Self-build be­gins at seventy…

For some, re­tire­ment is the per­fect time to ful­fil a life­long am­bi­tion by craft­ing a home of their own. Anna Tyzack re­ports

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Retirement -

Bryan Pickard had al­ways wanted to build a house. But it wasn’t un­til the age of 70 that he fi­nally man­aged it. “We lived in a Vic­to­rian house close to the cen­tre of Shaftes­bury, in Dorset, with lovely views and a large gar­den,” says his wife, Kate. “We ran a bed and break­fast busi­ness but found the house and gar­den were be­com­ing too much for us.” Hav­ing lived in the town for 16 years they were re­luc­tant to leave. “It suits us. We didn’t see any point in mov­ing away,” she says.

They de­cided to ap­ply for plan­ning per­mis­sion to build a smaller house in the veg­etable gar­den, which would still ben­e­fit from the views, and to sell off their ex­ist­ing home. But the first ap­pli­ca­tion was re­jected. “The lo­cal con­ser­va­tion of­fi­cer sug­gested that we build a con­tem­po­rary house,” she says. Both she and Bryan, a re­tired ac­coun­tant, were more than happy to “go mod­ern”, and af­ter en­list­ing the help of ar­chi­tect Phil Eas­ton, of West­ern De­sign, their sec­ond ap­pli­ca­tion was suc­cess­ful.

Box House is cer­tainly not your av­er­age granny pad. “We gave the ar­chi­tect a wish list of what we did and didn’t want,” says Kate. “Bryan is a wa­ter­colour artist and I do tex­tile de­sign, so we wanted two work­rooms and a gallery space. We also wanted a kitchen/ din­ing room all in one. It was lovely to be able to in­put into a new de­sign – our Vic­to­rian house had four floors and lots of fid­dly ar­chi­traves.”

They em­ployed Dorset-based firm Sni­bor to build the house, us­ing a lo­cal work­force and lo­cally sourced ma­te­ri­als. Once work had started, the cou­ple ab­sorbed them­selves in the project, visit­ing the site each evening.

“We were very for­tu­nate that we were in a po­si­tion to be­gin build­ing be­fore we’d sold our house,” says Kate. “We watched it progress and it be­came more and more familiar.” Bryan worked out a bud­get, which they stuck to rigidly. “The site man­ager would tell us that in three weeks’ time we’d need the door han­dles, so we trav­elled to all sorts of places and found ex­actly what we were look­ing for.” Kate came up with a se­lec­tion method; dirt, de­sign and dura­bil­ity. “We didn’t want dirt get­ting into any cracks, and ev­ery­thing had to be nicely de­signed and built to last.”

It took seven months to build Box House, and the re­sult is some­thing quite dif­fer­ent from their Vic­to­rian house (which they have since sold): “It has plain doors, and no cur­tains or car­pets down­stairs. When we first moved in, it felt like we were on hol­i­day,” says Kate.

David and Gwen Hitchens were in their late sev­en­ties when they used Sni­bor to build a new house in Broad Chalke, near Sal­is­bury. They had lived in a thatched farm­house in the vil­lage for 56 years, but the stairs were not help­ing Gwen’s arthri­tis and bad back.

“The thought of mov­ing away was ab­hor­rent, so we de­cided to sell up and build a more suit­able house on a plot of land 50 me­tres away. We were known as the crazy cou­ple – you just don’t do this kind of thing in your sev­en­ties,” says David, now 80. “But I said to the ar­chi­tect and builders that we want the house to be as geri­atric-friendly as pos­si­ble – we don’t know what the fu­ture holds for us.”

Ar­chi­tect Brian Watts and Sni­bor came up with a de­sign that fit­ted the bill, with a lift to the sec­ond floor, wheelchair­friendly doors, and a down­stairs study for David that can dou­ble as a bed­room, with a pas­sage through to a wet­room.

“At 9.30 ev­ery morn­ing I would be run­ning over to see the Sni­bor fore­man,” says David. “It was great to have a hands-on re­la­tion­ship with the ar­chi­tect and builders. We thor­oughly en­joyed the whole ex­pe­ri­ence.”

They moved in to the swanky Pud­dles Liv­ing (a name found in 200-year-old vil­lage records) four months ago, af­ter sell­ing their farm­house, and ac­cord­ing to David, it has given them a new lease of life. What’s more, he says, “Gwen’s arthri­tis is now sta­tion­ary and her back pain has com­pletely dis­ap­peared”.

Both the Hitchens and the Pickards were for­tu­nate that they al­ready had a plot to build on, and were able to sell their ex­ist­ing houses with rel­a­tive ease. But com­mis­sion­ing a be­spoke, in­no­va­tively de­signed re­tire­ment home is a vi­able op­tion for oth­ers look­ing to down­size.

Sni­bor es­ti­mates that build costs start at about £1,000 per square me­tre, with projects tak­ing be­tween six and nine months to com­plete. Com­pa­nies such as Sni­bor can help find suit­able plots, and guide clients through the plan­ning pro­ce­dure.

The Box House project, ac­cord­ing to Kate Pickard, was “quite ex­haust­ing at times”. “It’s the kind of thing you can’t un­der­take lightly,” she says. “It took over our lives for quite a while. But a good work­ing re­la­tion­ship with both ar­chi­tect and builders made it eas­ier. We didn’t fall out once.”

“When you hit 70, and you are build­ing a house, you want it to go well,” says Sni­bor’s Andy Robins. “Six months of hell is quite a long time in that stage of life. We aim to make the whole build­ing process an en­joy­able ex­pe­ri­ence rather than a mis­ery.”

The key, he says, is to keep clients in­formed ex­actly what is hap­pen­ing and when, and to be hon­est about any de­lays: “We al­ways have a fore­man on site – I wouldn’t run a job with­out proper man­age­ment.”

Box House and Pud­dles Liv­ing have been tai­lor-made for re­tired own­ers but Robins in­sists that this did not mean com­pro­mis­ing on de­sign and ap­pear­ance. Made of sus­tain­able ma­te­ri­als, with the most mod­ern, en­ergy-sav­ing tech­niques and large win­dows, the homes set a good ex­am­ple to younger gen­er­a­tions.

“We use ev­ery room – there’s very lit­tle we’d change, maybe a cou­ple of elec­tri­cal sock­ets,” says Kate. “Some peo­ple don’t have a good word to say about the mod­ern de­sign – but we love it, and it’s of its time.”

The Box House is open un­til to­mor­row as part of Dorset Art Weeks 2008. For in­for­ma­tion, visit Sni­bor (01747 825787; www.sni­ West­ern De­sign (01258 455239; www. west­ern­des­ig­nar­chi­

Brian Watts RIBA (01747 851881; bri­[email protected]­proc­

Mov­ing on: left, the Pickards and their home, Box House (top). Above, the Hitchens

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