04 Nov 2020

The Self-build Diaries: Rob and Sarah Collard

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Those that closely follow Channel 4’s Building the Dream may recall Charlie Luxton profiling Cambridgeshire-based husband-and-wife self-build duo Rob and Sarah Collard back in 2018. Their ambitious build, aptly named Collard Towers, was designed entirely by the pair without the help of an architect – and with an astonishing objection-free eight-week-long planning approval. Here, i-Build Editor, Rebecca, catches up with Sarah to find out more about the Collards’ hands-on, positively inspirational self-build project.

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RK: What inspired you to embark on your own project rather than buying?
SC: Building a house is something that we’ve always dreamed of doing. We loved the idea of personalising it and making the spaces precisely how we wanted. Previously, we have extended our homes and still found that we had to make too many compromises.

RK: What was the vision and inspiration behind your new home?
SC: We simply wanted a large, open-plan home to fit around our family’s needs.

RK: How did you approach finalising your design brief?
SC: Rob and I designed the house ourselves, and Rob drew up all the plans in CAD. We made several tweaks until we were both happy with the final plans.

RK: How and why did you choose this plot?
SC: We were on several estate agent mailing lists for renovation projects. In 2015, we got the call about a house that needed renovating. At first, neither of us were very interested, however, not wanting to miss out on an opportunity, we went along for a viewing. When we arrived, we immediately fell in love with it and knew that it was perfect for us.

RK: How long did it take to gain planning permission?
SC: We were extremely fortunate with our planning permission; it took us eight weeks with no objections.

RK: Were there any challenging aspects to the project and build?
SC: Because we did so much of the build ourselves, our time was spread very thinly. We found that our time as a family was often compromised as we were working every evening and weekend.

RK: Did you project manage the build yourself?
SC: The external shell was project managed and organised by our builder, and the entirety of the internals was project managed by us.

RK: Did you work with an architect at any point in the process?
SC: No, we designed and built the whole house entirely ourselves!

RK: How did you approach material and product specification?
SC: Because we were building the house as our family home, we wanted the materials and products to be relatively high-end. Working with key suppliers, we were able to source the best products to suit our requirements. Not only with regards to the fitting but also within the fabric of the building, for example, the magnetic plastered walls in the children’s bedrooms, the heat recovery system and the Loxone smart home automation.

RK: Did you install any renewable systems?
SC: Yes, we installed 3.5kW PV solar panels.

RK: How does the property respond to Passive House principles?
SC: It doesn’t. However, we did upgrade our insulation and went for a reasonable level of airtightness.

RK: How long did the project take?
SC: From the date of demolishing the old house (February 2016) to moving in to the new home (October 2017), it was 20 months.

RK: Did you remain within the original budget and if not, what were the unexpected costs?
SC: Yes, we did manage to stay within our budget.

RK: Please provide an overview of both the interior and exterior finished space.
SC: The exterior style is a traditional double gable-fronted house, with red bricks and a grey clay tile roof. The house is set within a half-an-acre plot and measures 3000ft2. Internally, our interior style is modern and contemporary with large open-plan spaces accompanied by high-spec and neutral decor.

RK: How does the property respond to its surrounding landscape?
SC: Our house is set within a cul-de-sac in a tranquil village. To the front is off-street parking for several cars as well as a double garage. The rear garden is landscaped, mainly laid with a lawn and a patio as well as an outdoor firepit and pizza oven.

RK: How did you decide which plants to use and how to place them?
SC: The garden had already been landscaped for us, so except for re-grassing the areas, which needed doing, we didn’t have to do much to the garden.

RK: What does the local community think of the new property?
SC: Our neighbours are very complementary about the house and think it sits well within the street.

RK: Is the final property everything that you hoped it would be?
SC: Yes, we absolutely love it here, the spaces both inside and outside of the house are everything we hoped it would be and more.

RK: What’s your favourite thing about your new home?
SC: We love the open-plan space, so that we can all be together, yet there is plenty of privacy when needed.

RK: Is there anything that you would have done differently?
SC: Between bedrooms two and three, we have a Jack and Jill bathroom. If we were to do it again, we would split this bathroom into two separate en-suites.

RK: Would you do the whole thing again?
SC:  In a heartbeat! We loved the experience (most of the time!). However, I would avoid living in a static caravan again! We are, in fact, currently on the market having secured another plot of land to do the whole thing over again.

RK: What advice would you offer to anyone looking to self-build?
SC: Ensure you do your planning very early on and try to prepare for any mistakes that may occur. On a personal note, make sure you take time out to be with your family as it is a very stressful time.

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