the holy grail

De­spite the sen­si­tive, his­toric na­ture of their plot, as well as the fact that it was prone to flood­ing, Rachel and Dar­ren Luke have over­come ev­ery chal­lenge to build a stun­ning, oak frame ‘for­ever’ home

Homebuilding & Renovating - - PORTFOLIO - Words Natasha Brins­mead Pho­tog­ra­phy Jeremy Phillips

At just 27 years old, rachel and Dar­ren luke bought a plot of land in the Worces­ter­shire coun­try­side, with a non­de­script 1980s house stand­ing on it. Se­duced by its idyl­lic lo­ca­tion, his­toric na­ture and bags of po­ten­tial, the lukes went on to dis­cover just how chal­leng­ing their project would be.

“We moved here with our two young sons in the hope that it would be our for­ever home,” ex­plains rachel. “Not only was this a huge fi­nan­cial un­der­tak­ing at such a ten­der age, but we were soon to learn that the prop­erty fre­quently flooded — and in the years that fol­lowed this caused sub­stan­tial sub­si­dence.”

When rachel and Dar­ren bought the house and sur­round­ing land, ex­tend­ing to seven acres in to­tal, they had not been ad­vised by the pre­vi­ous oc­cu­pants of the true ex­tent of the flood­ing is­sues that plagued the site.

“the ground all around the house flooded the day af­ter we moved in,” says Dar­ren. “the house had lit­tle to no in­su­la­tion or proper foun­da­tions and, dur­ing a small earth­quake that hit the area a few years later, suf­fered fur­ther sub­si­dence is­sues.”

“the house was dark, cold and mis­er­able,” adds rachel. “We al­ways had a long-term plan to re­place it but we lived in it for 17 years with­out do­ing any­thing; in­stead we saved and planned for a new house that would al­le­vi­ate the flood is­sues.”

the house, named the Stews, had been built next to a col­lec­tion of ponds, listed as ‘Stew ponds’ in the Domes­day Book. the land had been in­hab­ited by an or­der of monks from the Knights tem­plar, who bred fish for the lo­cal

com­mu­nity, raised in the stew ponds — rachel and Dar­ren still have fish in the ponds.

luck­ily, plan­ning for the new house was passed in a mat­ter of months with the main pro­viso be­ing that the new dwelling should be no big­ger than the orig­i­nal house, that ar­chae­ol­o­gists would need to be on site at cer­tain stages of the de­mo­li­tion and ground ex­ca­va­tions be­cause of the im­por­tance of the his­tor­i­cal ponds, and that both a flood risk as­sess­ment and wildlife re­port be un­der­taken.

So the fam­ily had some­where to live while the old house was de­mol­ished and the new one built, a col­lec­tion of wooden sta­bles on the plot was de­mol­ished and a new, oak-framed garage with a two bed­room flat above, con­structed.

Work­ing with oak­wrights, the new garage

and flat pro­vided a spa­cious liv­ing, din­ing and kitchen space, along with two be­d­rooms. hint­ing at what lay ahead from the main build, the garage had to be built on top of 33 piles.

“once the old floor slab came up, we dis­cov­ered the rem­nants of a Vic­to­rian cot­tage, as well as an­other ear­lier wall,” says Dar­ren. once again, the ar­chae­ol­o­gists were called to over­see the de­mo­li­tion.

hav­ing had so many years to plan their new dream home, rachel and Dar­ren al­ready had a clear idea of what they wanted.

“We had met a cou­ple who live near to here whose tim­ber-framed house we had seen and ad­mired,” ex­plains rachel. “We spoke to them to get ad­vice, as co­in­ci­dently their oak frame was also from oak­wrights.”

“the new house is raised one me­tre above ground level and a to­tal of 81 five-me­tre piles had to be put in un­der­neath,” says Dar­ren. over­head power ca­bles were also re­moved, with new ca­bles be­ing sunk into the ground.

the new house was de­signed by ar­chi­tec­tural de­signer John Wil­liams, tak­ing into ac­count the luke’s wishes for a modern fam­ily home with char­ac­ter. once oak­wrights ar­rived on site with the frame, which has been left ex­posed in­ter­nally, it took a team of four seven days to con­struct. Dar­ren and rachel then em­ployed a small lo­cal build­ing firm, furber young De­vel­op­ments, to carry out the re­main­ing con­struc­tion, with Dar­ren project man­ag­ing the build and tak­ing on much of the ad­di­tional work on a Diy ba­sis. “our builders were amaz­ing,” says Dar­ren. “you just can’t over­state how im­por­tant the re­la­tion­ship with your trades is. any prob­lems that arose were dealt with straight­away — noth­ing was too much trou­ble and we re­ally felt they were su­per pas­sion­ate about achiev­ing the very best end prod­uct pos­si­ble.”

ex­ter­nally the house has been clad in oak, with sec­tions of ren­der and a stone dwarf wall that ex­tends up into the main chim­ney stack. the oak frame is con­cealed ex­ter­nally within the en­cap­su­la­tion, apart from in the glazed gables, where it re­mains ex­posed.

in­ter­nally, the house is en­tered via an over­sized pivot door into a large din­ing hall. from here, door­ways lead off into the open plan kitchen liv­ing space and a sep­a­rate liv­ing room to the op­po­site side of the house — while a chunky con­tem­po­rary stair­case made from oak treads and glazed balustrades rises through

a dou­ble-height space to the land­ing above.

