As property developers, Teresa and Anthony Ralph are no strangers to moving home and have built and renovated houses together many times over the years. “We relocated from one renovation to another,” says Teresa. “It’s always exciting to complete a project, but after many years we both began yearning to put down some roots.”
Finding a forever home was never going to be easy, but an unexpected call from an old friend brought them back to familiar ground. “Fourteen years ago we purchased a renovation project in a lovely street close to Botany Bay in Broadstairs, Kent,” says Teresa.
“A couple bought the plot next door and we’ve been friends ever since. They’d kept an eye open for other opportunities for us, as they wanted us to move back, and rang to let us know that a plot had just come on the market.”
Acting on their friend’s tip off, the Ralphs revisited their old street to view the plot, which was surrounded by a high wall. “Anthony lifted me up so I could peer over the top and I was surprised to see a beautifully maintained croquet lawn,” says Teresa. “The site was surrounded by trees and we could hear the sea. It was magical.”
Putting forward an offer through a sealed bid system, the couple received a phone call the day before they were due to go on holiday, confirming that they’d submitted the winning bid.
“It threw us completely. We were in holiday mode and had to start thinking about planning permission and everything that goes with a build,” says Teresa. “Fortunately, we had a great team of builders that we’d worked with for years and were able to design the house ourselves, using On Architecture to draw up formal plans for planning.”
Inspired by modern structures with clean lines, and the iconic buildings by Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier, the new home emerged as a striking contemporary structure made up of a series of box-like pods.
The main property was to be positioned behind a street-facing garage, with a symmetrical floorplan featuring two separate upstairs sections accessed by staircases in different parts of the home.
At the foot of the garden a separate building offers a home office, which would have the potential to be used as an annex in the future, thanks to the inclusion of a kitchen. Having the structure positioned along one edge of the site allows for independent outdoor areas, starting with a courtyard at the front, kept private from the road with a tall wall to feel like a back garden.
“Large glazed spans link the individual pods within the building, and allow you to feel connected with the outside,” says Teresa. “The pods were built with an eye on the future, giving our children independent space to live.”
A timber frame was to be used, covered with sandblasted larch wood cladding, which gives a scorched effect that adds interest and texture. “We also used split face slate cladding for the interior courtyard, garage, front courtyard and entrance, which gives a feeling of depth,” she adds.
With the plot located in the middle of a quiet street, the couple came up against concerns from neighbours, who were worried about a potential lengthy and disruptive build. “We’ve never experienced such extreme reactions to a design – people either loved it or hated it. This is a marmite house,” says Anthony.
“I think good communication with neighbours was key to explaining our vision and reassuring people about what we were doing.” This pressure led to Anthony deciding to get the project finished within a 16-week time frame.
The site was cleared at the end of 2015 and the first trades arrived in January 2016 to dig the foundations. “The pace was incredible and we moved into the finished house on 7th May, which was a build time of 17 weeks,” says Teresa.
Using personal funds for buying the land and bank finance for the actual build, the Ralphs set themselves an initial budget of £400,000. “We refinanced at the end of the works to reorganise the existing mortgage on our old home and the build loan, to give us a standard mortgage,” Teresa says.
“We have current build protection with our development company, which is with Fusion Insurance, and our 10-year structural warranty is with Build Zone.”
Managing the tight time schedule, the couple attribute the success of their build to investing in research and preparation. “I’d always advise any newcomer to self building to consider the choices they make, create a wish list and shop around for bargains,” says Anthony.
“Communicate with your trades, listen to their ideas, consider new sources of energy and construction materials, and share the end result with everyone involved in your build.”
Experienced in building from scratch, the Ralphs employed trusted contractors and tradespeople they’d worked with for 15 years and who understood their high standard.
“We build properties for a living, but when you create something that’s just for you, it’s quite a treat,” says Anthony. “Our design style is clean and simple and we chose tradespeople who liked working with the materials we used and who were enthusiastic about the design.”
Before the main house was tackled, the Ralphs first chose to build the garage pod to create a space where the trades could work and store materials. “Planning ahead really makes the difference with a self build project,” says Teresa.
The build was fairly straightforward, with the only hurdle being the removal of some enormous root structures left from dead trees. “All the trades worked well together and we ironed out any potential challenges with the engineers and timber frame contractors at the drawing stage,” she adds.
Minimal building materials simplify the external look of the structure, which is clad in black larch to add texture to the pod forms. Black is a bold colour, but it sits quietly within the plot and the established surrounding trees contrast and soften the lines of the building.
The interior has an open-plan layout and a light colour palette. “We wanted to have an industrial style, but with texture and warmth. A home has to have heart and soul,” Teresa says.
“The polished concrete floor in the open-plan family space is tough enough to withstand my son’s skateboard, but it’s softened by the inclusion of oak cabinets.”
The interior is divided into nine rooms over two floors, but the family enjoy the open-plan spaces that have been created. “My favourite is the huge living area with its central kitchen,” Teresa says. “It’s a magnet for social activity and the heart of our home. Underfloor heating keeps us warm in winter and has meant we don’t need radiators.”
To avoid a cavernous feel within the big open-plan area, the couple brought the kitchen further into the centre of the room and built a pod behind. “Adding this section introduces a natural divide and houses our utility room,” Teresa says.
“Another trick that makes a large space feel cosy is to include oversized furniture. Using different pendant lights also helps to define zones.”
Inspired by their internal polished concrete floors, the Ralphs chose concrete patios to provide a seamless surface from interior to exterior. There are three outdoor zones for entertaining and relaxing.
“The garden itself is quite private and we retained as many screening trees as we could,” says Teresa. “Choosing quick growing, low maintenance plants that are evergreen surrounds the building with lush greenery. A sedum roof on the day room adds to this softening technique as well as acting as an insulator.”
Entertaining spaces were high on the family’s wish list, so the garden design features a sunken fire pit and an outdoor seating area. “The children got involved with the design of their playhouse, which is attached to the annex,” says Teresa. “It was important for them to have input in the process.”
As it’s a seaside home, the Ralphs have installed an exterior shower for the family to use after a day at the beach. “A house has got to work for you and support your lifestyle,” says Teresa.
The Ralphs have settled into their new home and are adamant they’ll never move again. “Having spent so many years renovating and building houses to sell to others, I feel this house is the culmination of all our wish lists and design influences,” Teresa says.
“Our children revel in having friends to stay and they’ve spent happy evenings toasting marshmallows around the fire pit. My only regret is that we didn’t film the build with time-lapse photography, so we’d have a visual record of how we created this fabulous structure. Each morning we wake up and pinch ourselves that we made our dream home a reality.”