A single-storey oak frame rebuild in Berkshire
Chris Birtchnell and Keith Scoons have built their new oak frame home on an idyllic four-acre plot, undertaking much of the work themselves
When Chris Birtchnell and her husband, Keith Scoons, fell in love with the idea of building a new oak frame home, they actually already owned the ideal plot. “I’d built a very basic timber frame bungalow almost 20 years ago, which stood in four acres of beautiful grounds looking out across countryside,” explains Chris.
“After Keith and I married we considered extending the existing two bedroom bungalow, as we love the location, but it wasn’t particularly well built and we would have needed to make a number of adaptations. It was only after months of planning applications and designs that we realised building from scratch and reclaiming the VAT would be a far better and more costeffective option.”
the planning process
The couple, who are now retired, went to stay in the show house belonging to specialist oak framing company Oakwrights and were immediately smitten. “It blew us away and made us determined to go for a new build,” says Chris. “We looked around for a plot but nothing could match what we already had, so we applied for planning permission to demolish our bungalow and replace it with a house which is 50% larger.”
Numerous designs were produced, and Keith made small cardboard models to illustrate how each proposed new house would look. A height restriction imposed
by the council means that the layout is still predominantly single storey, although dormer windows were acceptable. A spiral staircase now leads up from the study to a first floor space which is used as a viewing gallery and craft room, with a cot for the couple’s grandchildren and a separate drying room for clothes.
Following a bat report, planning consent was approved with three conditions: a landscape plan, a contamination report and a measured survey of the site all needed to be submitted before work could begin on-site. The new house, although larger, was also to be built predominantly on the same footprint as its predecessor.
Building the frame
The couple moved into Keith’s house seven kilometres away and watched as the bungalow was demolished and the site cleared. They purchased a caravan for £380, which would serve as their site hut.
With the strip foundations excavated in the clay soil and the 15cm concrete slab laid, the oak frame could be delivered by Oakwrights, together with a 50-tonne crane. “By the end of the first day pretty much all the downstairs sections were in place and the four roof trusses for the garden room had been fitted — it was really exciting,” says Keith. “One week later and the frame was complete, with the encapsulation panels secured.”
Once the brickwork was completed, Oakwrights could begin on the oak roof structure over the sitting room. “We chose to have part of the roof in softwood, with decorative timbers to save money, but wanted exposed structural oak beams in the master bedroom and the main barn-style living space,” Chris explains.
“We decided not to scrimp on the roof tiles because these are such a huge part of the overall look of the house, and we ordered the same handmade clay tiles we’d seen at the Oakwrights’ show house. These weren’t cheap, and took us over budget, but the finish is exactly what we’d hoped for.”
The delivery of roof tiles on a 12m lorry proved problematic due to site access, causing long tailbacks of traffic on the road outside. After unloading and stacking 11 pallets of tiles it became evident that the quantities were not as ordered. “Lesson learned — we
should have asked to see the delivery note before unloading,” says Keith.
“We couldn’t have built this house without the internet,” he adds. “The builders would suddenly ask where we wanted pipes for the bathrooms and we’d spend an entire week just focusing on bathroom design and using websites to help us work out the layouts.
The same thing happened when we came to buy the kitchen, and we would shop around online for the best deals.”
Oakwrights were able to give Chris and Keith a virtual tour of the house before it was built, which helped them to visualise the internal layout. “You could look up and see the roof structure and it gave us a realistic feel for what to expect, but even that was nothing compared to actually standing in the real thing,” explains Chris. “Nothing can beat the beautiful oak timbers, and we love the character and quirkiness they bring. We’re so glad that we decided to go ahead with a new build rather than just extending.”
A Natural Finish Oak exterior cladding has been left untreated to weather to a silver-grey colour, and is complemented by handmade clay roof tiles. Inside, the decorative brick chimney (which features a stove from Clearview; opposite) and exposed oak trusses give the house additional character.