The strangest things can delay a building project. Here in Clapham, south London, the start date for our Arts and Crafts ecohouse got knocked back a few weeks thanks to a flurry of activity in the Gothic pile up the road in Westminster: the government’s amendment to the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) regulations. We were due to pay £3300 as soon as we started on site, so it was obviously worth waiting for the exemption for self-builders to get approved.
A bit more time before everything kicks off has not been unwelcome. It’s an incontrovertible rule of self-build that the more time you spend early on designing and specifying the interior of your house, the less likely you are to be overwhelmed by an avalanche of decisions at just the point in the build when your energy and resources are beginning to flag.
I’ve not only been specifying, I’ve also been constructing. True to the Arts and Crafts ethos of the project, I want to be directly involved in the creation of all the details of the building, so I have been training as a furniture maker over the last year at the Furniture Craft School in Kent. A little training goes a long way: although I haven’t been at it long, I have gained the confidence and skills to design and build the interiors of The Orchard. Last week I added the final cabinet of our future kitchen to the stack piling up in a shed next to the workshop, awaiting a house to go in.
As a designer-maker, I have the freedom to make exactly what I want while also enjoying the sheer pleasure of making stuff: cabinets, doors, drawers – the lot. I have been using a combination of walnut and sycamore finishes, woods that are respectively dark and light but share the same colour palette and so look good together. I’ve put a lot of effort into lining up the patterns in the veneers to ensure a five-star look.
Needless to say, we don’t want to spoil this look with three-star appliances and fittings, so I have also been busy specifying these. Given how much time we expect to spend in the kitchen – a lot – the priorities here are good design, durability and energy efficiency. Like the house as a whole, we want the appliances to provide for our needs effectively using the minimum amount of energy.
The energy efficiency of kitchen appliances has improved dramatically in the last ten years, driven in part by the colourful A-G energy labels. However these labels are now incredibly misleading as the minimum standard is A+ for fridges, freezers, washing machines and dishwashers. The top ranking is A+++. Which? conducts its own independent tests of appliances and awards its Energy Saver badge to the most efficient, so this is a good place to go for information if you want the lowest possible bills.
It’s good to have made progress with the kitchen because it lies right at the heart of The Orchard’s ecosystem. The house will be surrounded by fruit trees and green vegetables, which we will harvest throughout the year, storing a good deal in the porch-cum-larder at the front of the building. In the kitchen, all this produce will get transformed into fabulous dinners using our efficient appliances and the electricity generated on our roof. The fruit and vegetable peelings will be added to the compost bins in the back garden to create a nutritious mulch for our soil, where the fruit trees begin the cycle again. Right at the back of the site, away from the footprint of our house, I have just planted some bare-rooted fruit trees from RV Roger in Yorkshire: cherries, apricots, damsons, greengages and plums. The ecosystem starts here.