Liz and Jonathan Toomer took a big risk when they bought a decaying bungalow on a huge farm site in Sussex.

Early discussions with a local planner suggested it was unlikely they could build what they wanted. They also had a telegraph pole in the middle of their site to contend with.

However, a leap of faith and an architect who designed a home which suited the area meant the Toomers built a beautiful family home, with a garden to suit their boys.

The Project

  • Name: Liz and Jonathan Toomer
  • Build cost: £1,074,782 (£2,189/m²)
  • Build time: 1 year 1 month
  • Location: West Sussex

The Site

The couple discovered the site in 2005 when a bungalow was being sold with agricultural buildings and a possible 60 acres of land.

The 93m² bungalow had shallow foundations, a damp problem and a ‘dodgy’ roof, and the site also contained a number of farm buildings which no longer had an agricultural license. The combined footprint of the buildings created a huge 746m² plot.

The site had power lines running through it and a telegraph pole near to where they wanted to build, but EDF agreed to move the pole for a fee of £10,000 on the condition they could build a substation below the proposed tennis court.


The Keymer plain clay tiles came from nine miles away, and the bricks from just down the road

The Brief

Gavin Sargent from WCEC Architecture was well tuned in to what the couple wanted. They had wanted a big family house with an acre or two of land, but everything was out of their price bracket, so when they were lucky enough to find the bungalow site their brief was not too complex.

They wanted:
A family home that didn’t look brand new nor a pastiche of something old

  • NOT a steel and glass box
  • Five double bedrooms
  • A snug
  • A boot room and utility
  • Dressing room and en suite in the master bedroom

The Design

Gavin designed a contemporary home with traditional forms built with locally sourced ‘aged’ bricks and handmade tiles. The house steps down along the site’s gradient which creates many levels and space inside the house, but keeps the overall height low from the outside. The finished product is a modern Sussex-style farmhouse.


Before the couple bought the house, they chatted with a local planning officer to get an idea of what was feasible. He suggested they could probably build a chalet type bungalow – something they didn’t really want – but they took a gamble and bought the house and land anyway. The unobtrusive design had been tailored for the site. They put in for a house much bigger (419m2) than they needed from the outset, to give them a better chance of getting planning for the smaller (325m2) house they really wanted second time around. When the first application was approved in September 2007 they decided to go for it.


The sloping site has allowed for a large cellar and a lower level for a grand living room

The Build

The build didn’t start until June 2009 as the couple used the time after planning was granted to save for the unexpected larger home. Their contract had been out to tender with six contractors putting in offers ranging from £685,000 to £1,200,000. In the end, and with Gavin’s help, they chose James Chalmers as the main contractor. The project progressed smoothly as they held regular meetings with the team, and the house was finished by 2010.


When their home was ready to live in, the garden and surrounding land was far from useable. The old house was demolished leaving a quagmire and unfortunately Liz and Jonathan had not budgeted for landscaping. However, with the standard of the build so high, they felt they must replicate this outside. They were held back as they could not excavate their swimming pool until the works with the telegraph pole and substation had been finished. There was a two-metre exclusion zone underneath the cables while EDF spent six months carrying out their work. The pool and terrace were constructed once this work was completed, which meant a frustrating wait when the family wanted to be enjoying their new home and in turn the surrounding garden.

Favourite Part of the House
“I love the kitchen and outside space, and how seamlessly they work together in summer when the doors are open,” says Liz.

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