For most of us, growing up and leaving home to get a place of our own is something to aspire to.
For primary school teacher Lucy Hopkins, however, moving in next door to her parents, on the family farm in North Yorkshire, was a dream she’d held since childhood.
‘I have never wanted to live anywhere else,’ says Lucy, who is in her late twenties. ‘I was determined to build my own home on the land where I grew up, despite the challenges. My great-grandad moved to the farm first, about 80 years ago, and my parents later moved into his house, a little 1930s bungalow which they extended.’
The farm’s 50 acres of land, just outside the village of Alne, a 30-minute drive from York, is used to graze Longhorn cows, and has large swathes of woodland, with oak and pine trees, plus wetlands, which provide nesting sites for many birds.
Luckily for Lucy, her husband Sam, a chartered engineer in his early thirties, was on board with the idea of living next to his in-laws.
The sole problem was that the only place upon which they could feasibly build a home was the site of a rundown asbestos shed, classed as outside the village’s development zone, on a brownfield site. Here, Lucy’s parents had already tried and failed to get planning consent.
Together, over a two-year period, Lucy and Sam worked on a pitch to Hambleton district council that they hoped would finally win out. In 2016, helped by a local councillor who ensured their application was reviewed thoroughly, they finally won the right to build their perfect home. ‘We were granted about three minutes to plead our case,’ says Sam.
‘We were passionate about the fact we were a young couple priced out of buying a house in the local area, and that this was our only chance to get on the property ladder.
‘We also wanted to show them how important it was that the land had the next generation to look after its natural beauty, and to steward it wisely.’
A thoughtful design, using materials that would harmonise with the natural environment, was also key to the application’s success. With the help of an architect friend, Sam had drawn up designs for a soaring two-storey, three-bedroom eco home, on a 400sq metre plot of land, using modelling software SketchUp. There would be a green oak frame and chestnut cladding, and as little brick and concrete as possible.
‘Designing the home was pretty intense,’ Sam says. ‘We didn’t want the house to dominate the site, so loved the idea of timber being the main material, with red roof tiles in keeping with the local vernacular. But it also had to be energy efficient, so we incorporated an air source heat pump, to provide hot water and underfloor heating, and high levels of insulation.’
Keeping the streetside elevation fairly simple, Sam went for a bigger design statement at the rear, with two dramatic glazed gables facing the rural views.
To meet the local planning department’s strict ridge height restrictions, the pitched roof has an 11metre flat section running through its middle, which still allows for generous ceiling heights inside.
By the time they broke ground in January 2018, the couple had £30,000 in savings, which they put towards a total budget of £250,000. To conserve funds, the couple moved into Lucy’s parents’ house for the duration of the works – simultaneously holding down full-time jobs, project managing, as well as doing as much of the build as they could themselves, with the help of Lucy’s dad, a skilled bricklayer, tiler and joiner.
Things didn’t get off to an auspicious start. As the footings were begun one snowy morning, the trenches collapsed and filled with water, and a first attempt at installing a septic tank had to be abandoned. However, the couple persisted, and a watertight shell was up within six months, with a final moving-in date set for late summer 2019.
Today, the easy flow and comfort of the completed home – which they have showcased on Instagram (@mulberry_selfbuild) – belies Lucy and Sam’s many challenges.
Downstairs, flowing open-plan living spaces, a utility room and loo lead off an expansive hallway, with a staircase built of softwood and oak running up the centre of the home.
The kitchen – with Howdens cabinetry in Shaker-style Fairford Slate Grey – features stone worktops, pale pink geometric tiling and grey limestone flooring, with bifold doors leading onto the naturalistically styled garden.
Throughout the whole house – which the couple share with fox-red labrador Ruby – a muted palette with walls in Farrow & Ball’s Strong White provides the calm, relaxing atmosphere Lucy craved.
‘I trusted Sam implicitly when it came to designing the house,’ she says, ‘but I went with my own interiors instincts. Textures are really important to me, and I like lots of clean lines and grey and neutral shades.’
Though she needed to start from scratch when it came to furniture, Lucy managed some judicious shopping, balancing style with budget.
In the living room, the pale grey sofa is from DFS, the contemporary coffee table from Argos and a sunny yellow chair from Homesense. Each was bought online. In the hallway, meanwhile, her grandmother’s antique wooden chest takes pride of place.
The couple overshot their total budget only slightly, spending £267,000. ‘We installed the heating and bathrooms themselves, and it turns out Lucy is really good at painting and decorating,’ Sam says. ‘We watched a few DIY ideas, and went with the ethos that it is always better to do things yourself.’
Their key advice for would-be home builders is to remember how resourceful you can be when you need to save money. ‘Never be afraid to get your hands dirty,’ Sam says.
For more ideas visit the Southern Homebuilding & Renovating Show, June 25-26 at Sandown Park, Surrey. For a pair of free tickets, click here
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