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

Homebuilding & Renovating - - PORTFOLIO - Words Deb­bie Jef­fery Pho­tog­ra­phy Mark Welsh c/o Oak­wrights

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.

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