Although Jane and Mark Lawson loved their state-of-the-art, German-designed home, Mark was more than ready to take on his own renovation challenge. He had long dreamt of building a British version of the house, which was designed, pre-fabricated and then built on site by German company Huf Haus, whose designs are characterised by large open-plan spaces and lots of glazing.
When Mark suggested selling up their home and buying an unremarkable 1950s property on the other side of the road, however, Jane wasn’t so sure. At first, she was against buying the house at all, and was unconvinced when Mark said it would be a ‘fantastic’ investment opportunity that would offer the chance to achieve his dream.
‘The original 1950s property was one of the worst-designed houses I’d seen,’ Jane recalls. ‘My first impressions were of a small, dark and dingy hallway opening on to a warren of rooms. The kitchen was large, but this compromised everything else on the ground floor. The living room was tiny; the cloakroom cramped; the garage had been converted into a makeshift study, and there was an old-fashioned, lean-to conservatory. Upstairs, there was a reasonably sized master bedroom and two bathrooms, but the other three bedrooms were singles, and none were en suite.’
Soon, though, Jane could also see the potential of the property. ‘The family who lived here needed to relocate quickly,’ she explains, ‘so they priced the house for a fast sale. The house was in the perfect location in an area we loved, and as it was opposite our own Huf Haus it meant the finished project would have a symmetry in terms of its position, creating a showcase for contemporary architecture.’
The location of the house and the size of the plot was the deciding factor for the couple, however, as Mark knew he would have scope to extend if he could gain the appropriate planning permission.
When they bought the house in 2006, Mark and Jane weren’t in a financial position to start the project immediately, so they rented out the house for several years until they had the funds in place to start the project in August 2011.
Mark had a clear idea of how he wanted the remodelled house to look and worked closely with architect Paul Brookes (pbaworks.co.uk) to realise his vision. The original property was around 2,000 square feet, but the couple’s plans were for a house almost double that size. ‘In simple terms, we planned to extend significantly at the front and add a second floor,’ explains Jane. ‘The layout of the existing two floors would also be altered, to the extent that only two of the original walls (the two side walls) would remain.’
The couple faced a few objections to their plans for the property, including complaints that the design overlooked other houses and wasn’t in keeping with the area. ‘In the end, however, we got approval for the original plans,’ says Jane.
As most of the original house was going to be knocked down and the roof removed, living in the house to oversee the work wasn’t an option for the couple. ‘We continued to live across the road while I juggled my work as a therapist with that of project manager, as Mark was so busy with his day job,’ explains Jane.
The couple were able to put to use the experience they gained when building their Huf Haus. ‘The design stage of any project is the most painstaking, especially on a Huf Haus. Everything is pre-fabricated off site, so you have to finalise every detail, down to the placement of light fittings and sockets.’
As with their previous home, everything was meticulously planned from day one, including the underfloor heating and the security and sound systems, so all the wires, cables and pipes were concealed in the early stages. The build, however, took several months longer than for their Huf Haus, mainly because the couple opted for more traditional build methods using brick.
‘We chose to build with brick due to cost, but included as much glass in the design as possible to bring in natural light,’ says Jane. ‘The sun floods the front of the house in the morning, working its way round to the back, maximising the light through the day.’
Throughout the build process, Jane made sure she had a good working relationship with the builders. ‘Piers the builder had his own team, and brought in specialists when required,’ she says. ‘We drew up a schedule of works, but this was variable, as certain contractors overran, and materials didn’t always arrive on time. Flexibility was key, as in most builds, so when time was lost we aimed to make it up elsewhere.’
Jane and Mark’s remodelled home now features a light and spacious downstairs area incorporating a living room that flows into a dining and kitchen area. Neutral in tone, stylish architectural features add interest to the interior – in the living room, a stunning wall of slate bricks adds texture along one side, while the dining and kitchen sections face a soaring expanse of glass. Beyond the dining space is a series of gleaming black Zen stones from Cambodia, arranged like sculptural stepping stones to a side door into the garden. There is also a further reception room, a spacious cloakroom, plus a treatment room, where Jane sees her clients for Reiki sessions.
The couple’s favourite feature in the house is the triple-height entrance hall, as it provides instant wow-factor when people visit the house. ‘When walking through the front door, your eye is drawn upwards by the sheer expanse of glass to the vaulted ceiling at the apex of the second floor,’ says Jane. ‘Then you notice the glass-sided staircase, which appears to float in mid-air. You can also see right through to the rear glass wall and the garden beyond.’
In the top two storeys, the first floor houses the master suite and two bedrooms, with a spacious bathroom between them, while on the top floor, there are another two bedrooms, with en suite bathrooms. When it came to the decorating stage, Jane and Mark sampled numerous wall colours before settling on their final choices. ‘We’d always used white paint before, but in this house we wanted softer shades, such as cream and stone, to complement the floor tiles throughout the ground floor.’
Despite the couple’s meticulous planning, Jane explains that they went over budget during the 12-month build. ‘We ended up spending far more on landscaping the garden than planned, for example,’ she says. ‘Initially laid to lawn, it then leads up to a sweep of mature trees, many of which we planted. The garden adheres to Feng Shui principles – because there is so much height at the back, it represents the mountain behind the house, which signifies future prosperity. From a practical point of view, it also means the house isn’t overlooked from any direction, which is important as we’ve chosen not to have any curtains in the house.’
Jane, who was born in Malaya and lived in the Far East for much of her childhood, admits she is heavily influenced by the principles of Feng Shui, and believes it is important that a house and home should have a serene, uncluttered atmosphere. ‘The secret to a tidy house is lots of hidden storage,’ she says. ‘The whole family likes the fact that it’s an easy house to keep in order because there are plenty of cupboards, but it’s nice for my clients, too. They enjoy the fact that when they come here for a treatment the atmosphere is always calm. They say it’s like walking into a sanctuary and, however stressed they are when they walk in, they leave feeling relaxed and re-energised.’
Having finished the project a year after it started, Jane is able to admit that although she was sad to leave her Huf Haus, she is now happy to live in their British-built version. ‘Mark and I got to know Peter Huf [the chief architect of the UK division of Huf Haus] during the construction of our former home, and he visited us here to see our take on his design,’ says Jane. ‘As he’s such a perfectionist, we were a little apprehensive about what his verdict might be, but he said he loved it.
‘Peter’s only criticism was that he wished it was glass all round, but as Mark said, if we’d done that it would have been another Huf Haus, and we wanted to create our own unique home. At last, we have!’
|Windows and glazing||£48,000|
|Kitchen and bathrooms||£47,000|
|Doors, fireplace, stairs and flooring||£38,000|
|Structural engineers/ steelwork||£29,500|
|Lighting and security||£12,000|
|Drainage and foundations||£2,500|