A chance conversation at Skipton auction mart set Rob Hartley on the road to realising a long-held dream.
He had always wanted to build a farmhouse on his land, near Bingley, but thought any planning application would be thrown out.
Fellow farmers at the mart encouraged him to try and recommended agricultural planning specialist, Julia Pye. Under her guidance, Rob and his wife Claire managed to secure permission to build their own home on condition that it had an agricultural tie.
“Rob was absolutely ecstatic,” says Claire. “To live and work on the land was always his dream. He had talked about it for years. There were a couple of farm buildings here but nothing resembling a house so we didn’t think we’d stand a chance. It was a surprise when the council said ‘yes’.”
The couple, who have two children James, ten, and Sam, eight, put their village semi on the market to help fund the project. They then set to work on detailed plans that would give them a 21st century farmhouse with a traditional facade.
They also wanted the house to cope with family gatherings and mud and muck from the fields, so an enormous living kitchen was factored in, along with a rear entrance leading to a shower room, boot room and utility area.
We decided to go for broke as we had one chance to get it right.
There was no shortage of ideas for the layout but finding a lender proved a major issue. Sourcing a mortgage is a problem faced by many self-builders and the agricultural tie was an additional turn-off for the big banks and building societies.
Fortunately, the Yorkshire-based Ecology Building Society was more than happy to lend, and it offered preferential terms for eco-friendly properties. That prompted the Hartley’s to add solar panels and a ground source heat system to their scheme
“The panels and the ground source added more expense but I am glad we did it and that we found the Ecology. They are brilliant and released funds quickly when we needed them. We had a designated person to deal with all the way through, which also helped,” says Claire.
After hiring Richard Turner as a main contractor, work on the farmhouse began a year ago and had input from TVs Charlie Luxton, of Channel 4’s Building the Dream.
Claire had emailed the programme makers, True North, after seeing an appeal for self-builders to get in touch for help and advice.
“They asked if we would like to be filmed for the programme and we agreed,” she says. “Charlie was great and one of the most useful aspects was being shown some other houses. We picked up quite a few design ideas from that.”
The shell of their property was constructed from reclaimed stone that came from a demolished mill. Insulation and triple glazed windows were installed to fend off the wind.
During construction, Claire and the children lodged at her parents’ home while Rob lived in a caravan on site so he could oversee the build.
Helping to source products, designing the interior and admin were all part of Claire’s remit.
The boot room was a key area. She designed bespoke shelves and cupboards for overalls, coats, welllies and boots, plus a Pulley Maid for drying clothes.
This area leads through to the kitchen, which has handcrafted units by Manor cabinet makers in Bingley. They are painted in Farrow and Ball’s Elephant’s Breath while the island is in Radicchio red topped with white quartz. The cooker hood, which doubles as a light, was an extravagance at £1,000 but has proved a stylish investment.
Manor also made an oak refectory table to seat 14, along with built-in benches with under seat storage. Claire added chairs from B&Q, which were re-upholstered in bold, bright colours.
“I wanted a big, chatty kitchen and a big table and I got them but I wasn’t sure on the colour scheme. My friend, Helen Eakin, who is interested in interior design, was a great help there,” she says.
The ground floor also has a sitting room and a spacious hallway.
On the first floor, there was more room than anticipated and the couple created a large master suite with a dressing room and bathroom. There are two further bedrooms, a house bathroom plus the farm office, which has an external staircase for separate access. The boys’ rooms and a shower room are on the second floor.
“Having space for a dressing room is wonderful and we had that fitted out by Manor. Now we need furniture to fill the rest of the house. We ran out of money for that,” says Claire.
The build took nine months and went smoothly, though the dream home came at a higher price than expected.
The original budget was £230,000 and they ended up spending £325,000. The energy generating systems were extras, though they also generate cash from government feed-in tariffs. The stone cost more than anticipated, as did the electricity connection, which was £17,000, and the bore hole and water filters, which were £9,000.
“We decided to go for broke as we had one chance to get it right,” says Claire. “It has been worth it because we all love the house, especially Rob. He thought it, dreamt it and he made it happen.”
• Claire and Rob’s farmhouse will feature on a forthcoming episode of Channel 4’s Building the Dream. www.truenorth.tv