How we built a home out of a tiny, disused newsagent
Williamson, an architect, and Baldry, a structural engineer, wanted a home that had little or no mortgage. They bought the shop for £33,500, and spent just £35,000 on the build. “I created a thorough budget plan before we started,” says Williamson. “If, in the course of the month, we overspent, I’d then look to how we could save money elsewhere. I was constantly reviewing the budget plan.”
They made huge savings by carrying out most of the work themselves, parking their van in the driveway to live on site. The couple reckon that they completed around 90 per cent of the work, only calling in tradesmen to make the roof watertight and asking a carpenter to help with the timber frame for the first floor extension. To cut down on the cost, Williamson and Baldry took handy shortcuts such as using kitchen cabinets from Ikea, customised with their own wooden fronts. But they invested in sturdy materials too, such as a stainless steel countertop that set them back £1,000.
The couple even constructed the stairs themselves, and there is plywood cladding and polished concrete floor through the house to give a sense of continuity. The bedroom sits tucked behind the kitchen, and upstairs is a living room and study that opens out on to a balcony. The small space has been packed with storage and features to avoid crowding it, such as open shelves in the kitchen.
To get the project through planning – a hard task, since previous proposals to overhaul the newsagent had been rejected – the couple decided to paint the outside brick white, with the wooden cladding in black, to reflect the local vernacular of Shrewsbury’s Tudor roots. Although planners were initially sceptical, they accepted it, and the white has also been used in the upstairs living area to bring the outside in. The design has kept the look of the newsagent, with a bespoke triple-glazed window in the kitchen that emulates the original one from the old shop. The glazing, created by Manley & Son Joinery, looks out over the church opposite, and is south facing, filling the room with light.
The house is also energy efficient, constructed to Passivhaus principles, well-insulated and airtight. “We’d have liked the house to have been certified,” says Baldry, “but our very tight budgetary constraints meant we couldn’t afford to specify certified products and pay for the certification process.”
There is no need for a boiler; the house is kept warm by just two electric heaters and a towel rail, with a tank for hot water in a specifically designed space under the stairs. “The homeowners really need to be applauded for tak- ing on all of the challenges and being tenacious enough to see them all through,” adds Bray.
The judging panel crowned a house in Devon called The Quest, with lateral space and a cantilevered west wing, as the “world’s most amazing home”. The “best spirit of self build” went to a development in Battersea, south London, in which six neighbours came together to rebuild their block, doubling the size of their homes and paying for it by building eight flats. “This project shows entrepreneurial thinking in a way that must be congratulated and upheld as a shining beacon of hope,” says Bray, “especially in an age where we are wrestling to find ways to create housing for all.”
Clare Williamson, an architect, and Oscar Baldry, a structural engineer, utilised their skills by completing most of their home’s renovations themselves
The house’s wooden cladding was painted black to reflect Shrewsbury’s Tudor roots, right; the stairs, far right, were constructed by the couple