Building a home on a replacement dwelling

When Karen Fairholme and Nigel Brooks discovered that extending their bungalow would require underpinning work, they decided to knock it down and replace it with a contemporary new-build instead

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For four years, Karen Fairholme and Nigel Brooks had been living in two houses, but always with the idea of selling them both to buy their first dream home together. After searching for the perfect property for two years, the couple came across a traditional two-bedroom bungalow not far from Karen’s current home, which seemed to have plenty of scope to transform it into a modern space. ‘We really loved the location and the fact that the bungalow had so much potential for improvement,’ she says. ‘It was exactly what we were looking for.’

After they’d bought the bungalow, Nigel sold his home to fund the project and the whole family decided to live in Karen’s home during the building work. Karen and Nigel’s plan for the property involved a fairly modest project of extending and modernising the dated layout to turn it into a contemporary three- or four-bedroom property by creating an additional floor in the heightened roof space. During early discussions with structural engineers and builders, however, they were advised that structural restrictions with the original building would make this very problematic.

Fact file

The owners: Karen Fairholme, an estate agent, lives here with her partner, Nigel Brooks, who is retired, and Karen’s children, Iona, 23, and Rowena, 17

‘They explained that trying to combine the new part of the property with the old 1920s part would create considerable structural work and we would need to underpin the bungalow with new, stronger foundations. Therefore, the better and more cost-effective option was to demolish the old bungalow and start all over again with a new-build,’ says Nigel. ‘Although there was already planning permission in place to extend and improve the bungalow, we had to re-apply for permission to demolish it and then build the new house.

‘The constraints of the plot also required us to build within the same footprint of the old bungalow, and the height of the new building was limited as it had to be lower than the neighbouring houses,’ he adds. ‘We had to take all of this on board when designing the new house.’

For the design, Karen and Nigel hired David Swann of Montague Architects (, who is the father of one of their daughter Iona’s friends. As he had already built a similar house of his own, the couple felt that he was on their wavelength, and they worked together to create a highly contemporary look, making the best use of space.

‘We then put the project out to tender with five builders,’ says Karen. ‘Not selecting the lowest quote, we made our choice based upon the builder’s experience, their willingness to work with us and references from previous customers. This was quite a difficult project for both myself and Nigel from a management perspective, plus the builder hadn’t worked on such a contemporary project that needed such precise finishes before.’

Work started in April, and the demolition of the bungalow took around four weeks. New foundations were then dug, deeper and more substantial than the original ones. The new house was built from thermal blocks finished with a lime render, which is painted with a weatherproof finish.

Luckily, Karen and Nigel were living within walking distance of their new home, so they were able to monitor the nine-month project on a day-to-day basis. Although this wasn’t something that they had originally expected to do, as the build progressed they found it necessary to check that the project stayed on track.

The couple chose and sourced materials, fixtures and fittings themselves, which enabled them to control costs effectively. ‘By doing this we were able to bring the project in reasonably on budget,’ says Nigel. ‘We did choose more expensive materials during the work, which meant costs increased from our initial estimates, but these were conscious decisions and we made sure that we could cover the extras from the funds and savings that we already had at our disposal.’

The project wasn’t without its problems, though, as Karen and Nigel became frustrated with the quality of work. ‘At the start of the project, we impressed upon the builders that we both had a high expectation of the quality of finish and attention to detail, and gave them the opportunity to walk away if they felt that they couldn’t deliver what we required,’ says Karen. ‘To achieve the overall standard that we wanted, the builder did have to re-do some of the work, which meant that our moving-in date was delayed by several months. In the end we actually moved into the house before everything was completely finished, which was far from ideal.’

Once they had moved into the house, just before Christmas 2010, and with the building work nearly completed, Karen and Nigel were able to finalise the interior decoration. ‘We needed to create a design that would work with our existing furniture, which we had brought with us from our two smaller properties, so we decided to create a neutral backdrop, painting everything white,’ explains Karen. ‘It also provided the perfect setting for Iona’s artwork, as she is a Fine Art graduate. To add more interest to the space, we used bold wallpaper designs to create a couple of feature walls.’

A large, double-height entrance hall creates a striking first impression, while a large skylight brings plenty of natural light into the core of the house. Glass balustrades provide a feeling of openness and space both on the lower and upper floors. The couple used the same porcelain floor tiles throughout the main areas of the house, and they are continued on the terrace to link the inside and outside spaces with the help of two sets of bi-fold doors. A large living/kitchen/dining area at the rear of the house forms the main living area, while the separate living room is more formal, with velvet-covered sofas and a grand piano.

‘The master bedroom has a double-height ceiling and a large cathedral-style window to create a sense of wow-factor,’ says Karen. ‘There’s also a south-facing balcony off this room, which mirrors the one in another of the bedrooms. I also love the en suite wet room, with its curved wall and fantastic rain shower.’

Karen and Nigel have now been living in their stunning house for three years, and are thrilled with the results. ‘It was a steep learning curve for us, particularly when it came to the problems we experienced with the builders,’ says Karen. ‘I’d also advise anyone taking on a similar project to play to each other’s strengths. Each of you takes on a specific role, such as design authority or project management, and the other doesn’t interfere with that side of things.

‘In hindsight, I would perhaps have made some changes to the interior layout and included more storage, as you can never have too much,’ she adds.

Nigel, however, would relocate the master bedroom to the rear of the property. ‘It would be better situated there in order to take advantage of the quiet aspect and panoramic views,’ he explains.

As for taking on a future project, the experience of building this house hasn’t put off Karen, but Nigel says he might take more persuading. ‘I think I’d like to enjoy my retirement now and spend as much time on the golf course as possible!’

The costs

Build cost£320,000
Kitchen (including appliances)£19,500
Architects, structural engineering and planning fees£16,700
Soft furnishings and new furniture£14,700
Bathrooms and cloakrooms£12,500