Building a house can be stressful at the best of times, but throw a global pandemic into the mix, with additional site safety measures, delayed material deliveries, and a team of builders needing to observe strict social distancing, and you could be facing disaster.
Nick and Rachel Brier encountered just such a challenge last year, when their house build was impacted by the arrival of Covid 19, and all that lockdown meant. “We had bought the site in September 2019 from Whitshaw Builders, and the new house was half built when everything changed,” recalls Rachel.
The couple and their fourteen-year-old daughter, Isobel, were living in an apartment close to the plot of land they had purchased. “After owning a village barn conversion for a number of years, we had decided to relocate to Sheffield, where Isobel goes to school and Nick works,” says Rachel.
“We sold the barn with the intention of looking for a home in the area. Then this opportunity came up to buy a plot of land and get Whitshaw Builders to build us a house.”
The Briers had never previously completed any building work, but when they saw the land advertised through an estate agent, they decided that it offered the ideal opportunity to achieve exactly the home they wanted.
Planning permission had already been granted to the previous owner, who still lives next-door, but after exploring the idea of building a house on the garden site, he decided instead to sell the plot to Whitshaw Builders, who in turn sold it to Nick and Rachel.
“The original flat-roofed design was just too big for the plot, and would have consumed it,” Rachel continues. “Whitshaws employed Brightman Clarke Architects to design a more sympathetic house, and we contracted them to build it for us. It’s totally different to the previous design and sited on another part of the plot.”
Multi-award-winning construction company, Whitshaw Builders Ltd, is well-known in the area for its residential projects – including new builds, extensions, and remodels.
“Friends of ours had employed Whitshaws to build a significant extension, and highly recommended them, which was reassuring,” explains Rachel.
“They were already working with Brightman Clarke Architects on the new house design for the plot, and we came on board early enough to be able to choose the layout. We wanted a high level of input into the design, so it suited us perfectly.”
Set over two levels, the property offers 220m2 of luxury accommodation, with a stunning spacious living kitchen, a study and snug, as well as an integrated single garage on the ground floor. On the first floor are four double bedrooms, including an impressive master suite with a separate dressing room and bathroom.
“We changed the layout quite significantly, with a large L-shaped living area, which has an open plan snug at the far end,” says Rachel. “In the hallway was an office, which we decided to use as our sitting room, and we have a utility room off the kitchen.
“We wanted a place where we could entertain friends informally, with long sliding doors allowing up to spill outdoors onto the patio. My vision was of the men sitting watching rugby in the snug, with a beer in hand, and my friends and I sitting at the centre island with a bottle of champagne!”
The garden plot was vacant, and the new proposal was designed to provide a contemporary home which also refers to the traditional vernacular seen elsewhere in the area. Designing a house using high quality materials, which maximises natural light, was a priority, and the open plan areas are zoned, with generous glazing, well-positioned lighting, and a feature fireplace between the sitting area and dining space. Externally, the property uses the topography to its advantage to provide a series of outdoor sitting spaces and areas for soft landscaping.
“There were a few issues around the trees, and specialist reports needed to be submitted, but the planning permission was granted quite easily,” says Rachel. “As self-builders, we also managed to get an exemption from the Community Infrastructure Levy, which delayed the start of the project. The rules are extremely tight, and we couldn’t risk breaking ground until everything was formally approved.”
Situated on a private plot, at the head of a pleasant cul-de-sac, the contemporary house was designed to be constructed in timber frame, using timber sourced from well-managed sustainable sources, allowing high levels of acoustic and thermal insulation.
“We took out a self-build mortgage, which meant that stage payments were made during the project, and this went really smoothly – particularly when the build was extended by three months in total, because of Covid,” says Rachel. “Whitshaws’ project manager was very efficient and worked closely with Nick so that we could draw down funds in a timely manner.”
Rachel is MD for a large IT organisation, and Nick is the director of a chartered financial planning business. The couple worked throughout the build, with time spent operating from home during lockdown, which meant that they were on hand to make decisions about their build. “I do like to be involved, and the builders were extremely patient with my demands,” laughs Rachel.
Work started on site digging foundations in October 2019, with the timber frame manufactured by a company in Scotland and erected by a specialist team. “Sadly, health and safety issues meant that we weren’t allowed to be on site while the frame was going up, as it would invalidate the insurance,” says Rachel.
“The weather was really bad at the time, and some of the frame had to be left on the side of the road because the lorry couldn’t get up the drive. Whitshaw Builders immediately called in all their men onto our project to manually carry the frame.”
The neighbouring house is a white rendered property, and there is a red brick house to the other side, with a mixture of styles and architecture elsewhere in the close.
“We chose to have a white rendered exterior, broken up with sections of grey bricks and untreated cedar cladding,” explains Rachel, who travelled around the area with Nick looking at houses to gain inspiration. “Ours will be the last new house allowed to be built in the close, and it has been sunk down slightly lower on the plot to reduce its impact.”
A variety of roof levels and shapes also helps to break up the volume of the house, which has dark grey roof tiles and small sections of mono-pitch roofing. The first-floor master suite has been built into the apex and is stepped down slightly, creating high, sloping ceilings.
“We were really lucky, because our builders were only off-site for three weeks because of Covid, and I remember the relief when we heard they were back on site,” says Rachel. “The windows weren’t in, so it was good to get the house wind and watertight before the interiors could be fitted out.”
Underfloor heating has been installed on the ground floor, with electric underfloor heating in bathrooms, and radiators in the bedrooms, operated by an electronic thermostat and phone app.
“We chose black, greys and neutrals for the internal colour scheme,” says Rachel. “A large island in the kitchen for entertaining was a priority, with white Corian for counters which contrasts with the black cabinets. We also have an extension to the island in a dark copper finish. After moving in during August 2020, we’re now looking forward to being able to invite friends and family here to finally be able to entertain in style!”