Designing and building a brand-new home is a huge accomplishment – it takes time, money, perseverance and a whole lot of planning. Therefore, having someone walk in and say ‘wow’ can feel like a full circle moment – recognising the effort and dedication it took to get there.
Although, balancing practicality with a striking design can sometimes feel daunting, and often when budgets are limited, the wow-factor ideas that are a little too costly will be the first to go. Designing these features in early will ensure that you’re able to bring them from planning to execution – but first you’ll need to gather some inspiration. So, where else is better to look than homes that have been awarded for their exceptional design, construction, and ability to realise wow-factor?
Now in its 11th year, the Build It Awards is the UK’s most prestigious, independently-judged scheme celebrating the best of self build and renovation. So, winning or being shortlisted for a Build It Award comes with an expert-backed seal of approval that can give you, the self builder, real confidence when specifying the best architects, designers, products and services for your home building project.
From wow-factor glazing to exposed brickwork, and unique roof designs to sculptural staircases, here I’m rewinding to the past four years of the Build It Awards and taking a look at 15 top striking design ideas to inspire your own self build project.
Paul Archer Design won the Build It Award for Best architect or designer for an extension project at the 2022 awards for Zucchi House, which included a double-height extension and an internal remodel. The original configuration meant the garden wasn’t accessible from the lower ground floor, so a primary goal of the brief was to ensure the outside space could be enjoyed from all levels.
The award-winning, wow-factor design opens up the house, allowing light to flow through. The upper ground floor houses a new family kitchen-dinner with a dropped ceiling and circular rooflights.
The lower ground floor features sliding partitions to allow the zone to be turned into guest accommodation. The rear elevation combines glass with Portland stone, wrapping up and around the extension.
Unagru took home the prize for Best Architect or Designer for a Renovation Project for their project ‘House for A Cellist’ at the 2022 Build It Awards.
The owner of the Victorian terraced house, a musician and scientist, wanted to create a bright home with a wow-factor, distinctive design. The circular skylight is a key feature that draws on the clients’ brief, bringing daylight deep into the floorplan.
A timber-clad, wedge-shaped amenity room cleverly enhances openness, creating a peaceful and naturally lit place for the owner to practice his cello. A sleek modern brick extension is fitted with large, minimally-framed glazed doors to connect inside and out.
Erica and Michael Hammill bought a derelict garage tucked away on a busy road and have transformed it into a spectacular contemporary home filled with unique details. “There were so many aspects that we liked, including cobbled floors, huge timber A-frames and beautiful old brick walls, but we saw its potential,” says Michael.
The property came with planning to convert, but the Hammills felt the outline didn’t maximise the building’s potential. They submitted a new application that turned the traditional proposal on its head – the living, kitchen and dining areas would be on the top floor to make the most of the interesting architectural features.
Many of the original beams and wall posts were rotten, but the main trusses were retained. The industrial brick walls were cracked in some areas but were secured, rebuilt and repointed to revive the industrial appeal.
The result is an exceptional, wow-factor home that truly blends industrial and contemporary styles perfectly. The couple took home the prize for Best Self Build or Renovation at the 2019 Awards.
Looking for more conversion ideas? Take a look at this collection of 25 Inspiring Conversion projects: Homes and Expert Tips for Success
David Jones of KAST Architects took home the award for Best Self Build Architect or Designer at the 2019 Build It Awards for the stunning Sylvania house. It’s a spacious home set in an area of local architectural merit, with grade II listed and award-winning homes on the doorstep. The pressure was on for KAST to deliver something that would be sympathetic to the surroundings but be a wow-factor addition to the landscape.
The result is a cantilevered structure, which almost floats among the canopy of trees. He successfully navigated the council’s planning criteria to produce a stunning building that respected the surroundings and protected the site’s trees, which were subject to a preservation order.
The house features two rectangular forms stacked perpendicularly, one over the other, and the internal spaces are upside-down – the bedrooms are downstairs and the main living spaces sit in the upper level.
Willowbrook was originally self built in 1981 and named after the plot’s surrounding trees and stream. Fast forward a few decades, and Paul Archer Design was commissioned to rejuvenate and extend it as a future-ready house.
The project oozes quality and invention with its fantastic use of brick. The design retained as much of the original brickwork as possible, carefully knitting this together with modern elements to achieve a truly stunning and seamless result. The project features Ibstock infill panels, London Stock second hand bricks from Selco, and Ketley blue engineering bricks from Travis Perkins – with reclaimed and reused units added into the mix to get the wow-factor finished result.
Winner of Best Accessible or Inclusive Home at the 2019 Build It Awards, Lynn Palmer Architects took home the trophy for Primrose Cottage, a renovation and extension to a listed 17th-century thatched cottage.
Despite the modern features of the extension, the finished home retains the character of the original cottage through clever architectural choices. The curved windows and wow-factor glulam trusses echo the curvature of the surrounding trees while the spans of glazing help to frame rural views.
The project also incorporates creative use of natural materials, such as cedar shingles, to deliver a unique dwelling that is sympathetic of its surroundings.
Arco2 Architecture took home the award for Best Eco Home at the 2019 Build It Awards. This homeowner adopted all manner of energy-conscious features to create a truly stunning, sustainable home with better-than-Passivhaus performance.
