Cleverly Engineered Contemporary Home

Joyce Fraser worked with a creative local architect to design a cleverly engineered contemporary home that looks unique, and is efficient, too
by Caroline Ednie
16th June 2016

Joyce Fraser’s newly built home in Renfrewshire is a stunning example of modern architecture, and one that challenges the notion of what a rural property should look like. This self-build is an elegantly composed, multi-faceted dwelling, finished in handmade brick and punctuated by strategically placed sharp, minimal window openings. The zinc roof unfolds origami-like around various sloping surfaces and down some of the upper storey walls. It’s a truly unique design.

The property, conceived by Graeme and Hazel Andrew of ATA Studio, has been meticulously designed and detailed, yet it was born from a humble brief. “I had a really simple wish for a home that was bright and airy, which opened up to views of the surrounding valley,” says Joyce. “So when I initially approached ATA Studio, I had ideas for a very different type of project.”

Fact file
  • NameJoyce Fraser
  • LocationRenfrewshire
  • ProjectSelf-build
  • StyleContemporary
  • Construction methodStructural Insulated panels (SIPs) clad in handmade brick
  • Plot cost£305,000
  • House size225m²
  • Build cost£328,100
  • Build cost per m²£1,458
  • Total cost£633,100
  • Construction timeThree years

Joyce had recently bought a rather rundown dwelling, set in 0.25 acres of land, and was hoping to renovate and extend it. It was a simple, square two-storey structure made from harled brick with a concrete roof. However, architect Graeme thought that there was a better opportunity in building a whole new property.

“When Joyce first spoke to us she described a house that needed new windows, a new roof, electrics, heating and insulation, as well as an extension to make more space,” he says. “We offered proposals to change the existing house, but we also took it upon ourselves to produce three different sketch ideas of what a new home might look like.”

New plans, new house

After discussing various issues with the architect, Joyce agreed that it would be far more productive to use her budget to build a new home rather than a renovation, not least because it would save on VAT and have fewer hidden surprises. She was instantly drawn to the most ambitious of Graeme’s three design proposals.

“Originally we had an idea for a property with a courtyard, entering at the existing access and looking up the avenue of giant beech trees towards the views to the west,” says Graeme. “We went through about seven or eight refinements to come up with the design we have now, which evolved from a courtyard into a spiral with increasing height all around, and a central roof edge window that lets light into the middle of the building’s living space. If you unfold the elevations you get a simple diagonal line that continues all around the building. It was quite a development of a single idea.”

The existing trees surrounding the north, east and west edges of the site were all retained and provide a superb enclosed setting for the house. The scheme comprises an open plan double height living, dining and kitchen zone, which looks out over the fields and valley. There is also a single bedroom on the ground floor and a private snug. Upstairs there is a bathroom, guestroom and master bedroom with an ensuite.

Design challenges

The dwelling was built using Kingspan Tek structural insulated panels (SIPs) from SIPS @ Clays. “It was the most complicated construction that the company had ever come across,” says Graeme. “There’s a lot of engineering in the building, with the roof changing level all the way round and the open glass corner, which could potentially affect stability.

“Conventionally, a builder working with a kit manufacturer would compromise on detail to make it cheaper and the kit easier to build. But we hung onto our original idea and worked with everyone to make it succeed. There are clever bits of steel that are built into the structure to provide stability, too.”

Extra support is given to the roof via two giant glulam beams – one on the diagonal of the house, and one running the length of the whole property. Where the two beams intersect, the ceiling steps down and meets an exposed white powder-coated steel column that stands freely in the middle of the living space.

Defining elements

Creating the fan-like swooping roof structure was complicated. As SIPs aren’t recommended for a pitch of less than 15º, the team had to work out how the 10º pitch could deal with issues of ventilation and condensation. The solution was to create a lattice overlay of treated timbers; essentially a 100mm ventilated zone allowing air to permeate over the panels with a membrane on top, which creates a roof in its own right.

However, there’s a further covering on top of that with timber sarking boards, which create a thin, delicate edge and overhang – allowing any condensation or moisture to be easily ventilated along the whole perimeter of the building. The gutters have also been recessed into the depth of the latticework.

Surprisingly, the mellow blonde masonry cladding, one of the key features of the house, was originally envisaged as white render. However, just before the build started in earnest, Joyce decided that brick would work better in the setting.

She looked at over 20 samples from Furness Brick and selected a handmade imperial-size product. “The colour of the units fits beautifully into the countryside setting,” she says. “The tone blends in when the surrounding landscape is yellowy brown in autumn and winter, and is a great contrast to the bright greens of spring and summer.”

A fresh look

For the interiors, Joyce chose simple, neutral paint finishes and smoked oak and white porcelain tiled floors. “I love the open plan layout and the white walls; it looks so fresh and it complements the fantastic views,” she says. “Personally I hate feeling shut in. The house and the surroundings appeal in so many ways – the light outside at different times of the day is often amazing.”

The strategic glazed elements, including an impressive 5m x 2m window on the half-landing that spreads daylight over both floors, certainly contribute to the bright, airy interiors. “The architect carefully orientated the building with the big windows facing south and west, and relatively closed facades to the north and east,” says Joyce.

“The upshot of this, combined with airtight construction and lots of insulation, is that just the heat from the sun makes the house very cosy.” Joyce bought a gas boiler from Worcester Bosch, which she feels is excellent in terms of energy efficiency. This has been paired with underfloor heating from John Guest on both floors.

“I think the whole house works brilliantly,” says Joyce. “If I had to select a favourite aspect, it would be how well the layout works when friends and family visit. When I stand downstairs and look at all the angles and features, it’s not just a square box with white walls.”

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