It has taken much of the year, but we have finally got permission to replace the old part of the house that collapsed several decades ago, which will add just over 50 per cent to the floor area of the building.
One important factor was to demonstrate with photos and archives that there was a complete building on the site only a few decades ago, and certainly post-1948, which seems to be an important date. I may have misunderstood it, but the gist seemed to be that the old structure legally still had some vague sort of existence, so that we were in a sense rebuilding, and giving back the farm complex (of which our house is a part) its previous layout.
This began as a project to convert into a home a Grade II listed farm service building that had the same legal status as a barn and which did not even have planning permission when we bought it. Now we’re into a far more ambitious affair, essentially a self build of a home with three bedrooms, two reception and a kitchen diner, spread over a very long period.
It has been more than six years since we bought the property, nearly five years since we started work and more than four years since we moved in. We still aren’t going to rush, and do not expect to finish the new-build section for another two years. Our project is in fact characterised by its extreme slowness!
But speed doesn’t matter – indeed it is a great advantage in some ways to move at a snail’s pace: if we had built the original small extension for which we had permission at the same time as we repaired the old building then we would have closed off the new options that have emerged. Proceeding slowly also gave use time to restore the pond and landscape the garden, which in turn led to the idea of the new extension, whose centrepiece will be the ‘pond room’ which overlooks and almost overhangs our 250 square metre pond.
The contrast with 2007-8 could not be greater. Then, we had difficulty persuading the council to accept an enlarged porch, which was just big enough to squeeze in a shower room. Now we are adding two substantial rooms and a lobby.
We used the planning consultants and architects (Hollins of Framlingham) who won us permission in 2008 to convert the old building into a dwelling, and they dealt with the new design and application very efficiently and effectively. They organised a pre-meeting with a Mid-Suffolk planner and the conservation officer, who fed back some useful and interesting suggestions, which we accepted, before the final drawings were submitted.
The result is a design that will be modern in its detailing – including powder coated aluminium windows – to avoid the look of a pastiche. But it will have enough similarities to the listed building to harmonise with it. In particular, the roof pitch will be the same and we will use lime render and limewash for the walls.
We also decided to build the extension (or replacement, if you like) as a completely separate structure joined to the old building by a new lightweight single storey lobby, to allow the old and new to move independently. One will have deep piled foundations and the other is still on brick footings lying on clay. We arrived at this aspect of the design ourselves by playing with Google Sketchup. We had successfully used a separate building with a light connecting corridor for an extension to a previous house, which had been built in 1830 of bricks resting on clay.
In fact, with the new project, if we join the new to the old at first floor level, through the old doorway that still exists in outline, we would not add much to the usable area of the house. One of the old bedrooms would become a corridor from old to new. We would rather put up with the small inconvenience of a second staircase.
Because the site is tightly defined by the edge of the pond and the floorplan of the previous structure (the footings are still there, with a couple of the sole plates), compromises had to be made on the layout; in particular we will need to use a spiral rather than a standard staircase, and the stairs and the shower room both take space out of the pond room.
But… there are still a lot of repairs to do to the old house, so we’ll get to grips with those before we start work. That will give us some time to think about the extra money we have discovered we may have to spend on the foundations: the engineering consultant said they must be piled, because they are close to our pond.
We also need to take time to think about how we manage the project: do we get a single contractor in, do we manage subcontractors ourselves, how much DIY do we want to undertake? There is quite a lot of useful information in self-build books and magazines, particularly Homebuilding and Renovation.
We have two outline estimates from single contractors, both way above our initial cost idea, taking it to over £2,000 a square metre, far more than we want to pay. The current thought is that we break the project down into four: finishing the old house; building the piled foundations (where a main contractor would be hiring the same specialists to do it); building a watertight shell; and finally all the finishing work including plumbing and electrics and rendering the outside in lime, all of which could be done by sole trader local specialists who we have found reliable during the repair stages. They are too small to be VAT registered, so at least their labour charges would not be taxed. We will do as much DIY as we can cope with, and have the skills for.
To be continued!