This gravity-defying self build was built against the odds — including the builder going bust!

view of black timber and stone house with view over valley
(Image credit: FotoHaus)

First-time self builders Jane and Tim Trounce battled a sloping site on the outskirts of Bath that drops off a cliff (literally), cowboy builders and suppliers running off with their money. 

But, the resulting home, filled with modern finishes, breath-taking views and eco credentials more than makes up for the strife. Here the couple share the story behind their incredible self build project.

Finding the perfect plot

"We'd been living in Surrey for a couple of years but we met in Bristol and always thought we would come back to the West Country," begins Tim. "I persuaded Jane to look around this area but it's not easy trying to find a plot."

"When we started looking we found this plot but it was quite expensive. Someone had previously bought the 60s house which stood on the site before with a view to extend and redevelop," continues Jane. 

"The first time they went through planning it was refused but was eventually accepted. Then there was some geological studies done which told them that not only could they not build the extension, but the current house couldn't stay standing either so it was knocked down. 

"A few months later we came up here for a friend's birthday and I wanted another look because I loved the location and the village so much. We ended up making an offer as it turned out the price had come down."

Letting the site dictate the design

Tim says: "We didn't have a style of house in mind, although we knew we didn't want to build a pastiche of a traditional style. The previous house on the plot was 1,300sqft and we were told we couldn't have any of the footprint of this house the same as the old house because of the stability of the land so that's the reason for the cantilever."

"We wanted to make the most of the view and have as much light as possible so our architect went away and drew up some initial drafts," adds Jane. "It was great but had a fairly small kitchen and we love cooking so we amended it so the kitchen was the centre of everything. It was a very much a collaborative process with him. 

"The site dictated a lot of the design. The edge of the site drops away almost completely vertically so we needed to have a raft foundations and a cantilever to weigh the building down at the front of the plot."

Challenges with the building process

Unfortunately, the main contractor the Trounces employed walked off site and went bust January 2020, just before Covid, putting a massive hole in their budget and self build schedule

"They were miles behind and with hindsight they didn't have the skills to do it," explains Jane. "So we had to redo the leaking roof and a load of walls as they would fall down with the push of a finger. A load of trades walked out because of the delays in schedule. 

"Strangely it worked out absolutely fantastically as Matt Morton, MD of RoomDB, who was doing the first fix on our kitchen and bathrooms took on the whole project. He felt comfortable to come in to act as project manager and was a godsend — we can't speak highly enough of him. 

"It came at a good time for both of us as he was able to bring his small team on during the lockdowns.

"We had an airbnb up the road from here that we thought we would be in for two months but in the end it was a year and two months. Once Matt took on the project managing we had regular site meetings which were very reassuring and useful — he would really include us in the decision-making to save us money overall."

The top section of the building was originally going to be clad in reflective aluminium. "Long story short, the suppliers who were supposed to fit it said that it was impossible to do and ran off with a chunk of our money," continues Tim. 

"After that, we went back to Chris, our architect, and said that we would really like black timber. I think it beds down better in the area. 

"If you think about it too much you get angry, but we look out the back and say 'wow' everyday. We love the house and love living in here.

"There are very few things in the house that we would change but there were parts of the self build process that we would do differently with the experience we have now."

"While the house isn't Passivhaus standard we got quite close to that. We have an air source heat pump, solar panels," adds Jane. "We've always lived in old houses but we were ready for something modern and it's so nice not to have draughts! Part of me wanted to be braver with colour, but we can always live here for a few years with white and who knows what we will do in the future."

Amy Reeves

Assistant Editor Amy began working for Homebuilding & Renovating in 2018. She has an interest in sustainable building methods and always has her eye on the latest design ideas. Amy has interviewed countless self builders, renovators and extenders about their experiences for Homebuilding & Renovating magazine. She is currently renovating a mid-century home, together with her partner, on a DIY basis, and has recently fitted her own kitchen.