Rebecca and Matthew Stenson’s new oak frame self build home is a masterclass in understated cottage style achieved on a relatively modest budget.

A photograph of a traditional oak porch was the unexpected starting point for Rebecca and Matthew when it came to designing their brand new home. The couple had purchased a small, run-down bungalow on an overgrown 0.6 acre plot in a Cambridgeshire village with the express purpose of demolishing the property and replacing it with a more practical family home.

They were determined not to build a bland, soulless house and were worried that their new home might lack the features and character of an older property. “Then I remembered a picture of a rustic porch I’d cut out of a magazine even before we’d thought about building our own house,” recalls Rebecca. “I knew it would add instant character.”

The Project

  • Name: Rebecca and Matthew Stenson
  • Build cost: £200,000 (£909/m²)
  • Build time: 6 months
  • Location: Cambridgeshire

The Design

Rebecca checked the pictured credit and searched online for Border Oak, the specialist company responsible for building not only the porch but also the entire oak frame house in the photograph. “We instantly fell in love with the idea of building a similar cottage with light, spacious rooms, and contacted the company to help us design something specifically for our plot,” continues Rebecca.

The couple’s tight £200,000 budget was put to good use, with Border Oak suggesting clever ways to make the most of their money. The detached 220m2 oak frame cottage is a one-and-a-half storey design, with first floor bedrooms and bathrooms set into the roof. Exposed oak beams give rooms a cosy cottage feel, and the inviting oak entrance porch is an exact replica of the one which Rebecca had originally admired.

Handmade painted kitchen cabinets and SMEG fridge

A local carpenter made the kitchen cabinets and contrasting island unit to Rebecca’s design for £5,000. They’ve been finished in Farrow & Ball 235 ‘Borrowed Light’ paint

Planning Permission

The couple’s sealed bid to buy the bungalow was successful, and their previous home sold on the first day it was marketed. They moved into the cramped two bedroom bungalow – a former stable – just one week after their daughter Molly was born, and remained living there for 10 months while planning permission for a replacement house was secured.

“There was no existing planning permission for the plot,” says Rebecca. “Border Oak submitted the design on our behalf and we were very relieved to hear that the planners had granted approval. After that we moved into a rental house for six months so that the bungalow could be demolished.”

Neutral master bedroom

The use of structural insulated panels provides an easy solution to getting usable space in the attic

The Build

Border Oak was responsible for erecting the stunning oak frame, which has been clad using SIPs (structural insulated panels) finished externally with traditional lime render. The timber framed utility room is clad in contrasting weatherboarding, and a traditional picket fence adds the finishing touch.

Local tradespeople were employed to work on the cottage, which benefits from underfloor heating and an air-source heat pump. High-quality building materials, including handmade clay roof tiles, oak doors and windows were selected, which left Matthew and Rebecca with a limited amount of money to complete the interiors. The pretty, shabby chic country cottage has been finished in pale pastel shades designed to show off the oak beams and joinery internally.

“I’ve never liked brand new houses because they can feel cold and featureless, so we were determined to bring as much character to Rose Cottage as possible,” says Rebecca. “It’s strange to think that this entire house was designed around a porch, but without that picture we might never have discovered that new homes can feel just as inviting as older properties.”

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