A Georgian-style eco home built with loving memories of Joan
Tea, bacon butties and the memory of someone special made this self build home a success. Heather Dixon reports. Pictures Dave Burton.
EVERY hand made window, meticulously laid brick and carefully painted wall in Mike Dillon’s Georgian-style house has been done with his wife Joan in mind. For on the day they were granted permission to build the house that they had been planning for years, Joan died.
“Joan became ill just as we started our detailed discussions with the architect and fairly soon we knew how poorly she was. We agreed that whatever happened I should still go ahead and build the house,” says Mike.
“Joan’s family are farmers and they all have houses where we can all come together as a family for Christmas and special occasions. Joan wanted a house in which we too could welcome all the family, so here was our chance to create one. When Joan died I put all my energies and focus into the project. It was something I could do for both of us, even though Joan wasn’t going to be there to share it with me.”
Joan and Mike had already agreed to create their new home in their large garden, standing at right angles to the house where they had lived for ten years. It would be of a Georgian style to complement other houses in the village and face the village green.
“Initially we considered creating a house in the Arts and Crafts style, but it wouldn’t have worked in this Conservation Area setting,” said Mike, who worked closely with local planning and conservation officers as well as architect Ian Harrison to design a home that would have the appropriate kerb appeal. “Joan and I were both interested in architecture so we spent a lot of time discussing the type of bricks we wanted and even the colour of the mortar. We were passionate about getting it absolutely right.”
Although the parish council opposed the plans – for reasons which still baffle Mike – the village, near Northallerton, has been immensely supportive, with many commenting that the house looks like it has “always been there”.
The half- acre plot is next to the ruins of a castle so before building could begin the land was searched with a smooth blade digger for items of archaeological significance. When nothing was unearthed, the foundations began – out of sight behind a towering 15ft leylandi hedge which fronted the garden.
“We couldn’t take the leylandi down until the birds had finished nesting,” says Mike. ‘It helped to keep the site secure.’
Although he had no experience in self-building, he is practical and turned to friends in the village to help him organise the various stages. One was a builder with self-build experience and another was a contracts manager who compiled a schedule of works with indicative costs. Mike spent many hours travelling round the area looking at examples of tradesmen’s work as well as seeing buildings where his shortlisted bricks, hand made windows and lime mortar had been used.
Then, satisfied with what he saw, he arranged a fixed price for the building of the shell with cash incentives and bonuses for excellent quality work.
Mike also encouraged a daily 15-minute “down tools” at 10am every morning, so that all the trades people on site could enjoy a cup of tea and a bacon buttie together.
“It was a great way of team building and encouraging everyone to get along,” said Mike. “As a result there were no fall-outs. Everyone was happy to pitch in when required and every trade was considerate of the others. They all knew I was not an expert but that I had a clear idea of what I wanted to achieve, so if there was a problem they discussed it with me and came up with solutions. Communication was key.”
Mike made a point of paying tradesmen promptly as they “called-off” weekly payments from the fixed price, always trusting them to call off appropriately as the work progressed. His trust paid off as the project came in on-budget and with “superb” build quality.
Once the foundations were laid the shell went up quickly. The house includes high levels of insulation; water based under floor heating; an air source heat pump to minimise Co2 emissions; solar panels on the south facing garage roof; attic rather than traditional roof trusses to create more living space at the top of the house and regulatory fire doors in accordance with its three storey height.
Mike planned everything to the finest detail, including storage in the garage roof storage, Velux windows and 150cm Kingspan between the trusses. To achieve the highest visual standard of exterior details he opted for traditional leadwork and heritage-style rainwater goods, including cast-iron style hoppers and downpipes.
He chose bespoke hardwood pre-finished sliding sash windows, voussiers window heads and bespoke stone cills,
“The build itself was pretty well trouble free, although the windows took longer to deliver than expected. Having said that, each one is hand-crafted to a superb standard, so the end result was worth it,” says Mike.
He also researched the architectural features of the period so he could include coving appropriate to the Georgian era. He chose Spanish slates for the roof, limestone and engineered oak floors and had the staircase specially built.
“I wanted to create an internal space that retained the classic proportions of a period house yet was contemporary, stylish and airy,’ said Mike, who managed to save money by buying his own site equipment, rather than hiring it, then selling it on at the end of the build. It helped him stick to the £340,000 budget he anticipated.
“As Joan and I had always planned, it’s a house for the family and it’s great for entertaining in,’ he says. “I think Joan would have loved it.”
Mike took an eco-friendly approach to the build using high levels of insulation and solar panels. The house came in on budget at £340,000. He says team building and good communications were key to the success of the project – helped along with tea and bacon sandwiches and prompt weekly payments to the trades people involved.
Farrow and Ball paint colours and period-style features, such as cornicing and a bespoke staircase give the new-build its Georgian-style character. Many have commented it looks as though it has always been there.