It was during a quiet stroll in their garden one summer’s evening that the idea for a self-build project first took shape in the minds of retired couple Anne and Brian Wildey. They had recently relocated to the peaceful village of Garway, Herefordshire, near the Welsh border, with no plans to build from scratch. But as they ambled round their 1.3 acres, the old croquet lawn presented an obvious opportunity and inspiration struck.
FACT FILE Anne & Brian Wildey
TYPE OF BUILD Self-build
LAND COST £540,000 (for
HOUSE SIZE 213m2
PROJECT COST £375,983
PROJECT COST PER M2
CURRENT VALUE £749,000
The patch of land was large and level, plus it faced towards the Black Mountains and was conveniently clear of shrubs and trees. Anne and Brian were finding their 200-year-old cottage a touch dark and damp, so building a new home offered a way to stay in the location they loved, while providing the light and space they craved.
The couple found it easy to envisage the new house; they imagined airy, open-plan living spaces with large windows that soaked up the surrounding mountain views. They wanted it to have a traditional feel, with a brick and render facade to remain in-keeping with other properties in the area.
It would have a conservatory, solar panels and a wetroom to wash down their golden retriever and new puppy after muddy walks in the countryside. They even knew what they were going to call it: Gardd y Ffin, which means ‘garden on the border’, but they left feeling downhearted.
“The officer got his book out just to show how we didn’t fit the criteria,” says Anne. Infill sites between two houses were getting the go-ahead, but not standalone, four-bedroom dwellings – even though the site wasn’t visible from the road.
A couple of years had passed when a conversation with a local friend and parish councillor indicated that the council now needed to hit housing targets. So, in January 2014, Brian and Anne spent £260 applying for pre-planning advice, which meant their case had to be considered by a local officer, including a site visit. “Two weeks later, there was a knock on the door and a planner appeared unannounced,” says Anne.
Having previously self-built in Dorset 20 years earlier, the couple had no qualms about taking on the practicalities of another project. “We always said there were things we’d do differently, such as using local trades and keeping a closer eye on works,” says Anne. “Now was our chance.” They decided to go with a timber frame construction method, which had proven to be efficient and good value in their last scheme.
In 2011 Anne and Brian took the first steps towards turning their hopes into reality by visiting a planning surgery in Ross-on-Wye, Delighted by the encouragement, they recieved the couple readily accepted the one caveat – their dream L-shaped design had to go.
The original plans included a garage with an art studio above, attached to the main house. The officer argued that this footprint would be too large, so insisted the zone remained separate from the dwelling. In a project that has otherwise exceeded expectations, this is the one change the Wildeys regret. “I have to use outside stairs to get to my studio,” says Anne. “It’s okay now, but could become a problem as I get older. Looking back, we should have dug our heels in and appealed later.”
While they kept quiet about planning stipulations, Anne did question the advice of some experts – an approach that paid off. Their architect recommended a long list of surveys. Many proved useful, especially the topographical assessment as it revealed that the seemingly flat croquet lawn actually sloped by a surprisingly substantial 3m. This meant the house could be raised at the front, further enhancing vistas towards the Black Mountains.
In August 2014, with these wins behind her and full planning consent in place, Anne (an engineer’s daughter) felt confident to take on the role of project manager. She used a construction diary, which ran to an A4 page every day, for the duration. It helped to ensure Anne was never fazed, even during the more frenzied times towards the end of works, when many elements had to come together at once.
Brian and Anne used the electricity and water supplies from their cottage while the garage-studio was constructed. After services to the site had been arranged, they sold the house to finance the main build and were able to move into the studio in the meantime.
Good weather aided progress, but exemplary workmanship was the main driver. The couple sought contractors who lived nearby wherever possible, sometimes in Garway itself. “Our team of three local builders were old-fashioned in the best way,” Anne says. “They were reliable and hardworking..”
Timber frame specialist Taylor Lane, based in Hereford, was equally stalwart throughout. The scaffolding went up fast and 80 factory-assembled timber frame panels – all made from sustainable Scandinavian wood – were delivered in three lorry loads before being craned into position.
The house skeleton took shape within 10 days, leaving a waterproof structure only three weeks into the build. The roof was in place, while a breathable foil membrane protected the external panelling, ready for internal trades to begin.
An added attraction of a pre-assembled timber frame is the ease with which it lends itself to heat retention. Taylor Lane’s standard insulation only required an extra 30mm of Rockwool on the inner walls and 30mm of rigid insulation to the outer walls to achieve the couple’s strict requirements.
Before the plasterboard lining was fixed, the whole house was cocooned in polythene – even beneath the screed floors. “It means we get no draughts at all. Our EPC rating is A and while we’re not quite at Passivhaus standards, we’re not far off,” says Anne.
A mechanical ventilation and heat recovery (MVHR) system ticks over in the loft to ensure fresh air with no loss of warmth. Other energy-efficient features include an air source heat pump – “not cheap to install but less expensive to run than oil,” says Anne – along with solar panels and underfloor heating. These technologies were all supplied by one company, which helped to keep things simple.
With the house complete, the couple could turn their attention to their garden – an aspect they thoroughly enjoyed. “We inherited a sum of money from my mum. She was a passionate gardener, so it felt appropriate to use this on a beautiful pond feature, one feeding the other with a waterfall,” Anne says. “I love to watch the birds enjoying it – I even saw a kingfisher the other day.”
The long driveway that leads to the dwelling (instated to avoid encroachment on the common land around the property) has turned out to be one of Anne and Brian’s favourite features. “The approach to our home is lovely,” she says. “We both feel a lot of satisfaction every time we drive up and see the house in full view.”
For the Wildeys, perhaps the best outcome of their self-build venture is that they now live somewhere that’s filled with light throughout all seasons of the year – which was their main goal for their new home. “It’s wonderful to throw open the glazed doors in summer and enjoy the hazy colours of the mountains,” says Anne. “But even on winter’s foggiest days, the house has no lack of healthy natural brightness. My husband used to yearn for sunshine, so now he’s a happy man; we’ve banished the winter blues forever.”
Words: Sophie GaleFirst published: