For more than 20 years, Micky Jewell and his family lived in a 1930s semi-detached house in the centre of Cambridge.
The couple have five children of their own, in addition to fostering 10 others, so over time that three bedroom home expanded into a seven bedroom property.
Eventually, the time came to move – but they couldn’t find the sort of open-plan property they wanted at a suitable size.
Micky was keen on the idea of designing his own house and, with Sian enthusiastically agreeing, they decided to take the plunge.
“Our family consists of many children and two Great Danes, so we decided to find a plot and build our own,” he says.
Micky runs a development company and used to work in the self build industry, designing timber frame houses – so it’s little wonder he was attracted to this route. “With its flexibility and highly efficient insulation properties, timber is my true love,” he says.
Modern systems are much quicker to build with compared to masonry construction, while offering similar price point.
“They’ve really come down in price over the past 30 years, as the market becomes more aware and competition increases. Many major developers opt for engineered timber frame solutions these days,” he adds.
The couple hit upon their ideal opportunity in December 2016 – the same month they sold their 1930s semi – when architect Nick Gallier of Bauen Design guided them towards a 0.12-acre site. The land was part of a serviced custom build development that had been earmarked for 11 self build houses in total.
“It was the perfect location for us, being rural but on the edge of Peterborough, with schooling, amenities and leisure facilities close by,” says Micky.
“There’s an old stone barn at the entrance, and our house is a one-of-a-kind within a collection of private plots, sold on a parcel of land at the back of a larger estate of new builds.”
The Jewells designed the open-plan home themselves, starting from an initial template and palette of materials, with timber frame engineering by the specialists at Taylor Lane.
“Nick at Bauen Design advised on interior layouts, additions and futureproofing, as well as securing planning permission for our revised scheme,” says Micky.
Initially, the couple were restricted to a predetermined footprint for their project, as the 11-plot site had overall planning for quite a fixed scheme.
This was one of several conditions imposed by the council, which was keen to avoid too many houses being squeezed onto the wider site (as per many larger developments).
“We compromised on the kitchen area – knowing that we could extend this part of the house at a later date,” says Micky, who is very pleased with the finished layout.
“We made provision for the kitchen foundations there and then, so the future extension would be easy to build with an accessible ‘breakthrough’ worked into the engineered design.” The plan worked: the addition, which required its own planning application, took just six weeks in the summer of 2020.
All the requisite consents came in very swiftly, and the couple were ready to build just a couple of months after buying the plot. “We rented a house a mile away and started work on the new timber frame property on 10th February 2017. It was actually on Sian’s birthday, which we thought a good omen,” says Micky.
Incredibly, after a smooth 22-week build, including the hard and soft landscaping, they were able to move in on 24th July. “To many people’s amusement, the landscaping was complete before the house,” says Micky. “Scaffolders, please mind the lawn!”.
About 90% of the build was completed by Micky, stepsons Robbie and Tom, his own sons Ellis and Owen, along with various friends in the trade – all of whom still form part of his trusted team of contractors for his property development businesses. “Sian joined in, too, laying some of the roof tiles,” says Micky.
Externally, the house is finished with fibre-cement slates on the upper floor walls and roof, with Siberian larch cladding on the lower storey.
“It’s a really nice timber to work with, as it’s high-quality, consistent in grain and you don’t have to treat it,” says Micky. “Plus, it lasts forever.”
The fibre-cement slates feature a mix of recycled and reconstituted material to boost sustainability.
Micky designed the porch area himself; providing a stylish shaded, rain-sheltered spot when entering the house.
Both this and the front door are bespoke-made in aluminium, as are the guttering and fascia boards, all sprayed in anthracite grey (RAL colour 7016). “I like aluminium for its clean lines and workability.”
Achieving an efficient eco home was a major goal for the Jewells. Supplied and engineered by Taylor Lane, the timber frame shell features Douglas fir posts and beams.
It’s been super-insulated with two layers of 150mm-thick rigid PIR (polyisocyanurate) boards in the walls and roof.
This has been complemented with solar panels, a sedum roof, triple glazing, an air source heat pump (ASHP) and a mechanical ventilation and heat recovery (MVHR) system. “It’s a highly efficient building, with an EPC (Energy Performance Certificate) of 93,” says Micky.
The MVHR expels stale air from the kitchen, bathrooms and laundry, capturing any warmth and recycling it to pre-heat the incoming fresh, filtered supply.
This minimises dust and germs, while reducing the load on the space heating system (powered by that ASHP).
“We have so much insulation, the house doesn’t need much heating,” says Micky. As there are so many bathrooms, however, he also decided to install a mains gas boiler, which supplies the family’s domestic hot water (for taps, showers etc).
The house’s engine room is located up in the loft, and is accessed from a space-saving staircase in one of the bedrooms.
This plant zone contains the boiler, MVHR unit, air conditioning system and a horizontal, torpedo-type unvented water storage tank – as well as the solar panel inverter and the central hub for the WiFi and digital TV. The heating and hot water also run to the annexe.
As well as simplifying installation, this setup ensures efficient distribution and venting, along with easy access for maintenance.
For the Jewells, the one desirable eco feature their home lacks is a full rainwater harvesting system (although they have managed to install a small 200L setup for garden use).
“The council would not permit the underground water storage tank, as the site was previously a Fletton brickworks, so they were worried about contamination,” says Micky.
This issue also meant the couple had to use specific type of barrier pipe, which prevents external contamination ingress, to bring water into the house.
Another requirement from the planners was to install bat boxes. “The old stone barn behind our house is a bat haven,” says Micky. “We put up three boxes and have actually seen the creatures inside them.”
The plot sits on the edge of a nature reserve, but close to the city, so wildlife is abundant in the garden and on the green adjacent to the development – making it a lovely place to be.
At right angles to the rear of the house is an annexe, which is accessible from the garden via a set of industrial-style galvanised steel stairs. It was built at the same time as the main house, and in the same style, and consists of a garage with studio and gym above.
The space is currently allocated for a study area, Micky’s office, Sian’s jewellery workshop and even includes an electric drumkit and DJ decks. It also doubles as an occasional guest bedroom.
“The annexe overlooks the garden and faces south, so the light is magnificent for creativity,” says Micky.
Two years after moving in, Micky and his team began building the single-storey, 14m2 kitchen extension. “We incorporated the existing room, flowing this into the new zone, which is now mainly an eating area,” he says. “It’s an amazing space and we spend a lot of time in this new air-conditioned zone.”
Above the extension, the couple added a first floor terraced garden balcony, which leads off from one of the bedrooms. “It’s great for sitting out and drinking coffee in the morning sun,” says Micky.
The couple recycled the old kitchen cabinets for other projects and installed a new Howdens design. The solid oak flooring was repurposed, too; Micky suggests using engineered boards if you do want timber in this part of your home.
In this case, the Jewells chose to extend the ground floor porcelain tiles, which are designed to look like polished concrete, into the new kitchen.
The finished open-plan ground floor has given this busy family, and the two dogs, their ideal living space. Everyone is able to spend quality time together in the common areas, but also has their own private room to retreat to. “It’s amazing how much time our teenagers spend down here with us,” says Micky.