Retiring in style with self-built green home
Debbie Jeffrey reports on a striking modern design that makes use of traditional materials and the latest techniques to save energy, which has become a local landmark.
ON a hilltop, overlooking the small market town of Peniston stands an addition to the landscape that has caused quite a stir.
With very little modern architecture in the area, passersby often stop to gape at Roger and Linda Brown’s house.
Its walls may be of traditional local stone, but the property also boasts vertical red cedar cladding, grey aluminium-framed windows and a curved “living” roof topped with colourful sedum.
It is a property that spans three generations: self-built by the Browns as a home for their retirement, it was designed by the couple’s architect son, Andrew, and built on the one-acre site of a 1940s’ bungalow which previously belonged to Roger’s father, who lived there for 45 years.
“I also lived there myself until I married,” explains Roger, now 62, “and when I inherited the bungalow we decided to extend and renovate the property for our own retirement. ”
However, failing foundations meant that demolition was inevitable and the project became a new build instead. The replacement house was generated from the footprint of the original bungalow with the addition of side and first floor extensions.
A sweeping double-curved roof knits together these various elements.
“We asked Andrew to come up with a design and, other than listing the rooms we wanted, gave him a free hand,” says Linda.
“The site is on the edge of a Conservation Area, and we were concerned that the planners might not approve a modern house, but they were very open to the idea.”
One of the only changes that planners made to Andrew’s original design involved using locally-quarried Yorkshire stone instead of the proposed whiterendered blockwork.
This inevitably impacted on the final budget,particularly as the stone slabs, which form the outer leaf of the house, are of fine polished ashlar.
A generous insulated cavity and an inner skin of dense concrete blockwork complete the extremely thick external walls, and their high thermal mass helps to regulate the temperature of the rooms.
Internally, the layout has been inverted so that the three bedrooms are on the ground floor with the main living space upstairs — taking full advantage of the views The living space also gives access
to a decked south-facing terrace above the garage.
The open plan layout showcases the roof structure with its exposed glulam beams, and permits views down into the doubleheight kitchen/diner from the first floor study space, behind which a delicately suspended oak and sycamore staircase rises up to form the centrepiece of the house.
“I knew from the start that this would be a hands-on project, ” says Roger, an engineer by trade. Helped by Linda and several good friends, he was responsible for virtually every aspect of the build — from pouring the foundations to laying the sedum on the roof.
The couple lived in a caravan on site for the two-year build programme, which cost £175,000. The land was worth £150,000, which brought the total build cost to £325,000.
Demolishing his father’s old bungalow proved to be an uncomfortable process for Roger, but with the rubble carted away and new standard strip foundations in place, the building work began in earnest.
Once the substantial blockwork and stone walls had been constructed, the 9.5-metrelong glulam beams for the roof structure were craned into position.
“One of the most difficult jobs was laying the sedum, because the roof is such an unusual angle and it was extremely windy in February, ” recalls Roger, “but the colours are incredible — a mixture of green, yellow and pink hues which tie the house into the landscape. ”
The house also boasts a rainwater recycling system and the double curve of the superinsulated roof falls away to the north elevation – reducing heat loss to the cold face and opening out the southern elevation to
make the most of solar gain – and the south-facing glazing is shaded from high-summer sun by a large overhang of translucent sheet, which also creates an all-weather outside area on the upper terrace.
High levels of insulation and thermal mass, combined with a heat recovery ventilation system and an airtight fabric, help to combat rising fuel bills.
In fact, the house has proved so easy to keep warm that the couple have only needed to turn on their underfloor heating once since moving in, and also have a pre-heat hot-water system designed to minimise water wastage.
The couple chose locallysourced oak floors, doors and mouldings with European whitewood roof beams and red cedar external cladding from sustainable forests.
Building an eco-friendly house hasn’t prevented the couple from adding some fun and frivolous touches, however. For 20 years they ran their own business making copper lights for gardens, and lighting inevitably plays an important role in the overall design of their new home. Strips of blue LEDs illuminate the oak and sycamore treads of the feature staircase, with red LED lights positioned behind an opaque acrylic sheet beneath the oak breakfast bar in the kitchen.
“Building this house has been a once-in-a-lifetime adventure,” says Linda, “and a self-build project was the perfect way to ease us into retirement. We’ve both developed muscles from so much hard physical labour,but now that the house is finished we’re definitely planning to have a much more relaxed pace of life. ”
Architect Andrew Brown, Design Space Architects: 01937 558213
Under-floor heating Nu-Heat: 0800 731 1976
Glulam roof beams Lamisell: 01409 220333
Aluminium windows AM Profiles: 01246 856000
Sedum roof Evergreen Roof Gardens: 01903 600122
Ashlar stone Johnsons Wellfield Quarries: 01484 652311
Folding sliding doors Folding Sliding Door Co: 0845 644 6630 V
Structural engineers Richard Rhodes & Partners: 0161 427 8388
Electrics JMS Electrical: 01226 763628.
Roger and Linda Brown, right, built Highfield as their retirement home, in place of a 1940s’ bungalow that once belonged to Roger’s father. A local Yorkshire stone has been used for the main body of the building, while the energy-saving features include a colourful sedum roof and a heat-recovery ventilation system.