“When Anne and I decided to downsize, we began looking for a plot to build a brand new maintenance-free home for our retirement,” says Ron Skinner on how the self build project started.
Couple Rob and Anne found a prime plot just a short walk from the west Sussex village of Lindfield, which was occupied by a 72m² pre-war bungalow, constructed entirely out of asbestos sheeting and ripe for demolition. “It was the perfect spot for us, overlooking a field to the south-west and with an adjoining wood,” says Anne. “We loved the seclusion and unrestricted views.”
Ron and Anne had renovated several previous homes, but had never built a house from scratch. They researched local building companies online and spotted an interesting new property with a glazed gable end that had been designed by James Minett of Belmont Designs — a Sussex-based practice specialising in bespoke residential projects. “We asked James if the design could be adapted for our needs, and used it as a rough template,” says Ron.
- Name: Ron and Anne Skinner
- Build cost: £418,000 (£2,389/m²)
- Build time: 1 year 7 months
- Location: West Sussex
The Planning Process
“The elevated plot lends itself to something a little unusual, and because it’s so secluded and not overlooked we didn’t anticipate any objections from neighbours,” says Anne.
The planning process proved to be the most difficult part of the project. The initial application more than doubled the size of the asbestos bungalow, and was rejected on the grounds that the site stands in ‘a countryside area of development constraint’.
A size restriction of 100m² was imposed, which would have made the project unfeasible for the Skinners, who engaged a planning consultant at this stage. The consultant’s statement and a cardboard scale model built by Ron were presented to the planning committee, which overturned the recommendation for refusal and approved plans for the 175m² house. “We got everything we wanted in the end, but it was a real battle and involved additional costs,” says Anne.
The couple lived in their previous home during the build, which was completed by a local builder, with Ron taking on the role of project manager. “There was so much rain that winter that the trenches collapsed in places and the concreting was delayed, so it wasn’t a very good start,” recalls Ron, who spent almost every day on site. “Substantial land drainage needed to be installed, as well as a waste treatment plant. Just to remove all the soil cost over £10,000.”
A specialist local company was employed to construct the bespoke oak-framed element of the house, which supports 4m-wide oak doors on the ground floor, while the remainder of the structure consists of rendered blockwork walls constructed on a brick plinth.
Green glass was chosen as an unusual splashback behind the bath in the master en suite
Solar thermal panels, an air-source heat pump, a mechanical ventilation heat recovery system, and high levels of insulation ensure that the sealed building is extremely energy efficient, with low running costs.