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11 Aug 2020

The Self-Build Diaries: Rachel and Jarlath McArdle

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Teachers Rachel and Jarlath McArdle are certainly no strangers to the world of self-building. Having completed their very own farmhouse-style project in rural Ireland next to their working dairy farm – where Jarlath also works as a farmer – their home is very much the epitome of country living – with the odd crystal adornment! Here, i-Build Editor, Rebecca Kemp, talks to Rachel – better known on Instagram as @bluebellsandfeathers – about her self-build journey.

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RK: What inspired you to embark on your own project rather than buying?
RMc: As Jarlath is a Dairy Farmer, living near the farm is essential, so buying would only have been an option if we were unable to obtain planning permission. It was an unwritten rule or goal in a way and part of a farming lifestyle to be able to self-build.

RK: How and why did you choose this plot?
RMc: With planning restrictions, choosing this plot was not even an option. It was a case of praying that we could get a building site as so much of the area is green belted, and we made the most of the site we were granted. Also considering this was a replacement site, we had to build where the original dwelling once stood.

RK: How long did it take to obtain planning permission?
RMc: Three months, which was exceptionally quick!

RK: What was the vision and inspiration behind your home?
RMc: Our self-build was granted under the specification of being a replacement property. As such, our home echoed the previous dwelling. Luckily, it was to our exact taste, and it has been an honour to echo the design choices of previous generations into our new build. We had a vision of a pretty home – as you can see from our intricate fascia board.

RK: How did you approach your design brief?
RMc: Interior design is a natural passion of mine, and as a couple, we have always appreciated detail and architecture. We are very fortunate to share the same taste of colours and details such as cornicing and panelling. For us, it is always the small details that eventually tell the final design story.

RK: Were there any challenging aspects to the build?
RMc: Our main challenge was securing a self-build mortgage. We had the extra challenge of the credit crunch, and once we eventually secured the mortgage, we had the strict condition of having the build complete within 12 months. This was very unnerving and added immense pressure to the completion.

RK: Did you project manage?
RMc: Although we did have an excellent contractor, we were involved in every decision. Very often, we had to coordinate the arrival of goods or act as the middle man. This was in many ways our own decision as we were so particular about every detail.

RK: How long did the project take?
RMc: We had completed to wall plate level before our 12-month mortgage agreement completion began, which we financed ourselves. Yes, we did complete within the 12-month timeframe; yet it was ambitious and tight.

RK: Did you remain within the original budget?
RMc: We found we would save money on something and haemorrhage it somewhere else. We also discovered we have expensive taste! So, no we didn’t remain on budget. The one major expense/surprise was paint, which may sound trivial, but you are into the thousands before you know it!

RK: Did you work with an architect at any point?
RMc: The role of the architect really ended for us once the build began. He did a fabulous job and designed a home that flows perfectly.

RK: Please take us on a tour of your completed home.
RMc: We wanted to create a home where the exterior details complemented interior touches. We selected materials and finishes that were Georgian in style and echoed times gone by. Sliding sash windows, period railings and coach-style lighting set the tone at our entrance to be continued through with toggle light switches and deep wooden architrave. In the kitchen, we mixed old features such as in-frame cabinetry and deep ceiling cornicing with more contemporary touches such as crystal handles and bright granite worktops which have added to establish a light and airy space. All interior touches – roll-top baths and cast-iron stair spindles – bring our vision of our love for country estate-style housing.

RK: How does your home respond to the surrounding landscape?
RMc: Our home is situated directly beside our working dairy farm, so it is in a very real way a farmhouse – albeit a decorative one! We are nestled amongst original farm buildings and dwellings which were built over 100 years ago, so our traditional style of build blends in perfectly to the existing charm.

RK: What do the local community think of your new property?
RMc: We are extremely fortunate to call our neighbours our friends. We live in a very close-knit, rural community where everyone supports and encourages self-builds. We have only ever received compliments and praise from our neighbours regarding what we have created over the last couple of years. They, like ourselves, understand the magnitude of tackling a self-build as we are surrounded by impressive self-builds, so it was lovely to join the group with our own journey.

RK: Is the final property everything you hoped it would be?
RMc: Our final home has exceeded all expectations, and we appreciate every inch and detail. We are delighted to have ample space for living and to have been given the opportunity to leave our mark – even down to the toggle light switches!

RK: What’s your favourite thing about your new home?
RMc: Our sunroom is our pride and joy. We adore the wall-to-ceiling panelling, soothing colour scheme and our ambitious move of having the furniture match the walls exactly. Not to mention our Godin stove which we have seen in Downton Abbey – a downstairs feature with the famous show I might add!

The interior design of every room was co-created by ourselves, which gives us a great sense of accomplishment and pride. In addition, it was a hidden talent we only discovered as we embarked on our self-build journey. This creativity opportunity is definitely one of our favoured elements.

RK: What was your vision for the exterior landscaping?
RMc: As our self-build was a replacement, we were determined to build a home that was in keeping with the previous dwelling. We applaud anyone who devotes hours to a manicured lawn, but we know our characters and that devotion is regrettably not us. We went for a low-maintenance lawn and have added pops of colour with pots and planters. Our taste runs towards wildflowers and a strong devotion to lavender, so we have created a wildflower patch and have scattered pots of lavender throughout. We also designed a pebble path finished with Belfast brick to bring a rustic charm and tie in with our exposed stone at the bottom of our garden.

RK: How does the garden respond to the surrounding landscape?
RMc: As we are particularly rural, our lawn and wildflowers ties in beautifully.

RK: Have you incorporated any exterior flooring?
RMc: Yes, as we have a cottage within our garden, we used original tiling to create a terrace at the front door beside the wildflower patch. These tiles came from the original dwelling and are a particular favourite of ours and truly special.

RK: Is there anything you would have done differently?
RMc: Sometimes we have thought one or two rooms could maybe have an extra window, but on the whole; we have no regrets – thankfully.

RK: Would you do the whole thing again?
RMc: Yes; we loved the opportunity to create and build a home that was purely based on personal choice. We were also fortunate to have a very flexible contractor who allowed us to change choices throughout, which was a blessing.

RK: What advice would you offer to someone doing a self-build?
RMc: Get a trustworthy, recommended contractor and choose what you want. This may seem like a trivial piece of advice, but so often when we went to choose fixtures and fittings, we were met with the soon-to-be despised phrases "Well most people choose..." or "this is very popular". Often, we found ourselves fighting for our choice – especially as we weren’t going for a modern-style finish.

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