was that it would fit into the environment.

dining room with vaulted ceiling

The Design

Annie’s design is inspired by the natural contours of the site. Following the slope, and building into it, means the house is low impact and blends into the landscape. From the parking and drop-off point, the house appears to be a single storey home.

The materials chosen for the outside make it reminiscent of an agricultural building and this again helps it fit its surroundings. Granite and untreated cedar clad the walls, then a pre-weathered zinc roof has been placed on top. The large sliding doors and windows have been set back to maintain the natural appeal and provide shielding from the elements.

Inside, the upper floor living space (which is on the level at which you enter) is open plan, with high ceilings, and flooded with natural light. Oak and more exposed granite give a contemporary, but organic feel. A suspended steel staircase leads to the lower ground floor where the bedrooms, study and bathroom are. These all have easy access to an ornamental garden and terrace.

The largely glazed lower floor is set back by a metre to the south-west and this, along with the cantilevered upper floor, provide adequate solar shading. It is also obscured by trees to the north-east, helping it connect with its moorland setting.

outdoor indoor dining space
outdoor living space on a wood clad and granite stone home

The largely glazed lower floor is shaded from the sun by the cantilevered design of the upper floor

Planning Permission

It was essential that any proposal should be sensitive to the surrounding landscape while embracing the tranquil country views from the elevated site. Lengthy negotiations with Dartmoor National Park followed – which included employing a planning consultant and producing artist’s impressions. Planning permission for a replacement dwelling was granted in May 2010.

room divider wooden bookshelf

The Build

A detailed tender package was created and a main contractor appointed to undertake the project through a JCT Minor Works Contract. Annie took on the role of contract administrator, working closely with James, Melissa and the contractors.

Access to the rural site along narrow lanes proved awkward, however, for large vehicles, and the builder encountered rock during the extensive excavation process. They also endured harsh weather conditions while building on the moor through the winter months.

Fortunately, many of the materials chosen were non-specialist and could be completed by the main contractor, which was beneficial to both build time and the budget. The bedrooms and bathrooms on the ground floor are mainly below ground level so this element of the build was constructed with concrete and blockwork retaining walls. A lightweight steel and timber frame was built on top for the top floor living space.

The project was completed in a little over a year and finished in December 2012.

open plan living room with vaulted ceiling and bespoke bookshelves

Bespoke furniture creates zones in this light open plan living area. Sliding doors are from Olsen


As well as being designed with the principles of passive solar gain in mind, renewable technologies were well researched by Melissa and James. On top of walls and a roof insulated well beyond Building Regulations, they specified:

  • A mechanical ventilation heat recovery system
  • Underfloor heating and hot water fed by a 1,000 litre cylinder heated by woodburning stove, air-source heat pump or roof-mounted hot water solar panels (depending on the time of year)
  • A borehole (with ultraviolet treatment) provides their drinking water
  • A rainwater harvesting system collects surface water on the roof for the WCs, dishwasher and washing machine

They boosted their eco credentials by choosing sustainably sourced and low maintenance building materials.

Melissa and James could not be more pleased with their new home. Low running costs and clever design mean they can enjoy their sustainable self build in a National Park location for years to come.

wooden stairs with glass wall
bathroom with pink rubber flooring

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