Graham and Giulietta Grover have built a magnificent traditional oak framed house which is flooded with light and sits amid acres of woodland.
Graham and Giulietta’s new oak framed house is a giant. Measuring in at 540m², the H-shaped property boasts a large two storey porch and a massive arch-braced trussed roof. Set in woodland to the north of Horsham, West Sussex, its owners enjoy views over uninterrupted countryside towards Brighton, 22 miles away.
The couple lived with their four children in a large 1930s house two miles away for 17 years. Once the children had grown up the search for a new house started in earnest, but Giulietta and Graham could find nothing tempting enough to make them want to move on. Then in 2003 they experienced what Graham describes as “some good fortune”. He sold his electronic components company and he and Giulietta realised they could afford to do things on a grand scale.
“We had always liked oak frame and had watched a lot of TV programmes and read a lot of the relevant magazines, so we had a pretty good idea of what we wanted,” Giulietta says. “Oak frame is very prevalent in this area, which is heavily wooded, and many of the older houses are built in this way.”
At one of the Homebuilding & Renovating Shows, the couple discovered architect Jeremy Rawlings. “A number of Jeremy’s designs were very close to what we were looking for,” recalls Giulietta. “We had a fairly clear picture in our minds and it was obvious that Jeremy could work well in the style we required.”
They handed all their drawings, photos and notes to Jeremy, and after some back-and-forth he came up with exactly what they were after. The plans included a big dual-height bay window on the south side, stone mullioned windows on the ground floor, and a huge hall with a galleried landing – something that Graham was very keen on having. It also had something else he was rather passionate about – an oak staircase that divides into two halfway up.
“We had sufficient confidence in Jeremy to take the plunge and so we put in a successful offer for the plot we had discovered,” Graham says. “It was a big gamble but you could say the plot lit our candle. The plot is 16 acres. There was a 1960s flat-roofed split-level house on it, and also a derelict bungalow, which we thought would assist our bargaining abilities to gain the really big house we wanted. It was a gamble because although the plot came with planning permission, it was for a design that we did not really want.
“At the time various friends said it was a chance they would not have taken, but the fallback was simple: we would just have built the house that there was existing permission for.”
The planning application to Horsham District Council ended up taking an unexpected six months. “We thought we had come up with a very appropriate house for the site,” says Graham. “It was oak framed and relied heavily on vernacular traditional styles. It also used local Horsham stone in the walls and had a clay tile roof, so we found the planning process extremely frustrating.”
Up to this stage the Grovers had, as they put it, “muddled along”. However, at about this time Graham entered into full-time work again, as a director of a large electronics company, and the couple realised that for such a large-scale project they would need a main contractor to oversee things. Jeremy, in the meantime, had put the oak frame out to tender and, through a carpenter they knew, had discovered builder Ivan Boniface.
“Ivan was ready to go but we had constant delays caused by the planners,” Graham says. “We phoned, emailed, and wrote letters; but always the response was very slow. We could have made an official complaint but decided the best course of action was not to risk upsetting the planners.”
Eventually the Grovers gained the message that the planners considered the mass too great. They wanted so see a smaller house with a reduced ridge height. Finally the couple came to an agreement with the planners at a face-to-face meeting which Jeremy also attended. Graham agreed to a reduction of 100m2 and to reduce the ridge height by 1.5 metres. The design was then was passed by the officers under executive powers.
The lower height meant that to gain all the space they wanted on the footprint, they had to dig down. The basement, which contains a games room and bar, gym, storeroom, utility room and cold larder, covers about two thirds of the footprint of the house. “It was a very expensive option: it cost about £100,000, but now it is finished we are well pleased with it,” says Giulietta.
The basement and wet weather delayed the build, which Ivan had originally estimated would take 12 months. However, he was nothing if not thorough. The basement was built using reinforced concrete with a blockwork inner skin and an external membrane drainage system.
“We would recommend Ivan to anyone,” Graham says. “Like Jeremy he has become a personal friend. The result was that he produced the goods.” At the end the Grovers held a big party for all the tradesmen who had worked on the project, plus their wives. Between them, Ivan and Jeremy came up with quite a lot of the more unusual features that have been incorporated into the house. One of these is the double-height porch that stands on large oak pillars and has the family ‘library space’ above. Another is the decked balcony attached to the master bedroom on the west side of the house. It provides uninterrupted views over the woodland to the rear.
Inside, the grand staircase, with its barley sugar twist balusters, gives the double-height entrance hall a stylish feel. Likewise the ‘secret’ door disguised as a bookshelf that gives entry to their son James’ room.
During the build there were a few minor glitches, such as an oak framed doorway on the master bedroom that was in the wrong place and had to be moved. Also the basement staircase turned out to be too steep and had to be rebuilt at a shallower angle to meet with Building Regulations. However, as Graham says, “Ivan, who has had a lifetime in the building trade, could easily cope with these problems.”
The Grovers lived in their old house while the build took place and Giulietta paid regular visits to the site, although, as she says, “I felt it important not to be intrusive. Once we had appointed Ivan it was definitely ‘hands off’ during the build as far as I was concerned.”
However, once progress was assured, Giulietta did a lot of the sourcing for the interior scheme. She also went on a curtain-making course and ended up making a total of 11 sets of curtains and 27 blinds for the house.
Graham concludes: “We are delighted with the house. It is a traditional house that fits in with a modern style of living and, all in all, we feel we have included all of the small but subtle points that add so much to the overall finished look of the house. By careful design and planning we have managed to create a house into which sunshine flows from all angles.”