13 Feb 2018

It was always Terry and Mickey’s dream to build a home on land they owned behind their house

It was Terry and Mickey’s dream to build a home on land they owned behind their house near Greenwich in South East London, so when they saw an episode of Grand Designs featuring a Facit home the penny dropped.

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Originally, the couple had wanted to build on top of Mickey’s studio, which they had built on the site 26 years ago; soon after purchasing the plot.

Terry explains: “We bought the house and the plot back in 1991. It was an end-of-terrace house with a large patch of land behind it on which we could build what we wanted. At the time, we decided to create a studio for my wife, Mickey, who is a Printmaker and Artist and a garage for me as, back then, we were into competitive off-road driving and needed a garage where we could repair the car.

“But over the course of the years, we realised that being in the studio down the bottom of the garden was really nice.

“It’s a big garden that goes behind the other houses in the road, up to the corner of the street and then to the next eight houses in the adjacent street, so it’s a big patch of land that all belongs to this end-of-terrace house. It’s a really unusual property and you access it by driving through a driveway that goes under a house – similar to a gatehouse – so that’s where we lived. Through the course of using the studio that we’d built, which was like a little industrial unit, we realised how nice it was down the back of the garden. It was like being in the countryside because we border a park (the old nurseries to the park are on two sides of the plot) and because it’s on a hillside you can’t see any of the other houses on the street from there so it really is like being somewhere else, it’s not like being in London at all. It’s quiet, we can hear the birds singing, there’s lots of wildlife outside and it’s just really nice. So we thought it would be nice if we could build on top of the studio, and that was an idea that I had been pursuing for a while. I thought we’d never get planning permission and when I realised we probably could, I considered the difficulty of access to the site because everything would have to come in through the tunnel on the street. One time, I explored the idea of getting a pre-fabricated wooden building that we could put on top of the studio and I approached a firm in Cornwall, however, they advised they all come in complete units with each unit weighing between 12 and 14 tonnes, meaning it would have to be craned onto the site. The company said you can hire cranes large enough to lift to the height it would need reach but they are enormous and expensive. And, it would ruin the economics of the project, so they declined to put the place up for us.

“Then, years later I was watching Grand Designs and we saw this project by Facit.

“Facit said yes it could be done but we’d have to knock down the outbuilding that we’d already built.”

The two buildings would have been very different both in construction and performance so, after much discussion, it was agreed that it would be better to knock down the studio and start again.

“I decided to think about it for three months. It’s a hard thing to do; to knock down something you’ve already built to build it again so it took us about three months to bite the bullet on that and I came to the conclusion that Facit was probably right!”.

The Facit team worked with Terry and Mickey to understand what they wanted from the house, the size and use of each room to suit their lifestyle and one that would have architectural merit and sit well in its environment. The two-storey, 220m² home comprises a large studio room and separate study on the second floor along with a second bedroom, while the master bedroom and spacious living/kitchen-dining room is on the ground floor.

“We haven’t gone to the extent of saying we want somewhere we can put a lift when we can't manage the stairs, but we have made sure all the living arrangements are on the ground floor, so when we reach the age where we can't use the stairs anymore; everything is on one level. So to that extent, it's future-proofed.

“The process was all just a long time maturing, the gradual realisation that we’ve got a lovely site and that it would be nice to live on it and then finding the right method of construction where we can overcome the difficulties of the site took time.

“Another difficulty of the site is, of course, because we are next to the park, along the edge of the park is a line of trees, so we were building right up underneath them. In order to preserve the ecological approach, we had to come up with a method of building that would cause minimal damage to the trees, so the house stands on screw piles, which means it's much less disruptive to tree roots compared to a more traditional foundation.

“The screw piles go down about 5m, through bedrock, and the house is built on top of these pads that go on top of the screw piles. It’s a brilliant system of building because it causes absolutely minimal disturbance to the ground and the trees. The house is fabricated from plywood and what’s amazing is from starting the demolition and clearance to having the entire framework of the house up and watertight, was only eight weeks – including two weeks off for Christmas and New Year! So it was a very, very fast build. It’s when you start on the interior that it all slows it down.”

Terry and Mickey will be spending most of their time in the studio so it made sense to be the room with the view. Situated under two lime trees, the exterior is clad in a timber rainscreen coated with a dark stain to reduce the visual impact of the building from the park and reduce the need for ongoing cleaning caused by the dark-coloured sap released from the trees.

Their home has also been designed to make the most of solar gain to heat the house during the winter months and the mature trees to the south of the property will provide shading from direct sunlight during the summer. “I think the energy efficiency is what I like about it the most; our energy bills have dropped right down. It's just a huge change from the old house and that’s a huge plus.”

The new home is much lighter than their previous Victorian terraced property, featuring bigger south-facing windows and a largely white or light grey interior to enhance the airy feel. Terry has asthma so the couple’s new home is carpet- and curtain-free with a composite concrete tile floor, thus reducing dust. They are now enjoying their new super-insulated “home for life” set amongst the trees with views of their much-loved park.

When asked for advice for other budding home-builders, Terry replied: “I would say don’t hesitate, just go ahead and do it; seize the opportunity by the hands once you’ve found your plot.

“I’m really not sure if there is anything I would do differently because it was the house that we wanted right from the beginning and it still is the house of our dreams.”

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