As an architect Graeme Andrew is used to providing innovative design solutions and managing build projects, yet when an opportunity arose to be both architect and client, it turned out to be his most testing challenge to date.

The catalyst for building his own home came in the form of a run-down blacksmith’s workshop and yard near the centre of Kilmacolm, a conservation village. “I’d known the metal worker for many years” explains Graeme. “When he decided to sell the smithy, property developers failed to see any potential in the site. However, I thought it had real promise and made him an offer, which he accepted.”

Graeme’s first hurdle was gaining permission for his concept: two identical detached properties, built on the diagonal boundary as the workshop had been, and using traditional materials including render, brick and copper but in a fresh, contemporary way.

“The planners were initially very positive, as were the neighbours, but an objection from the local community council led to a committee refusal, which meant we had to go through an appeal process. The appeal was successful but caused almost a two-year delay before work could start on the site in 2005.”

Graeme decided to sell one house (which the buyer then built privately) and keep the other, managing the project and doing most of the physical work himself, aided by stalwart friend Lee Mulin.

The existing buildings were cleared by a contractor before a groundworker dug the foundations, built the brick base and poured the concrete slab within it. The services were brought in from the side of the road.

Amazingly the house, built of SIPs, cost less than £125,000, yet contains many striking features. The exterior is particularly unique, partly because of its diagonal copper roof (which allows maximum light into the garden) and partly because the windows are different shapes and sizes and have no symmetry, appearing to have been placed entirely at random.

Inside, full-height double glass doors on either side of the entrance hall lend an open plan feel to the living room and kitchen diner. It’s only here you begin to understand Graeme’s ‘random’ window placement, which was actually a way of creating openings tailored to each room.

With friend Lee’s help, Graeme built the house on an almost entirely DIY?basis: “The electrics and plumbing were done by experts but we did everything else,” he says. It took two years but saved a lot of money.

Elsewhere, Graeme spent wisely, investing only in items that would make a tangible difference to quality. He dressed up the IKEA kitchen with chunky granite worktops, had the metal staircase punctuated by laser-cut circles specially made, and splashed out on solid maple flooring on the ground floor.

“It’s been a steep learning curve,” Graeme admits, “but it proves it’s possible to build affordable housing yet still provide a genuine alternative to mainstream property developments. And in the process I’ve developed a substantial set of muscles!”

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