“My great grandma built the original bungalow on this plot in the 1920s and passed it to my grandma, who passed it to my mum, so it’s come down the female line of the family,” Lois Nicholl explains. “I grew up in the bungalow from the age of two and remember my Dad and Grandad spending much of their time working out in the garden.”
The small, single-storey bungalow stood on a generous plot in a Derbyshire village, and when Lois eventually inherited the property in 2015 she was unsure what to do with the ramshackle building. “We already had a home in the same village, and we left the bungalow untouched for more than a year, but then we needed to make a decision,” she explains.
Lois, a secondary school teacher, and her husband, Barry – who had recently retired from teaching – decided that building a new home for themselves on the plot would give them a much-needed project which Barry would be able to oversee while Lois continued working full time.
“We approached one architect, but he wasn’t really interested. Then we discovered that a friend’s daughter, Corinne Hall, was about to set up a new practice, Archicycle Ltd,” Lois continues. “They were really enthusiastic about working with us on a design for a new home and gave us the impetus we needed.”
To meet planning requirements the two-storey property needed to retain the ridge height of its single-storey predecessor, which meant designing dormers into the roof space with plenty of practical storage in the eaves.
The Nicholls’ brief was for light, open interiors with an open-plan kitchen/dining/living space. This was designed as an L-shape, with part of the kitchen located in a double-height vaulted wing where the ceiling is inset with rooflights. A utility room is positioned beside the kitchen, with a separate sitting room on the other side of the generous entrance hallway.
“We wanted to think ahead and make sure that we could stay here as we grow older, so a ground floor bedroom and bathroom were important,” says Lois. Three additional bedrooms, a bathroom, master en suite and dressing room were sited on the first floor.
“Our architects came up with six or seven possible floorplans for us, and we left the external look of the house up to them,” says Lois. “There’s no real architectural style in this part of the village – there are new brick homes and old stone cottages – so the decision was taken to go for brick and contrasting white render.”
A detached garage was also designed for the site with a separate entrance into a storage space at the side, which is used as an alternative shed. Bricks and grey paintwork were chosen to match the main house, which is positioned further back and raised up slightly on the plot, reached via a set of brick steps.
“The old bungalow was on the same part of the site, but was much smaller,” explains Lois. “We were allowed to extend the footprint to the right on the plot, which is what we did. There were restrictions, and the council wasn’t easy to deal with, but ultimately we’ve got what we wanted.”
Once planning permission had been approved Barry and Lois sold their previous home at the other end of the village to fund the build, stored their furniture with their daughter, and moved into rented accommodation six miles away.
“Our architect recommended three possible building companies and we chose Whitshaw Builders of Sheffield as we really liked their work,” says Lois. “They did everything from demolishing the old bungalow to building and fitting out our new house. It was emotional watching my childhood home being knocked down, but it was in a really poor state and wouldn’t have lasted for much longer. There was a feeling of excitement because the project was starting, tinged with sadness for a former life.”
Archicycle worked with Barry and Lois throughout the build, advising and assisting them with the numerous decisions and bringing several samples of brick and other materials to the site for inspection. UPVC windows were selected which are white internally and Anthracite grey externally, with slate-effect roof tiles in a similar dark grey. Two sets of patio doors have been installed in the kitchen and living room, with bifolds in the dining area opening out onto a private patio. In less than six months the replacement brick and block dormer bungalow and garage had been built on the site. “We first met with our architects in October 2017, they designed the house by Christmas and Whitshaws knocked down the old bungalow in March 2018,” says Lois.
“Although demolition happened during the Beast from the East snow storms we went on to have a glorious summer, which was ideal for building, and the builders couldn’t have worked harder to make sure the project ran smoothly and was completed on time.”
During the build the couple made the decision to sell off part of their large garden as a building plot, which would not only create a more private setting for their own home but would render them mortgage-free. “We told James Shaw of Whitshaw Builders what we were thinking, and he agreed to purchase the plot from us,” says Lois. “Our architects designed a smaller, single-storey bungalow along similar lines to ours, and Whitshaws took on the build, which made everything far simpler.”
For their own home, the Nicholls chose to lay underfloor heating beneath wood-effect luxury vinyl flooring in the kitchen/diner and hallway, with radiators elsewhere. “We have a wood-burner in the lounge but decided against installing any gadgets, as our aim was to build the house for a fixed budget which would allow us to pay off our mortgage,” Lois explains. “For the same reason, we’ve left furnishing some rooms and planting out the garden for now, because funds ran out. To us this was a life-changing project and we couldn’t risk overspending.”
The couple, who had never previously built a house, found the process both exciting and daunting – particularly when it came to making so many decisions regarding fixtures and fittings. “We knew what we didn’t want, but found it harder to narrow down exactly what we did want,” says Lois. “Luckily our architects and builders were extremely kind, reassuring and patient, guiding us and allowing us to make changes along the way.”
Whitshaw Builders recommended a bathroom company, who designed layouts and supplied sanitaryware for the three bathrooms. “In the en suite we have a good- sized shower, which can be turned on and preheated before you step into it,” says Lois. “It’s little details like that which make such a difference on a daily basis.”
Barry and Lois hunted everywhere for their grey Shaker kitchen, reading magazines and speaking to friends about their own kitchen designs in order to narrow down exactly what they wanted. A large island unit was installed beneath the vaulted ceiling, with a raised breakfast bar at one end and oak worktops. The couple also made a last-minute decision not to incorporate an exposed brick wall in this room but to paint all walls white for a brighter, more pared-back look instead.
“We liked our previous home but we absolutely love living here, and it’s strange to think that where our dining room now stands was once my bedroom as a child,” says Lois.
“Not only did we enjoy having a project to focus on, but building our own home has completely changed our lives by allowing us to have exactly what we want without a mortgage. Now I’m able to retire this year and we can enjoy some holidays – we really couldn’t recommend it more highly.”