23 Sep 2022

The Self Build Diaries: Nicky and Paul Duffin

Having worked with self-builders using timber-frame construction methods throughout his entire career, Paul Duffin was well aware of the financial benefits of building your own home. So, when the opportunity arose for Paul and his wife, Nicky, to construct their own property, they knew exactly how to approach the project.


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In this Q&A, i-Build’s Editor, Rebecca Kemp, talks to Nicky about her and Paul’s self-build journey and how they went from plans to design and build stages.

RK: What was the vision and inspiration behind your new home?
ND: The plot had existing planning for the style of house that we wanted. We took a lot of inspiration from homes on Instagram and self-build magazines. We envisaged a spacious, airy, neutral home with elegant, luxury design features.

RK: How did you approach finalising your design brief?
ND: We took all our ideas and designed them into the planning application to modify the existing plans. With Paul’s design experience, we were able to do this ourselves and submitted the planning application without the need for architects.

RK: How and why did you choose this plot?
ND: We had achieved planning on another local plot, which, unfortunately, could not go ahead due to a covenant on the site. We were lucky enough to gain the option of our current location through word of mouth. We had already sold our home and had the finances to buy the plot quickly. So, we jumped at the chance, which all happened within about two months.

The plot already had planning permission, but we had to submit another full application as we made significant changes. The process took about 18 weeks as delays were caused by COVID.

RK: Were there any challenging aspects to the project and build?
ND: Our primary challenge was getting contractors to the site, and we encountered several delays waiting for them to commit to dates. With Paul’s knowledge of self-building, we had a greater understanding of what needed to be done than perhaps an inexperienced person may have had.

RK: Did you project manage the build yourself?
ND: We did project manage ourselves, which was not easy. We weren’t always the most efficient, but it did have a financial advantage.

RK: How did you approach material and product specification?
ND: The timber-frame kit was purchased from Paul’s current employer. However, for all other materials, we contacted many companies and building suppliers for samples and took our time deciding to ensure we achieved the look we wanted. We visited several window companies and obtained contacts through the self-build community on Instagram.

RK: How long did the project take?
ND: We completed the groundworks over winter at a slow pace. We had a timber-frame kit delivery date of April 2021 as we had to wait for the access road to be completed. Once the kit was on site, the progress was relatively fast, and we were able to move in during January 2022. The house was not finished but liveable, and the final bits of work are still ongoing. We have encountered more delays from tradespeople, but the majority of work is now completed.

RK: Did you remain within the original budget?
ND: We managed to keep very close to the budget and saved a considerable amount of money by completing work ourselves. There were increases in material costs, but we balanced these out by negotiating and taking on duties ourselves.

RK: Give us a tour of your new home.
ND: The house is a 3100ft2 Georgian-style timber-frame kit home with a hipped roof, Spanish slate, brickwork cladding and splayed arches with modern recycled composite boarding to the rear section. An oversized double garage features remote doors and a staircase to storage space above. We also included attic roof trusses in the house to allow for possible future extension to three storeys.

Internally, the rooms are spacious to maintain a light, open, airy feeling with increased ceiling heights, large sash windows and large bi-fold doors. We have a feature, curved staircase in the large hallway, which we designed ourselves and a large open-plan kitchen featuring a pantry and coffee station with pocket doors and a large roof lantern over the kitchen snug area. Here, two sets of large bi-fold doors with a flush floor fitting lead to the outside patio. Elsewhere is a separate utility room with a sink, larder cupboards and raised units for the washing machine and tumble dryer.

The large living room has bi-folds that take you out to the garden and three large sash windows. Meanwhile, a study and additional room at the front of the house will be used as a games room with a pool table. The master suite has an open, walk-in wardrobe, large en-suite bathroom, walk-in shower and wall-hung double basin unit. We have also incorporated a feature ceiling in the master bedroom with concealed uplighting and sensors in all bathrooms for nightlights.

RK: How does the property respond to its surrounding landscape?
ND: Our house was designed to fit with existing properties around us. We have a view of the nearby park with large grass areas and trees, which we have tried to replicate in our landscaping.

RK: What does the local community think of the new property?
ND: All residents have been very supportive and have become friends. We visited and passed our details to adjacent properties to introduce ourselves as we wanted to ensure we built relationships during the build.

RK: Is the final property everything that you hoped it would be?
ND: The completed house has surpassed our expectations, and we often can’t believe what we have achieved.

RK: What’s your favourite thing about your new home?
ND: Our favourite part of the house is the staircase, which always generates a gasp from visitors.

RK: Is there anything that you would have done differently?
ND: I think we could have planned ahead better to ensure the build kept momentum and avoided the delays we encountered.

RK: What advice would you offer to anyone looking to self-build?
ND: Plan, plan, plan. And expect tremendous stress and delays, but keep going – it will all be worth it in the end. It’s not an easy process and not always fun; however, the reward is enormous.

RK: What was your vision for the exterior/landscaping?
ND: As the rear garden was sloped, we wanted to even this out by putting in terracing. We wanted to create different areas to sit in the garden and have plans for next year. We used black porcelain slabs to match the roof tiles and cladding at the rear. Privacy was crucial, so we have put in mature trees to mask a building at the rear. To the front, we are planning mature planting around the stone portico. We have a fantastic landscaper who came up with ideas and achieved what we wanted.

RK: How did you decide which plants to use?
ND: We hired great gardeners and have taken advice from a small local garden centre. We chose the trees with help from the landscaper.

RK: How does the garden respond to the surrounding landscape?
ND: The garden is very private, and the mature trees resemble those in the park next to us. We will use climbing plants to cover a wall of an adjacent building in the garden, and we hope to achieve a colourful, green mature garden.

RK: Have you incorporated any exterior furniture, flooring, sculptures or water features?
ND: The patio slabs we have used are black porcelain, and we have purchased a corner sofa for the bottom corner from an online store. Our existing sofa and dining table are positioned on the patio. The garden has only been completed a week, so we still have a lot of planting to do. Phase two of the landscaping will be finished later in the year, which will incorporate raised planters and a wooden gazebo.

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