With four renovation projects already under their belts, Teresa and Terry Gibbons decided it was time to build their own bespoke home from scratch. “When you renovate, you never quite get what you’re looking for,” says Teresa, who feels their new house meets all their aspirations. “It’s very comfortable and is in a wonderful setting.”
In fact, their plot had been in the family for years. “We finally decided to build on it so that we could be closer to Terry’s parents, who are just next door, and help look after them,” says Teresa.
The couple knew that self-building would be a real labour of love, so Terry took a sabbatical to allow him to get hands-on with the project. With a background in engineering and plenty of family and friends to call on for support, he was able to complete a significant amount of the work himself – although the Gibbons opted for a timber frame package to take care of the main shell of the house. The couple’s renovation experience had also furnished them with the skills required to bring their ideas to fruition.
The Gibbons ultimately decided to work with specialist timber frame manufacturer, Potton, to come up with a suitable scheme. They had actually visited the company’s show homes centre several years prior, but had chosen to put off their dream at the time and renovate another property.
In 2013, the couple paid the firm a second visit and were pleased to find the team was very accommodating of their design aspirations. They both liked the company’s Papplewick design but wanted to make some alterations to it.
“Potton were great because they came up with some very good ideas,” says Teresa. “We sat with Tom Allen for several days and he was brilliant – making various changes to suit us. He suggested optimum positions for the windows, for example, and placing an alcove on the landing upstairs.”
Teresa was particularly delighted with the fact that they were able to match the design of the house to the furniture that they already owned. “The scheme we created really suits our style, so we’ve been able to keep our collections of antique pieces,” she says.
The couple took an inclusive approach to securing consent for their project. “We started by speaking to our local authority and asking them what we could build,” says Teresa. “We also showed them the house styles we liked.” The Gibbons met with the planners several times to discuss their scheme, which ultimately proved fruitful as the project was approved in just 12 weeks.
The only aspects that took a little longer to rubber stamp were the roof and wall materials. The planners wanted the couple to incorporate red pantiles and facing bricks – both of which Terry and Teresa liked, as they would help the house blend in better with the local vernacular.
However, this was at a time when bricks were in short supply. “We were struggling to actually get hold of the units,” says Teresa. “The builder’s merchants managed to track something down that the planners were willing to approve.” This was a big relief, as otherwise the job would have been held up.
In February 2014, the Gibbons sold their existing property and moved in with their daughter and son-in-law, who lived around 45 minutes away from the site. The couple quickly signed up their son-in-law, who is a farmer and groundworks contractor, to help get the work started.
They were lucky to hit bedrock at a depth of 1.5m – perfect for the foundations for their timber frame. “This part of the project was pretty straightforward, as the ground in this area doesn’t move like it does in a lot of places,” says Terry. “It meant that we were able to put down the footings fairly quickly.”
Once these were in place, the Potton timber frame went up in just three weeks. The panels are packed with solid insulation and taped up for airtightness, ensuring a warm and cosy structural envelope. “I made sure every gap was sealed: if a contractor drilled a hole, it had to be filled,” says Terry. Internally, a 50mm cavity was left before the plasterboard finishes – creating a service void for easy installation.
With Terry taking on the bulk of the work and Teresa project managing, they recruited specialist trades only when they were required. “We found a really good bricklayer through one of our previous neighbours,” says Terry. “They’d had some work done and the tradesman did such a good job that I asked for his contact details. It turned out he was retired but still did little bits.”
The Gibbons managed to persuade him take their project on. “He really enjoyed working for us because we pretty much left him to it and he did an excellent job,” says Terry. “I’ve seen some really poor brickwork over the years and if it happens to you, you can’t hide it, it’s there forever. So we were very fortunate to find a reliable contractor.”
At times, the Gibbons also enlisted builder Tom Merchant for his expertise and the fact he had a lot of useful contacts. “Along with my son-in-law, he helped me to set out the footings and put the roof on,” says Terry. “He also knew a really good electrician.”
Teresa focussed on sourcing plant and materials at the right times to keep the project moving, and as a result the scheme progressed well. “Doing most of the work ourselves meant we could keep a very close eye on the budget,” says Teresa. “I knew how much everything cost, from the tiles and bricks to the bathrooms and kitchen.”
Once the house was weathertight, Terry completed the majority of the plumbing and underfloor heating (UFH) installations himself. Being so involved meant that he had to take a year off work, but he preferred to do so rather than employing someone else. “This way I was able to pay really close attention to detail; and now I know exactly what’s behind every single wall,” he says.
The pair feels that installing UFH (powered by an air source heat pump) in the house was one of the best choices they made. “It gives you an even temperature throughout, and although we have radiators in the bedrooms, they’re never on because we simply don’t need them,” says Terry.
Despite taking such a hands-on approach to their project, the main fit-out was finished in a very respectable 12 months. The couple couldn’t wait to move into their new home and both agree that their favourite space is the kitchen-diner, which features large windows that establish an appealing connection with the garden.
There’s no doubt this couple relished their self-build journey, and with their adventure now complete they are enjoying every inch of their new home. “I would definitely build again, because you just can’t imagine how much satisfaction it gives you,” says Terry. “You learn so much as you go along.”