The wow factor feature of this home is its glazed roof, which sits atop a single-storey addition – helping the property to maximise its solar gain while making an effective design statement.
Although, weaved among its impressive design, the project proves that a great deal can be achieved through a resourceful attitude, whether that is using recycled materials, utilising limited space as efficiently as possible, or creating a home that harnesses natural energy sources.
Winner of Best Architect or Designer for a Renovation or Extension A’Bear & Ball Architects‘ Chapel House is a chapel conversion that features a stunning extension. The new addition is completely modern yet wonderfully sympathetic to the original building – both in terms of its form and the characterful finish.
The contextually-driven design involved removing some low-quality single storey extensions to reveal the facade’s original detailing. Care was put into restoring and enhancing the chapel’s ecclesiastical features inside and out.
Western Red cedar timber cladding and seamed metal cladding/roofing, both in a vertical pattern, form the palette of the new addition, which exudes an understated wow-factor. Subtle hints of red in the cedar complement the chapel’s brickwork, while the metal’s greys echo those of the natural slate roofing in a modern way.
Winner of Best Self Build or Renovation at the 2021 awards, Jan and Diana Thompson overcame numerous obstacles when they self built their dream home on an idyllic woodland plot. The new home boasts an upside-down layout maximises views, which are enjoyed through the wow-factor glazed gable at the front of the house. “There’s so much light and space; even the bedrooms downstairs are bright and cosy,” says Jan.
The house makes use of many sustainable details, including Passivhaus-standard airtightness and triple-glazing. An air source heat pump powers underfloor heating and MVHR ensures a fresh and ventilated environment.
Read More: Air Source Heat Pumps Explained
Winner of the Best Architect or Designer for a Self Build Project at the 2021 Build It Awards, Delphis, by Roderick James Architects has been designed into the hillside. The hero of this wow-factor coastal home is the central frameless glazed window – surrounded by laminated birch posts and with elegant, galvanised steel connections. This opens up views that greet you as soon as you enter the front door.
This is flanked by angled slimline sliding doors that lead out onto a spacious terrace with glass balcony to preserve the vistas – a popular feature of many coastal homes. The main roof oversails the huge windows to provide shade and protection to the wraparound balconies.
Unboxed Homes gained the title of Best custom build project or model at the 2021 Build It Awards for Blenheim Grove.
Located in Peckham Rye and designed by local architects Poulsom Middlehurst, Blenheim Grove is a custom build scheme with a difference. The five houses were offered as structural shells up to weathertight stage, with buyers able to choose their preferred route for the fit-out works.
However, we’ve noted this project due to its striking light brickwork, which makes a contemporary statement in this urban neighbourhood – bringing architectural significance while making a great impact on the custom build movement.
Glosford SIPs won the award for Best SIPs Home Fuggles Pocket at the 2021 Build It Awards. Warren Benbow Architects had to produce an exceptional design to secure planning consent for this spectacular project set in open countryside.
The resulting house consists of three hop kiln-style volumes set at different levels and angles, and ranging in height – making for a complex build. The owners also wanted to achieve high eco standards, use responsibly-sourced materials and procure as much of the project locally as possible.
All of the SIPs components were pre-cut in the factory; essential to realising such an intricate design. The scheme was a unique challenge for the install team. For instance, each of the vaulted hop kiln roofs was assembled on the ground on a prefabricated sole plate and lifted into position. Computer-controlled cutting ensured every compound angled joint fitted perfectly.
David Jones from KAST Architects won the Best Architect or designer for a renovation or extension with Milk Moon Barns, a fantastic conversion and extension of a collection of farm buildings.
Having been left to decay for generations, only the building’s stone walls were suitable for retention. So, wherever possible, KAST left these as they were found – with all new parts of the building clad in charred black timber boarding to sensitively distinguish old and new.
A new raised roof over the lower barn creates a generous light-filled kitchen-diner, while the pink tones of a plywood-lined staircase pick up on the original stonework. A frameless glazed link leads to the extension, where wow-factor sliding doors enable the family to soak up views.
Winner of the Best Oak Home our 2021 Awards, Andy and Sue Perrin had their hearts set on an oak frame to give their new conversion project a boost of architectural wow-factor.
“Right from our first sight of the barn, standing in the mud looking up at the leaky tin roof and moss-covered walls, a feature oak frame was always at the centre of our vision for what the building would become,” says Andy.
The couple chose Carpenter Oak for the building’s structure, and the meticulously planned project includes impressive features such as a criss-cross, diagonal roof beam in the central bay, complex dragon-tie corners and a beautiful lighting scheme to set the frame off.
More Inspiration: Oak Frame Truss Types & Design Ideas
Orme Architecture won the award for Best Architect or Designer for A Self Build Project with Somerset Gate. Orme was involved from inception to completion, creating a three-bedroom dwelling surrounded by trees to help root the house to its site.
The modest project’s angled wings and playful upside-down living arrangement open up views across the landscape, while a curved floorplan and sculptural staircase elevates the design significantly to create a wow-factor home.
Planning your staircase? Read our guide to Staircase Costs 2023: What to Budget for the Best Stair Designs