12 Oct 2020

The Self-build Diaries: Brent and Aishling Bryson


Self-builders Brent and Aishling Bryson have been together for almost a decade. Brent grew up on a family dairy farm just outside Banbridge, County Down, and has always wanted to build his very own home on the land.


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After being gifted a plot by Brent’s family, he and Aishling began devising plans for their very own self-build. That was eight years ago. One wedding and three children later, and the couple have completed the family home of their dreams. Here, i-Build Editor, Rebecca Kemp, talks to Aishling about the recent completion of their very own self-build home.

RK: What inspired you to embark on your own project rather than buying?
AB: Brent has always wanted to build his own home on the family farm; it’s probably the main reason he became a builder.

RK: What was the vision and inspiration behind your new home?
AB: We both wanted something simple, and we love the look of old country cottages. We looked at a few different designs and liked the style of a T-shape. I admire how our home surprises people when they walk in and see all the room we have – it looks like a ‘wee, small bungalow’ from the outside!

RK: How did you approach finalising your design brief?
AB: We approached our architect with an idea, and he came up with a design. We just kept tweaking it until we got exactly what we wanted. We have changed a lot of things throughout the house as it’s been built; we’ve moved walls and doors etc. Really, that’s the joy of building your own home; you have the freedom to do so.

RK: Why did you choose this plot?
AB: We were gifted a piece of land to build on by Brent’s family. We chose this plot as it was ideal; it had an access lane, was a flat piece of land and provided easy access to electricity and water. Also, we weren’t too far from the main house.

RK: How long did it take to gain planning permission?
AB: We did struggle with planning to get the house on this plot. It took two years with several attempts and an appeal to get the building where we thought it would work best. First, the planners wanted us to build too close to the main home’s garden. Then, they wanted us to build in a different field right next to a road that was a stone’s throw away from the farm. It really didn’t make sense to us, so we appealed and won.

RK: Were there any challengingaspects to the project and build?
AB: Our main challenges were getting planning permission and a self-build mortgage – due to being self-employed. The building of the house itself was straightforward enough – with Brent coming from the building industry and having connections in all the trades.

RK: Did you project manage the build yourself?
AB: Yes, we managed the build from the very start. Brent built the house himself right up to the wall plate; then we brought traders in wherever Brent couldn’t do the work himself. Everything in our home was designed, picked and sourced by ourselves – right down to the tiny details.

RK: Did you work with an architect at any point in the process?
AB: Yes, we worked with an architect at the very start of our build to draw up plans and submit to building control. After that, it was all us.

RK: Did you install any renewable systems?
AB: Yes, we have installed an air source heat pump, and we also plan to install solar panels in the future.

RK: How long did the project take and was it in the timeframe that you originally predicted?
AB: No, we had setbacks with planning and trying to get a mortgage. We also took a break to get married and start a family.

It has taken eight years to get to where we are today from where we first started. That said, the actual building of the house has taken 14 months from when the subfloor was laid. Also, COVID-19 did hold things up.

RK: Did you remain within the original budget?
AB: In all honesty, we didn’t give ourselves a budget – we knew we wouldn’t stick to it! However, we did have an idea of the cost to complete the house. Yet, we exceeded that figure. We decided early on that if something was more expensive than expected and it was something we wanted – and couldn’t be easily changed – then we would hold off doing something else in another room. We didn’t want to omit something because it cost that little bit more – we would always regret it.

RK: Please provide an overview of both the interior and exterior finished space.
AB: We wanted to keep the outside as simple as possible with a cottage aesthetic. So, we stuck to two colours, black and white, with just a pop of vibrancy on the front door. We used granite, sand and white cement render that we rubbed smooth – we also rounded the corners and window reveals. The granite sills are complemented by black sash windows and cast-iron replica gutters with spouting rainwater hoppers for an ageing look.

Moving inside, we have tried to keep as much of a traditional look as possible. As a practical family house, our kitchen is the heart of the home. Hence, we wanted this area to be a place that we could gather as a family. Here, we added a large island with seating and traditional in-frame cupboards. Again, we needed this space to work for us functionally, so everything has a place and is hidden away. We have a breakfast pantry where I can close the door on the mess in the morning and clean it later – I love it! Our utility is set up to make laundry duties that bit easier (as it’s never-ending!). We added in a laundry chute, drying rail, a large counter for sorting clothes and shelving underneath for laundry baskets. We also have plenty of storage (you can never have enough!).

Our sunroom, which is just off the kitchen, is probably the most-used area. Here, we wanted the fireplace to be the main feature. This is completed in slate with a rustic beam and stove, and we have tried to integrate traditional elements such as toggle switches and flagstone-style tiles. We’ve also incorporated little details like hand-made window boards and barn doors as well as a one-of-a-kind sink. All this offers our home something different, and we’ve very much added our own stamp to it.

RK: Is the final property everything that you hoped it would be?
AB: We only moved in on 27th August, so we still have plenty to do! But we are very pleased with how everything has turned out so far and can’t wait to see the rest of our ideas brought to fruition.

RK: What is your favourite thing about your new home?
AB: Mine would have to be the kitchen and my downstairs WC. I love my sink! I know Brent’s would be the sunroom. He chose the stone and designed the fireplace, and I think it’s turned out well. Initially, I was worried that all the stone would leave it cold, but it’s the opposite – the room has a cosy feel to it, and I can’t wait to light the stove.

RK: Is there anything that you would have done differently?
AB: We have asked ourselves this, and honestly, we love everything about the house.

RK: Would you do the whole thing again?
AB: I wouldn’t. However, Brent would!

RK: What advice would you offer to anyone looking to self-build?
AB: Get a good contractor that you trust and can see your vision. I was lucky that Brent knew what he was doing, but if we were to do a self-build without any building knowledge, I don’t think it would be something we would take on without the right contractor.

RK: What is the vision for the landscaping?
AB: We haven’t started with the gardens yet; however, we hope to have something that we can all enjoy – a nice play area for the kids and patio area for us. We have built an outdoor fireplace into our living room chimney. We plan to construct our patio area around this part of the house – that’s where the sun sets in the evening.

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