Behind the traditional linear façade of Virginia Neild’s barn-style self-build lies a remarkable low-energy, self-sustaining home.

Building a home without central heating is a brave move in anyone’s book, but add to this the fact that the project was managed single-handedly by a first-time self-builder determined to use locally sourced materials and labour, and you realise just what an accomplishment Virginia Neild’s new home is.

With a number of renovations under her belt, Virginia had given thought to undertaking a self-build. So when a plot presented itself just across the road in the form of a cottage, riddled with woodworm and asbestos – which the planners agreed was ripe for replacement – she couldn’t help but “jump at the opportunity”.

With green principles in mind, Virginia, an artist by profession, visited the Hockerton Housing Project – a Nottinghamshire-based development of five earth-sheltered, self-sufficient homes – for inspiration. Virginia’s approach to sustainable building also encompassed creating a home with a low carbon footprint, with tradespeople and materials sourced as locally as possible. In fact, retired architect Patrick Lawlor, who was tasked with designing a replacement home, lived within a few short miles.

The resulting house possesses a long linear floorplan – just one-room deep in places – and a barn-like façade. The rooms are full of character: the walls, finished in a lime-based wet plaster, have been painted in a palette of rich terracotta and warm pastel eco paints, and adorned with Virginia’s paintings.

The same care and attention to detail has also been extended to the exterior where handmade bricks and roof tiles help establish the build within its rural locality. She also employed a local bricklayer to undertake the work. “The brickie was excellent: he was only 21 and his father supervised,” she comments. “I’d highly recommend them, as well as the local tilers, who were efficient.”

The Neilds were able to remain in their old home while the first stage of the build – the construction of the detached annexe – was undertaken. Virginia spent the remainder of the project within the annexe, where she could keep a close eye on proceedings.

Living on site proved beneficial, but Virginia’s feelings towards project managing – a role she took on single-handedly – remain mixed. “The one big regret I have is not asking my architect to be the project manager. It could be difficult to double check as to whether some jobs had been undertaken correctly.”

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