Writing a brief for your own Grand Design is not easy when you are a novice self-builder with little technical knowledge. So John and Jane Abram decided to compile a wish list of evocative words and phrases. These included modern, distinctive, individual, attractive, inviting, interesting, intriguing, sharp, stylish and desirable... but not quirky, weird, oddball, pastiche, dull, OTT or brash.
They were also clear that they wanted lots of glass but the property had to “look like a home, not a car showroom or office”. The approach paid off when a scale model of their perfect home was presented by Shipley-based Halliday Clark Architects, who beat off competition to win the job of designing and overseeing the project.
“We sent the brief to a few architects and it was more stylistic than practical but it paid off. We were really impressed with Halliday Clark and they had really thought about the orientation,” says John.
The couple had sold a large period property to downsize and fund their self-build odyssey. So they were in prime position when a plot came on the market in sought-after Ilkley. The previous owner had demolished a dated, detached house and already had planning permission to build a new property. That design wasn’t to the couple’s liking, so they went back to the planners to seek approval for their own plan, which was more exciting and made better use of the site.
The planning officials at Bradford Council were supportive and their decision proved prescient. The house has just won a Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Yorkshire award for architectural excellence and is now a strong contender for the national awards. The judges were particularly impressed with the clever use of an awkward site, which featured a steep drive that had led down to the old house and garage.
The slope was built up and levelled and a new retaining wall created to allow for a parking area and garage by the front gate. Below is a sunken south-facing courtyard garden, which provides a private sun-trap and brings light into the lower ground-floor living rooms
The front door and entrance hall are at first-floor level and accessed via a paved walkway. It fittingly leads up to the sensational three-storey house, which is constructed from blockwork clad with natural stone, render and decorative zinc panels.
Inside there is extensive use of glazing to make the most of the views and all three storeys are connected by an internal atrium. This acts both as a heat sink and a natural daylight distributor. A sitting room, two bedrooms and two bathrooms make up the first floor while on the second a series of rooms in the roof house a sensational master bedroom and three storage spaces.
On the lower ground floor, there is a large open-plan living kitchen leading to a formal dining area. There is also a separate snug plus a utility room, en-suite bedroom and an office that sit along a glazed link corridor overlooking the courtyard garden.
The build started in July 2012, with architect Adam Clark project managing and James Tiffany, of RJ Tiffany Builders, as the main contractor. Both retirees, John and Jane were able to keep a close eye on progress after arming themselves with as much information as possible. “We visited quite a few homebuilding shows, which were very helpful, and we were up on site every other day at first and every day towards the end of the project. We were lucky because there were no fundamental issues. That was thanks to a great team and the fact we had spent a lot of time during the design stage thinking about the detail and the layout,” says John.
The couple also spent hours on the lighting plan, helped by Oldfield Lighting in Skipton, and on sourcing everything from door handles to radiators. The attention to detail is apparent thanks, in part, to Adam Clark who wasn’t afraid to fight for what he wanted.
“Adam argued his corner. There is quite a lot of metal work around the parking area and he specified galvanised steel and we thought powder-coated would be better. We agreed with him in the end and we are glad we did as the powder-coated would’ve been too prominent, whereas the galvanised blends in,” says John.
“He was also fanatical about junctions, where the wall meets the ceiling, and thanks to that we have hardly any settlement issues.”
Adam was also responsible for a host of clever ideas, including the sliding glass door in the office that allows views on to the garden, recessed banisters, the balcony off the master bedroom and the attractive green roof that softens the hard landscaping around it. The Abrams moved in after 10 months and ran just ten per cent over budget. The extra spend was partly due to the retaining wall, as the building inspectors insisted on deeper footings.
Their collection of period furniture had been in storage for two years by the time they moved in and, although it is radically different to the modern interior, it works well, adding warmth and character.
“We didn’t want to start afresh and we were attached to a lot of our belongings, including the dining table and our pottery and pictures,” says Jane.
The ceramics and paintings add colour and interest, along with a beautiful stained glass panel that the Abrams commissioned especially for the house. It is by Harrogate stained glass artist Caryl Hallett, who used colours to match the moorland views. The panel is one of the final images in their memory book of photographs that document the build and the stunning end result.
“We really enjoyed the process and we have learned so much,” says John. “We would do it again tomorrow but we’d never find another plot like this in Ilkley.”