While the multigenerational plot was initially intended to be a weekend retreat for Victoria, Tom and the children, the family quickly fell in love with the design that Adams+Collingwood developed and took the decision to move from London. With a 39-minute rail connection to Waterloo, Tom can commute to his job in Canary Wharf almost as quickly as he could from Islington.
Val and Mark found the plot and almost instantly fell for the idyllic rural setting, having already sold their house and renting while looking for land. They had lived in Hampshire for decades, and Victoria had grown up there.
Commenting on the start of her self-build journey, Val explained: “We looked at a range of existing properties, but none of them provided what we wanted. We carried on looking, then happened across the perfect plot for a self-build project almost by accident. The plot was too big for just one home, so we began developing plans for two, and that’s when the idea of a multigenerational family project began to take shape. We got planning in principle advice for two homes and decided to take a chance. Affordability came into play then as well – one plot of land bought between two families provides an obvious saving.”
The whole family quickly became inspired by the idea of sustainable living, concealed in nature, and decided they would all live on the same plot. “The natural setting was a real inspiration,” said Val, “as was Mark’s passion for sustainability and Tom’s love of architecture – it truly was the perfect combination.
“The planning permission process went smoothly. Adams+Collingwood navigated the planning process with ease. There were several pre-planning applications, with negotiations centring on moving the sides and scale. The team worked closely with the planning officer and went to the architect’s board first due to the contemporary nature of the build. Altogether, the whole process took just under three years from the appointment of Adams+Collingwood.
“We used Adams+Collingwood to project manage the build, although we were closely involved. Tom took the lead on driving forward the contemporary style for the larger home – he loves modern architecture and design, so we all ended up running our purchases past him as part of the build management!
“Tamsin at Adams+Collingwood and her team were just fantastic. They allowed our ideas to take shape in ways that we would never have imagined. They were also great at managing all of our input and ensuring that everyone had a voice while still creating homes that had a consistent design!”
Designing for sustainability
Val added: “We worked closely with Adams+Collingwood when it came to finalising the design brief. We explained what was important to us, and they took our ideas and created two outstanding designs. They decided to use the same materials but to interpret them in different ways for each home, which we loved. It means that there is a lovely dialogue between the two properties, while each has its own distinctive character.”
Sustainability was an essential requirement for the family, as Val explains: “We wanted the homes to be as eco-friendly as possible. That meant using local materials and firms, as well as implementing a range of environmentally-conscious features. We have ground source heat pumps instead of gas supply, with wood-burning stoves in case we need extra warmth in winter. Fallen branches for the 100 or so trees that line the plot of land provide plenty of fuel for them. That said, the houses are so well-insulated that we can go for days without using the heating once they’re up to temperature.
“We opted for zinc rooves and windows and untreated cedar for the wood panelling, meaning that they don’t need repainting. There are also solar panels on the roof and rainwater harvesters for the garden. Every element was considered from a sustainability perspective.”
Sustainability was at the heart of many of the family’s decisions when it came to materials, but the architect’s board also played a role. They pushed for contemporary materials, to suit the modern nature of the designs. As such, plans changed from the original idea of red brick and oak to more contemporary materials, such as untreated cedar. The use of the same materials for both houses has helped to ensure a lovely flow and deliver a modern style.
Val explains: “In terms of other products, we sought advice from Adams+Collingwood and also Tom, who became our ‘de facto’ lead on all things purchase-related!”
When asked if she opted for renewable systems, Val responded: “Yes, absolutely. The heat pumps are very eco-friendly. They cost about £6000 each but are very cost-effective in the long run – particularly when factoring in the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI). “We also opted for solar panels on the roof, to add to the properties’ environmental credentials. Although AECB certification wasn’t a requirement, the houses employ the ‘Silver Standard’ ethos for sustainable homes.
“What’s more, the houses have a fabric first approach, following Passivhaus principles, and the insulation thicknesses are based on Passivhaus values. In essence, we took the principles of Passivhaus and applied them to our design. However, we had to adapt to suit the skills of the local builder and his tradesmen.”
The final site
Today, the two south-facing houses sit on the same northern axis, framed by a mature treeline and opening out onto the family’s picturesque pasture to the south.
The larger property – occupied by Victoria, Tom and their children – boasts an open-plan kitchen/dining room/lounge that runs the length of the property and features floor-to-ceiling, retractable glass. The home, with its contemporary mono-pitch roof, was designed to provide a social gathering space for the parents and children, as well as their friends and extended family.
Victoria comments: “We probably spend 99% of our waking hours in the kitchen/lounge/diner. The fact that the whole south side of the room is glass makes it feel like we’re outside and being able to slide the panels back during nice weather is ideal for an indoor/outdoor living experience. The space is perfect for entertaining while also feeling cosy enough for quiet family meals.”
The smaller of the two houses, which is home to Val and Mark, is a cosy, quiet retreat with a traditional pitched roof. It also features extensive glasswork along the south wall, providing a light, airy feel and a sense of connection with the pasture.
“The surrounding landscape is a celebration of nature, from the gently sloping pasture to the mature trees that border the plot,” says Val. “The extensive glasswork provides for a sense of the natural environment even indoors, while the emphasis on sustainable materials means that the homes are in harmony with nature so far as possible. Mark, in particular, delights in being surrounded by the sound of birdsong and rustling trees.
“We wanted large terraces that worked as a natural extension to the internal space and flowed into the pasture beyond, which is precisely what Adams+Collingwood delivered.
“In terms of the pasture itself, very little needed doing. The land is a beautiful, natural space and the mature trees that line the plot frame it beautifully. We took expert advice from a local independent garden centre, Hortus Loci, who advised appropriate plants for the soil and location. It’s currently a work in progress, but all plants have been sourced to reflect the contemporary houses, materials and beautiful pasture.
“We complemented the external space with a custom-built oak table from my nephew, Harry Baker the Cabinet Maker (who also made our dining table). It’s a beautiful contemporary design that perfectly suits the space.
“The locals have all responded positively to the new builds. All the houses on Hillside are pretty different so having two contemporary houses add to the eclectic mix.”
When asked if the property is everything she hoped it would be, Val answered: “Everything and more. Our hopes evolved and took shape along with the project, with Adams+Collingwood guiding our growing excitement along the way! Not only did the design end up exceeding our expectations, but the incorporation of so many eco-friendly features was fantastic.
“It’s great having the grandchildren living just next door. I was slightly worried that the family would be in each other’s pockets, but that hasn’t happened at all. Everyone has their own space, while also having plenty of room for spending time together. “As for the house itself, I love the simple, open design that delivers on every level. My favourite room is the open-plan kitchen/diner – I love the light, airy aspect of the space.”
When asked if she would do it all again, Val commented: “Never say never. Victoria is already considering a similar project in France (Tom’s homeland) at some point in the future!” Val’s advice for other self-builders is to: “Plan and research thoroughly, And use a builder that you can trust! Doing so means that you can keep incredibly tight control over what you spend.”