Moving house and getting married are among the most exciting but also most stressful life events going, yet Amanda and Colin Sheppard added two more challenges into the mix: finding a plot and building their own home.

With their wedding date set for midsummer’s day 2013, Colin and Amanda decided to sell their separate houses and build a new home together prior to their big day.

“We were both interested in oak framed buildings, so it seemed a great idea for us to design and build one from scratch,” says Colin. “The difficulty was going to be finding the right plot in the right location.”

Project Notes

  • Name: Colin and Amanda Sheppard
  • Build cost: £586,000 (£1953.33/m²)
  • Build time: 1 year 2 months
  • Location: Oxfordshire

Finding a Suitable Plot

The couple registered with in spring 2011 and prepared themselves for a long wait to find somewhere suitable in an area that stretched from the southern reaches of Oxfordshire, and across the Cotswolds and the Chilterns to Salisbury. Remarkably, though, within just a few weeks, a plot came up for sale five minutes’ away from Amanda’s property. The corner plot on the outskirts of the village of Great Haseley, with the wreck of a fire-ravaged, 16th-century thatched cottage on it, looked a likely candidate; Amanda visited the site straight away.

“I knew of the house, but as I looked round the site, with its views of open fields on three sides, and sheltered by woodland at the back, I saw it with fresh eyes,” she says. “We’d been advised that if the right plot comes up you should act quickly, especially in the south-east where it’s so hard to find somewhere to build, so Colin joined me at the plot that same afternoon, and we put in our offer and shook hands on it there and then.

“It was actually in a more prime position than we needed, but it was just such a good spot. We didn’t really think twice about it,” she adds. “And even though we didn’t actually like the existing plans, they were for a good-sized house and we knew it wouldn’t be difficult to get them changed because the footprint was already agreed.”

The double-height drawing room, with its imposing focal-point fireplace and Jotul woodburning stove (underfloor heating, powered by a ground-source heat pump, also keeps this home warm), was the starting point for the couple’s plans for the house

Designing an Oak Frame Home

With the offer accepted, Amanda and Colin could start the design process. “We asked four different oak frame companies to show us a selection of their builds,” says Colin. “We must have seen more than 10 properties, but it was the best way to get a feel for what each company could offer ­— and further down the line, because we’d seen things that worked well, it gave us some great design ideas for our own build.”

The couple consequently chose Carpenter Oak & Woodland to supply the frame. They wanted to make the most of the natural beauty of the oak frame, and were looking to steer away from the contemporary look that some builds achieve.

“One of the reasons we chose Carpenter Oak & Woodland is that we didn’t want the house to look too angular. We really liked the curved beams that we’d seen in their houses. That really appealed to us; it softens everything,” the couple explain.

The kitchen was supplied by local company Constable & Phillips Interiors. The contemporary units, combined with minimal oak on show, give this room a modern edge

Sheppard-house-bedroomThe vaulted ceiling in the master bedroom allows the green oak frame to take centre stage. With windows on two sides, plus an oak frame balcony, the room gives wide views of the surrounding countryside. Concealed within a void above the bank of wardrobes is the ducting for the ventilation system

The Drawing Room

The drawing room – which now boasts a grand, double-height inglenook fireplace – was the starting point for the couple’s ideas for the whole house. One clever solution Colin came up with was concealing all the heating and ventilation systems away from the main living spaces.

All the plumbing and electrics would also be stowed in a utility hub in the centre of the floorplan, so that none of the workings of the house would detract from the beauty of the building and its stunning setting. This is the only wet area of the house, so all the drains and pipes feed into this space; the bathrooms are positioned around it. At the back of the kitchen, the utility room is part of this hub and contains the washing machine and a large dishwasher used when entertaining.

Architect Jason Jackson of Jackson Architects, experienced in designing oak frame buildings, was hired to turn the couple’s ideas into plans. “He did a fantastic job of making our ideas for the designs aesthetically good and was really helpful through the planning for us, too — in fact, he got us a 25 per cent increase in volume on the original plans,” explains Colin. “The footprint wasn’t bigger, but with the extra height upstairs with the oak frame, it’s really made it seem more spacious.”

Once the revised planning application was approved, the contractors were on site to demolish the derelict cottage – damaged well beyond repair by the fire – and clear the site in April 2012.

Meanwhile, both the en suite (above) and family bathroom (below) feature flooring from Mandarin Stone; sanitaryware by Buildbase was specified for the latter

Going on Site

With their architect based in Taunton, Amanda and Colin started out managing the project themselves. However, after a few issues with the original builders, they decided that it would be prudent to bring in chartered surveyor Andrew Eades to oversee the build and liaise with the builders to ensure the job was completed satisfactorily.

This proved a good move. In fact, Andrew helped the Sheppards reach the conclusion that it would be better to part company with the first set of builders and take on a new company to finish the build, which though difficult at the time, turned out to be for the best.

The couple were still keen to be involved in the process, however. “By this time, Colin had sold his house to finance the first bit of the build, and had moved in with me, so we were both nearby to check on the build every other day,” says Amanda. “We were fascinated by the building process, so we really wanted to be around,” adds Colin. “Plus, we were quite keen to buy a lot of the materials ourselves. We like choice, and we felt we could get materials we wanted cheaper ourselves.”

This self build replaces a fire-damaged cottage, which previously stood on the glorious site. The sympathetic oak frame new build is clad in a blend of reclaimed stone (with the front elevation, overleaf, clad entirely in stone), recovered from the demolished cottage, and render. Magnificent full-height gable end glazing fills the interiors with light

The Finished Design

Being able to visualise the completed house at an early stage in the build process was a critical factor in ensuring that they were able to create their ideal home, Colin explains: “We wanted to create an open plan house that was light and airy and made the most of the wonderful views. The oak frame provided a number of challenges,” he adds.

“The best frame designs have a simplicity and regularity, so we had to make sure our ideas worked within the frame and yet made the most of the wonderful qualities of the oak.” The couple invested a lot of time in building their own 3D model of the house, so they could see exactly what it was going to be like before a single stone had been laid. “This made it easy for us to get the fine detail exactly right,” says Amanda. “It made it possible for us to try out our different ideas and collaborate to produce something that worked perfectly for both of us.”

Colin and Amanda’s different perspectives materialised into one coherent, beautiful home. As if building a completely original new home wasn’t stressful enough, the couple had the additional pressure of an unmovable deadline for completion. “Well before we started the project, we had set the date for our wedding for midsummer’s day, with the intention of a joint house warming and marriage celebration in the garden,” says Amanda.

“We thought we had allowed ourself more than enough time to get everything finished, but with a few delays here and there, things got later and later,” adds Colin. “Two weeks before the big day there was still a huge amount to be done but everyone pulled together and worked around the clock and, on the day, everything looked absolutely amazing.”

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