Building any family’s dream home is a challenge that excites those involved. For us, doing so in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty was a particularly engaging commission.We were appointed by Liz and Tristan Stone of Stones Boat Yard in East Portlemouth, South Devon. Our team was immediately excited by the idea of building a home that would function as a practical family residence while also respecting the incredible natural beauty of its surroundings.
The Boathouse was an incredibly personal project in many ways. Liz and Tristan were managing the build themselves, creating a family home in the area that meant the world to them. At the same time, it had to fulfil numerous practical purposes while also fitting in with a challenging location. We also knew from the outset that the home would be built by local craftspeople, which meant that the entire design process was led by the way that it would be constructed. An intriguing project from all angles.
The granting of planning permission in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is something of a rarity. In this instance, it was granted because of a unique set of criteria. With Liz and Tristan classed as critical workers in the area, their home fell into the category of an ‘Occupational Dwelling for a Rural Worker.’ This, combined with the carefully crafted and discreet building design, meant that planning permission was granted when the vast majority of applications would have failed.
The location meant that much of the home would be carved into the hillside for the sake of discretion. This meant, for example, placing the utility room, plant room, cloakroom and garage under a green roof that runs into the natural landscape in a way that is reminiscent of the early Neolithic settlements on Dartmoor. Landscaping was key from the outset, with Landscape Architect Andrew Rathbone working closely with the authorities at the planning stage. The result is that the surrounding natural meadow flows right up to the walls of the house. Over time, the woodland will be enlarged and an orchard planted.
Interestingly, the house’s design is inverted, with the main living spaces set above the bedrooms. Other interesting design features included the eaves, which were inspired by thatched roofs, and the use of copper left over from the roof – beautifully crafted by a local metalworker – in the form of a copper shelf in the main bathroom and copper brassware throughout.
There were various reasons for the design quirks and the inverted nature of the building. Building into a steep slope presented both challenges and opportunities. A design was conceived that placed the living space at the top, to maximise the stunning views and the more cellular rooms arranged the lower ground floor. It was accepted that the bathrooms and corridors faced into the hillside and were internal leaving the bedrooms to enjoy the natural light of the north and open side. The siting and angle of the building was critical to ensure that the north elevation and only two story façade in the building was not due north but enjoyed some easterly aspect and evening sun.
Using local craftspeople was part of a broad focus on sustainability. The house was designed with an EPC rating of A in mind. This meant concentrating on the insulation of the external fabric in order to reduce the demand for energy to heat the building. Having a third of the walling underground provided superb benefits in this respect. A ground source heat pump was installed for energy, with coils of pipework dug into the field above the house and the field then returned to a flowering meadow.
The Boathouse took two years to complete, with Tristan and Liz managing the self-build project throughout. Affordability was a driving factor from the outset. The stunning setting means that houses in the area come with eye-watering price tags. By taking the approach that they did, Liz and Tristan were able to create a dream affordable home for less than the sale price of a tiny, derelict cottage just half a mile away.
Each stage of the project brought its own rewards, from the timber frame going up to the interior structure going in. Liz reflects that it felt incredible when the family were finally able to move into their dream home, after putting so much work into it.
Building Excellence Certificate of Recognition 2021
Grand Design Magazine February 2021 issue
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