Self-build story: The Yorkshire house for all seasons

It took years to get planning permission for this new-build but it was worth the wait.
It took years to get planning permission for this new-build but it was worth the wait.
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This beautifiul self-build home was designed around the ever-changing view of the countryside. Heather Dixon reports.

It can be blowing a gale across the field at the back and the traffic can be thundering along the road at the front, but Elaine and Ian James’s home near Harrogate is a haven of peace and tranquility.

The interiors are a mix of old and new

The interiors are a mix of old and new

For between them they have designed a property that is virtually noise-proof. Ian’s vision for the house was intuitive. He wanted to build a U-shaped home

focusing on the open fields.

“The house is north facing, which has many advantages,” he says. “We get the best sunset views and lots of natural light without excessive heat in summer. For this reason we decided to have all the main living rooms on this side of the house, with lots of glass so that the views became an integral part of our day-to-day lives.”

Ian was also keen to create extended sight-lines through all aspects of the property. This means that anyone stepping into the hallway can see straight

The house is filled with light thanks to its design.

The house is filled with light thanks to its design.

through the building to the garden and countryside beyond. “This automatically makes the place seem light, large and spacious,” he says.

This design ethos is echoed in Elaine’s symmetrical garden, which links the house to its rural views through a series of mini-gardens, carefully structured paths, colourful borders and unobscured vistas.

“By developing the house and garden together we’ve been able to seamlessly link the two, rather than the garden being something of an after-thought,” says Elaine.

In fact, long before they started the build, the couple had a very clear idea of what they wanted. They had lived in the house next door for many years and its large garden had included a commercial showroom-style building, built in the Eighties.

One of the dormer bedrooms

One of the dormer bedrooms

There was no planning consent to convert it from a commercial to a private property, as the plot sits in an area of scattered rural development and there was council resistance to infill buildings.

The previous owner had applied for planning permission but was turned down on a technicality. Ian, however, wasn’t deterred. With the help of an architect, they reapplied and were finally granted permission to convert the showroom into a dwelling.

“It took around ten years for permission to be granted, but it was worth it,” says Ian, who describes the house as a glorified three bedroom dormer bungalow with open plan living spaces on the ground floor and dorma- style bedrooms and family bathroom upstairs.

Before they could put the plans into action, they had to sell the house they were living in to release funds for the build. To make sure they didn’t allow the planning permission to lapse, they employed a company to lay the foundations.

The house bathroom

The house bathroom

“As long as you can demonstrate to the building inspector that the building work has begun you don’t have to reapply for planning permission,” says Ian, who fine-tuned the design to include functional utility areas to the front of the property, which is noisier, and living rooms to the back where it is much quieter. The U-shaped house also has a conservatory in the centre that draws in natural light.

The build finally began in earnest under the experienced guidance of now retired builder John Sutton recommended by architect Steve Johnson.

“The build was pretty straight forward with hardly any hitches, apart from the fact that the roof pitches were written down on the plans as being 45 degs but were, in reality, 55 degrees. As a result, some of the walls had to be adjusted to compensate for the miscalculation,” says Ian.

Although the house is not an eco-build, Elaine and Ian insisted on high levels of insulation and the inclusion of an air source heat pump, aiming to maintain a steady all-year- round temperature.

The couple wanted their new home to be a mix of old and new both inside and out, with traditional style Disimple Weiberger Hathaway Brindle bricks to

complement their old home, Imerys Beauvoise roof tiles and contemporary triple-glazed windows. The interior reflects this approach with with light, open spaces, streamlined kitchen units and modern feature light fittings working with oak and walnut antique furniture, bought through Ian’s fine furniture business at Crimple Hall near Harrogate.

“We planned so far aheads that we knew where key pieces of furniture would go before we started building,’ says Ian.

The icing on the cake for Elaine has been recognition of her garden design, which earned Marshalls building supplies both a regional and a national award for Best Use of a New Product (vitrified paving).

Now Elaine’s passion has become a full time career. “I love working with people who all have different visions, and reasons, for their

particular style of garden,” she says. “The gardens I am asked to design range from contemporary to traditional and everything in between. It is not just the garden and plants that inspire me but the many sculpture exhibits and use of landscaping materials. Cor-ten steel proves to be as popular as ever and a product that I am including in one of my current designs.”

For Ian and Elaine their home and garden is the perfect package.

‘It has completely lived up to all our hopes and expectations,’ says Ian. “We feel very close to nature here. We can see the sunsets, watch the wildlife, and experience the subtle changes of the landscape throughout the year, all from the comfort of our armchairs. It’s definitely a house for all seasons.”

*Useful Contacts: *Architect Steve Johnson of MJF Architects, tel: 0113 240 0012,

Garden design by Elaine James Garden Design, tel: 01423 330804

*High point: “Watching the garden mature and seeing how well it worked with the house. It paid to develop them at the same time.”

Low point: When we started researching building materials we spent an afternoon taking photographs of local properties. A resident thought we were checking out people’s houses with suspicious intent. Shortly after we got home we were confronted by a policeman who had come to check us out.”