Finding a plot of land usually proves to be one of the biggest hurdles for prospective self builders, but the task came surprisingly easy for Paul and Maria Kelly. Their new home has been built on land which was previously owned by Maria’s grandparents. And what a plot it is too — the five acre site is situated at the top of a hill, on the outskirts of an Essex village, and is surrounded by farmland and open countryside.

“My grandparents built their dormer bungalow there back in the 1960s,” says Maria. “I have lovely memories of time spent at their home.”

The couple and their children – Charlie, 25, and Isabelle, 17 – moved into the single storey bungalow in 2010, despite discovering that the flimsy building was not considered structurally sound by their mortgage lender. A large willow tree planted by Maria’s grandfather 45 years before had caused structural problems, and the bank refused to transfer the couple’s mortgage from their previous home.

Project Notes

  • Name: Maria and Paul Kelly
  • Conversion cost: £375,000 (£1,123/m²)
  • Build time: 2 years 4 months
  • Location: Essex

The Design Brief

Undeterred, Maria and Paul, together with their architect Paul Clark, applied for planning permission to build a larger replacement dwelling on the plot. Maria is a designer by profession, and together with Paul she created a moodboard and a detailed brief of the family’s requirements.

Paul Clark designed the rooms to follow the path of the sun during the day. Soon after work began, however, a mains sewer was discovered running across the plot where piled foundations needed to go, and a new planning application therefore had to be submitted to move the house three metres forward, which cost both time and money.

The Build Process

The family continued to live in the old bungalow during the build, which took over two years to complete once planning permission had been granted.

Paul is a roofer by trade, and he had built two extensions to the family’s previous home, in addition to constructing a new house for Maria’s mother. He decided to tackle as much of the building work as possible on the new family home, including the groundworks, carpentry and roofing, working alongside his chosen tradespeople.

Eco Credentials

The couple undertook research into installing solar panels, and even solar roof slates, but in the end they felt it was more important to spend the money on the fabric of the building. Good-quality windows and doors, high levels of insulation and efficient underfloor heating keep running costs low, despite the fact that the house is so much larger than its predecessor.

Exterior of the house

Externally, the steel frame home has been clad with white rendered blockwork walls, and a substantial chimney rises up at one end. Contemporary dormer windows with secret guttering pop out from the roof, which is covered in grey concrete pantiles

Side elevation of the house

The Kellys’ house measures 9.5 metres wide, and in order to support the numerous large openings a steel frame was required, which serves as the building’s skeleton. This was designed by a structural engineer, made locally and then erected by Paul and three others on site piece by piece, like giant Meccano

Sliding doors

The house was designed to make the most of the private country setting and the best of the natural light throughout the day, with large windows and glass doors. The new house is constructed using a steel frame – which supports the numerous large openings – and blockwork walls, finished in white render. The triple-glazed black aluminium framed sliding doors, from Greensteps, break up the façade

The kitchen

Paul fitted the kitchen in the vast open plan kitchen/dining/family room on the ground floor, which was designed around the pendant lights above the island. The Homebase kitchen cost £11,000, including the Minerva worktops and all appliances

Oak stairs lead up to the bridged landing

Inexpensive oak stairs lead up to the bridged landing. Engineered oak flooring has been laid in the bedrooms

Waterproof Moroccan tadelakt plaster has been used in all of the open showers

A visit to Marrakech inspired the use of waterproof Moroccan tadelakt plaster in all of the open showers as a cost-effective alternative to tiling — it creates a low-maintenance and attractive surface. The money saved has been spent on high-quality Villeroy & Boch sanitaryware

The living room

The living room also enjoys the views through large windows, but situated to the other end of the floorplan from the kitchen, is a more intimate space

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