01 Mar 2017

Self-build caters to the needs of a family and business in Aberdeen


In search of something different, Steph and Hugh Craigie utilised their industry experience to navigate their way through planning restrictions and conceptualise a contemporary family home in Aberdeen.


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After consulting the local authority planners in the area who wanted the building to be either traditional or more contemporary, rather than a run-of-the-mill suburban design, the couple decided on a contemporary look for their new home.

Steph Craigie explains: “We recognised that it was unlikely we were going to be able to find what we wanted, in the area where we wanted to live within our budget. We both work in the construction industry and so also thought we could add value along the way.”

Steph continues: “We had played a fairly significant role in the design of our previous house and so we had a good idea of what we wanted and what needed tweaking from before. We liked our old house but it just wasn’t in the right location for us anymore so this gave us a great starting point for the new plans.

“Unfortunately, sites in our desired area are few and far between. We had bid and missed out on one, and on the back of this disappointment we chose to make contact with the person who had just bought the farm that our site was part of and enquired whether they would be interested in selling the site to us.

“After a protracted negotiation, the deal was eventually done off the market. We had to push ourselves to the maximum financially to buy the site, but we knew it was a chance that would not come around again.”

Despite feeling the financial pressure very early on, the couple were determined to make the project work. The site ticked all the boxes. It was located near their children’s school, was in the correct catchment area for their desired senior school, was an ideal size for their needs and also one street over from Hugh’s parents. Steph comments: “In the end, we were lucky we didn’t buy the other site.” Initial resistance from the planning department had a bearing on the final design for the house. However, the couple enlisted the help of an architect to work to a design that met everyone’s needs.

“Once planning was gained, he then took a back seat and largely left us to it,” explains Steph. “I was principally the site agent for the job albeit we had several excellent tradesmen who we knew we could trust and who did a great job for us.

“We found that the biggest challenge throughout the process was time. Hugh is the Joint Managing Director of his firm and I run my own kitchen and bathroom business and so all of this whilst being parents to twins, Jack and Hannah, aged nine, was extremely demanding.”

Steph and Hugh’s vision for the property was a modern, highly-insulated contemporary home. They chose a Scotframe Val-U-Therm kit as the mode of construction and for the external surface treatment, the couple selected K-Rend smooth cement render and Trespa Pura NFC cladding. “The architect’s design called for wood linings and whilst we loved the look, we didn’t want the maintenance issue, plus Hugh didn’t like the grey uneven discolouring of cedar linings,” explains Steph.

She continues: “Many hours were spent searching for something suitable and eventually Hugh stumbled across the Trespa product online. I called to find the Trespa Pura NFC product was very new to the UK market, but we soon had our hands on samples and it was immediately clear to us that this was the product we were looking for. We opted for the Aged Ash colourway. It’s great to think this finish will remain the same as it is today for many years to come. Our joiner liked it too and also now has it on his house!”

With the future in mind, the couple have created a home that provides plenty of space – not just for the family to enjoy quality time together, it accommodates their business needs too. Steph explains: “Split over three levels, our home benefits from large open-plan living and a spacious kitchen and dining area, but it also offers private space for us all when we need time on our own. I work from home and so needed to incorporate both an office area and storage space.”

Whilst being an impressive size, the couple have managed to blend the property well into its surroundings. As the site is on a slope, the couple took the time to bench the house into the site and this again helped reduce the visual impact of the house.

“The garden is yet to be tackled,” explains Steph, “but I anticipate this will further soften the impact of the house as the planting matures in time. The bulk of the garden will be laid to lawn. Our son, Jack, is a very keen footballer so a football ‘pitch’ was always going to be a garden essential. In the meantime, an outside deck – which should prove to be a suntrap in the summer – has been built with composite decking boards. Hugh built a hard wood deck in a previous house which we loved but it could get very slippery if it wasn’t carefully maintained. The composite decking is a great compromise and we are delighted with how it looks and performs. We are all looking forward to the summer as we will be able to host barbeques for all our friends and family.

“The build took just under a year to complete. It did take a little longer than we originally hoped but our original budget was quite ambitious.” This wasn’t the only target the couple underestimated, as Steph explains further: “Our budget was blown very early on with the site cost ending up to be significantly above our budget. Had the site not been so perfect for us, we would have had to walk away but we knew we couldn’t let this site go. We were fortunate that Hugh’s parents were able to assist us financially and this allowed us to complete the house to the specification we wanted.

“We wouldn’t say we had any unexpected costs, but the revised house design following the planner’s input was undoubtedly less efficient, cost wise. It also saw us having a lot of expensive cladding and this certainly cost a lot more than we had envisioned at the outset. I have to say though, it was worth every penny as it looks fantastic!”

Friends and family are certainly of the same opinion, as Steph reveals: “Everyone who has spoken to us seems to like the house and we have been pleased with the reactions we have received from our friends and family.”

In spite of the ups and downs, the family have certainly accomplished what they had set out to achieve – something different, and it hasn’t even deterred them from taking on another self-build. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we tackled another house build in the future, but we certainly have no intentions to embark on such a journey any time soon,” remarks Steph. “Our home is everything we had hoped it would be and more. The internal space we have is fantastic and as the garden matures I am sure the outside space will be equally important to us as a family. Living closer to our friends and family, to the kids’ school and their activities, and Hugh’s work all have had a beneficial impact on our family lifestyle.” Offering some final thoughts to self-builders about to embark on their own project, Steph advises: “Go for it, but only go down the self-managed route if you have construction experience. If you don’t, then ensure you have good advice/support on tap.”

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