17 Mar 2022

A Mid-Century Modern Masterpiece

Emma and Neil Jenkins, who work in contemporary design and wellbeing solutions respectively, commissioned John Wilson of Foundation Architects to create a family home full of environmentally-friendly features.

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The couple, who have two children, bought a run-down bungalow dating back to the 1970s, which they lived in for 18 months while they prepared to build their dream home on the plot, in a small village near Guildford in Surrey.

The site is in a conservation area in the green belt. It has Grade II Listed buildings for neighbours, so planning was complex, especially as the Jenkins wanted to build a different design than the dwelling the council had approved with the original permission. They worked closely with the architect on an alternative design that met all the couple’s needs, as well as the council’s stipulations.

One of the buildings nearby is a converted set of barns, meaning the precedent for this type of development was already set. Foundation Architects designed a T-shaped building with Western red cedar cladding on one element and Neolife on the other section. This eco-friendly composite cladding, made from 80% wood fibre, is just one of several sustainable design features Emma and Neil chose to incorporate into their home.

Here, i-Build’s Editor, Rebecca Kemp, talks to Emma about her and Neil’s beautifully-designed four-storey home.

RK: What inspired you to embark on your own project?
EJ: We both wanted to build our forever home. We’d been looking for our next move for over a year after getting fed up with the busy road we used to back on to. But everything we saw in our budget had something we didn’t like. You had to spend a crazy amount of money to buy the house and then still end up putting in a new kitchen and/or bathrooms or redesigning parts of it. So, we concluded that we should design and build from scratch.

RK: What was the vision and inspiration behind your new home?
EJ: We wanted it to be flooded with light, to be both modern and timeless and to have easy access to the garden. We didn’t need it to be big, but we wanted it to feel spacious and use the space in the right areas. And I wanted it to be warm! Having mostly lived in period properties, I was fed up with constantly feeling cold.

RK: How did you approach finalising your design brief?
EJ: Our architect produced two completely different designs based on our brief. Neil loved one with vast expanses of glass and a large flat roof, whereas I liked the other design that resembled two barn-shaped buildings joined together by a glass atrium. We didn’t really like each other’s designs at all. So, we worked with the architect to bring the favourite aspects of both designs together to create an entirely new design that we both loved. We also asked him to change the chimney block into a curve which we feel is a standout feature of the final design.

RK: Did your project need to cater for any special requirements?
EJ: We wanted to be able to both work from home comfortably – which turned out to be more necessary than ever with the ongoing 2021 lockdowns. We also wanted to see the river from our bedroom window (you can – just about!). Furthermore, we wanted a healthy home that would help improve eczema and hayfever, which we have in the family. And finally, we wanted to create a blank canvas for our Mid-Century furniture collection from our retail business, Couch Potato Company.

RK: How long did it take to gain planning permission?
EJ: We lived in the bungalow for 18 months whilst we found the right architect and building contractor and gained planning permission. We bought the place with planning permission to demolish and replace it with a new build. But we didn’t like the building that had been designed; hence we had to go back to the drawing board and back for a new complete planning application. The whole planning process took about 10 months. The planning constraints meant that we couldn’t build a large, full-height house with a loft, even though the plot is big enough to take this. So, our bedrooms go up to roof level, and we don’t have an attic. But we designed ample storage cupboards, which means everything is easily accessible. I don’t miss the loft at all – you have to be quite ruthless about what you keep, which is good as I’m a bit of a hoarder!

RK: Were there any challenging aspects to the project and build?
EJ: Initially, the challenge was to create a design that the planners would accept. Previously, it took nearly two years to get the original planning permission. We live in a conservation area, and several Grade II Listed buildings are nearby. But we didn’t want to imitate anything old or create ‘mock’. Once we started building, the main challenge was the global pandemic forcing shortages of materials and lockdowns, causing the site to close for a while.

RK: Did you install any renewable systems?
EJ: Yes, we installed a mechanical ventilation with heat recovery (MVHR) system and an air source heat pump (ASHP). We also included several items for health and wellbeing from our Welltek business, including air purifiers, smart green walls, a soundproof phone booth and a relaxation pod.

RK: How long did the project take?
EJ: It took 14 months, which was about five months longer than the builder had predicted, primarily due to COVID delays and lockdowns. It’s a timber frame build hence the shorter expected timeframe.

RK: Did you remain within the original budget?
EJ: We overspent the original budget by about 25%. Partly due to higher material costs because of coronavirus, we also decided to spend more in certain areas (flooring, bathrooms and kitchen), and we hadn’t budgeted for external hard standing/tiling as carefully as the inside of the house.

RK: Please provide an overview of the finished space.
EJ: The design is made up of two buildings in a T-shape. We clad the top of the T-shape in Western red cedar, applied horizontally. The bottom of the T is covered in a product called Neolife, a composite cladding we’d seen at a design show. We like its modern, clean lines with a shadow gap and its eco-credentials as it’s made mostly from timber waste. We chose to use it vertically. In black, it feels like a modern take on traditional black wooden cladding on some barns. We like the contrast between the two types of cladding. We chose to apply a UV filter to the cedar cladding to prevent it weathering as we feel this works well as a contrast to the black cladding and stops the whole building from being grey and black. The roof is zinc in dark grey.

I was conscious of not going too modern with the interior as I didn’t want it to date. I wanted to have a modern yet timeless scheme that would last the distance. I chose a consistent colour palette of white, oak/cedar and black throughout most of the house. This, combined with the wide expanse of glass and its spacious feel, is an excellent backdrop for our Mid-Century furniture, which we have collected over the years. We chose to have some fun with the smaller rooms. For example, the snug and the downstairs loo have feature wallpapers that we imported from the US. The main living area is a 13m-long, open-plan space featuring two double-height regions at both ends that house the kitchen and lounge. There is a lower section in the middle for dining. We clad the ceiling and back wall of the dining area with thin strips of cedarwood to help zone the space and make it more intimate.

RK: What’s your favourite hing about your new home?
EJ: In general, it’s the feeling of space and light, e.g. shapes cast from the round windows at different times of the day. We love the turret; it really adds interest to the house. Internally, it would have to be the ribbon of cedar cladding on the wall and ceiling in the dining area of the main room.

RK: What was your vision for the exterior/landscaping?
EJ: We want to keep an ample, open space to look out on and for the boys to kick a ball and be active outside. Nearer the house, we have installed Millboard composite decking. This will be the base for a chillout area and for entertaining.

RK: What advice would you offer to anyone looking to self-build?
EJ: Do lots of research. Speak to several different architects and builders. Before committing to either, ask to see their work and speak to their previous clients. As well as liking their designs, you need to understand how they approach their work and if you think you can get on with them. Online tools, like Instagram and Pinterest, are great sources of inspiration for design, suppliers, materials and finishes.

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