“the old kitchen was dark and gloomy and very chintzy,” says rachel. “We never wanted to cook.” the newly built space is quite an­other story, with built-in ap­pli­ances of the high­est spec­i­fi­ca­tion and an enor­mous cen­tral is­land fea­tur­ing an in­duc­tion hob and ris­ing ex­trac­tor.

the kitchen is open through to an in­for­mal seat­ing area, fea­tur­ing a strik­ing wood­burn­ing stove set into a chim­ney breast clad with slate slips — a de­sign fea­ture echoed else­where in the house. the ground floor also fea­tures a home of­fice, util­ity room and down­stairs WC.

on the first floor, a cen­tral land­ing-come­liv­ing-space en­joys dou­ble-as­pect views through full-height glaz­ing, open­ing out on one side to a decked bal­cony. a ‘bridge’ run­ning over the stair­well leads to the master bed­room suite, com­plete with a walk-in dress­ing room and lux­u­ri­ous en suite.

the bed­room is full of light, thanks to a large run of bi­fold doors, open­ing out to a half­cov­ered bal­cony af­ford­ing stun­ning views out over the open coun­try­side. there is also a huge tri­an­gu­lar win­dow, weigh­ing 280kg, that runs at ex­actly the same an­gle as the roofline. “We’d rather have three large be­d­rooms than lots of smaller ones,” says rachel.

the house is choc full of high-tech fea­tures and eco-ef­fi­ciency mea­sures, in­clud­ing full lutron home au­to­ma­tion in­cor­po­rat­ing con­trol of light­ing through­out the home and garage flat 80 me­tres away, as well as 12 elec­tric blinds, a full video distri­bu­tion ma­trix through­out the house and flat, and a 16-chan­nel re­mote CCtV sur­veil­lance linked into an in­te­grated alarm sys­tem. in the event of an in­ci­dent this trig­gers ev­ery light in the house and all ex­ter­nal flood­lights, with all leD tapes turn­ing red. there is also a nine-room linked Mu­sicCast sound sys­tem, a num­ber of Wifi boost­ing ac­cess points out­side as well as hid­den in the ceil­ing in­ter­nally (the house’s in­su­la­tion means

the stan­dard Wifi router barely makes it out of the room it’s run­ning in.) then there are the two me­chan­i­cal heat re­cov­ery ven­ti­la­tion units and a re­cir­cu­lat­ing hot wa­ter sup­ply and pump. “the sys­tem senses when you are close to the taps, trig­ger­ing the hot wa­ter so you never have to wait more than seven sec­onds for it to come through,” ex­plains Dar­ren. the whole au­to­ma­tion sys­tem can be con­trolled by a mo­bile phone re­motely from any­where in the world. Dar­ren re­veals the fi­nal costs ran to £85,000 for this el­e­ment of the project. “We also put a lot of ef­fort into the air­tight­ness of the house,” he says. “at 0.9 air changes per hour, we’re al­most at the pas­sivhaus stan­dard of 0.6.”

and is their home all they hoped it would be? “there is noth­ing we would change — this house has ex­ceeded all our ex­pec­ta­tions,” says Dar­ren. “Be­cause it is our home for the rest of our lives, the spec in­evitably went up, and with it the bud­get — it be­came a bit of a mon­ster!”

rachel and Dar­ren ad­mit that at times the build was stress­ful and that they could never have an­tic­i­pated the amount of mud and mess they would have to en­dure on site due to bad weather, the huge amount of ex­ca­va­tion, or the de­liv­ery of 2,000 tonnes of stone for the house and sink­ing drive­way.

“We did won­der if it would ever be tidy again,” says rachel. “But you can’t make an omelette with­out break­ing a few eggs and it has been so worth it. i wake up and have to pinch my­self — i can’t be­lieve the house is ours! We are so very proud of our achieve­ment.”

Rachel and Dar­ren Luke Lo­ca­tion Worces­ter­shire Project Oak frame self-build Size 305m2 + 190m2 garage and flat Build time Dec 2015 – Apr 2017 Plot cost £495,000 (in 1999) Build cost £1.2mil­lion, in­clud­ing all ex­te­rior works and land­scap­ing Value £1.8mil­lion

The dou­ble-height en­trance hall com­bines an ex­posed oak frame with con­tem­po­rary fin­ishes, such as the slate-clad fire sur­round for the gas fire (from An­glia Fire­places & De­sign). This also acts as a room di­vide be­tween the din­ing space and liv­ing room (right) and the eye-catch­ing stair­case con­structed from chunky oak treads with a glass balustrade.

Know­ing that this was to be their ‘for­ever home’, Rachel and Dar­ren were happy to spend ex­tra to get the fin­ishes they wanted. The wood­burner (the Ton­werk T-EYE from Top­stak) in the liv­ing room (above) sits in front of a slate­clad sec­tion of wall, a de­tail echoed else­where in the house. Mean­while, the full-height glaz­ing en­sures views out over the wooded site. The Liv­ing Room

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