ROCKY ROAD BELFAST
Article published in Self Build Magazine
Hot and cold
Highly glazed, well proportioned, angular designs have some very exciting qualities, lending homes a truly contemporary feel. But living in a house like this can take some getting used to, as Craig and Clare Adair of Co Antrim found out.
“We’d always dreamed of living in an open plan house, but never got a chance to experience it. So when our architect suggested we visit a few homes he’d designed, we couldn’t wait to see what they would be like,” says Craig. “And we weren’t disappointed, we loved how bright and airy these spaces felt.”
Their existing home was in need of an upgrade – the 900 square feet size was now too small as the family had expanded, and having been built in the 1930s the couple found it hard to heat.
“Also the bungalow really didn’t make the most of the site; we have a lovely view but couldn’t enjoy it unless we went outside.” They first considered extending at the back and above, in parallel with a renovation, but it quickly made more sense to demolish and start from scratch.
“Considering the amount of work that would have to have gone into the renovation, and as new builds are VAT exempt, both from a building and cost point of view it was easier to build new. It also removed the headache of having to go through an energy upgrade as we wanted to get a really well insulated house. As our previous home had been hard to heat we didn’t want this one to cost a lot to run or be difficult to keep warm.”
“We actually found our BGA Architects through the timber frame company we hired to build the house,” continues Craig. Planning permission was secured without any major conditions and the architect acted as project manager throughout. “I have a friend who went down the direct labour route and I think it cost him more in the long run; it was certainly a coordination nightmare and I didn’t want to have to go through this as we’d just had a son and we both work,” explains Craig.
“So for the construction we went to tender and received four bids, we had a good fit with the builder we chose and they came in the cheapest. It was an easy decision!” “We had monthly meetings and from day one the questions came in – where do you want the sockets? What tiles do you want? Each question had a deadline attached to it and this kept the build running smoothly. The builder was happy because we never kept him waiting.”
The site is sloping and this dictated part of the design. “It’s a 30m by 10m wide site on an incline so it was a challenge providing access to construction machinery. We also had to figure out how to make space for parking at the front. Those were really the main challenges insofar as I was concerned,” adds Craig. The construction work started in May 2012 and was completed in February 2013, with the couple renting a house nearby while the demolition and rebuilding took place.
Being so compatible with family life, the open plan area is where they spend most of their time. “This is also where we get the views which we can finally enjoy,” enthuses Craig.
“The kitchen designers helped us choose a walnut and cream finish, we also went with a butcher’s block, wine cooler, and a sink that all blend into a minimalist finish. We chose an induction hob and an American style fridge freezer.”
To complete the look they chose a composite stone splashback. “It’s so handy to clean we used that around fireplaces (for the fireplace hearths) too, on the advice of the interior designer we hired. The two fireplace hearths are wooden units spray painted the same colour as the walls.”
“When we went into this I thought interior designers were just for the rich; I really wish I’d known from the start that you can hire someone to advise you on all the decoration and as long as you buy from them, there is no fee,” says Craig.
“We originally went for an all-white scheme and it was a bit cold. Something was missing, it just wasn’t right and we didn’t really know what to do about it. We left quite a few aspects unfinished as we couldn’t decide on a style.”
The interior designer helped them pick out everything from wallpaper to silver paintings, from the mirrors to the light shades. “The home changed overnight! It was amazing. He got his painter in and his own joiner and electrician as we not only added table lamps but also fittings. Hiring a designer really isn’t a rich mans’ luxury and I now would recommend everyone building a house that doesn’t have a clear interior design vision to take these services on.”
As for the earlier inspiration, it came from various places. “Our builder found the oak stairs, he recommended we use walls to enclose it instead of balustrades, which makes it feel very modern.”
To continue in this streamlined style they chose English wooden floors upstairs and downstairs installed all the same tiles, with marble in the main bathroom for a touch of luxury.
As they say, every house should sit well in its place and time. For Craig and Clare the house provides an ideal place to raise a family, but there are times when they do dream.
“It’s great having the children in the open plan area to keep an eye on them, but as they grow up we envisage using the living room at the front of the house a lot more as it’s very cosy with the gas fire, it’s a wonderful place to retreat to.”
An aspect they hadn’t factored in was the downside to having very large expanses of glazing without some form of brise soleil to block out the sun in the summer months.
“I didn’t realise it could get too warm,” says Craig. “Even though we have triple glazing upstairs, due to the weight of the glass the sliding doors downstairs had to be double glazed. In the open plan area we can simply slide the doors open and get a nice breeze in to cool the space but as the heat rises, it can get quite hot upstairs – opening the windows there doesn’t really seem to help.”
“In the children’s bedroom the temperature can reach 27 degree Celsius and even opening the rooflights didn’t help. We just couldn’t cool down the rooms enough so we put in reflective blinds and I eventually got a portable air conditioning unit.” In winter they keep warm downstairs with underfloor heating, which only kicks in for about an hour and a half per day, while upstairs they installed radiator.
“We have a total of four zones: one for hot water, two are downstairs and the other is upstairs for the bedrooms. We put in an electric underfloor heating mat in the bathroom upstairs and I’m glad we did that; it’s great to have when stepping out of the bath.” Downstairs they also have a gas fire which they turn on in winter for effect, roughly thirty minutes at a time. The thermostats are in the utility, off the front hall and the boiler is gas.
“Our bills are now roughly £60 per month for electricity and £40 for gas. We installed solar panels so there is no need for hot water from the boiler up until October. There are three panels and they supply all of our needs; we also get a grant payment for seven years, which is helping pay for them,” explains Craig.
The finishing touch Craig couldn’t do without is their front gate. “I love the electric gate, we didn’t do it at the start but it really helped embed the house in its landscape. It really finished off the project, it gave the façade a great lift. We used the same red cedar as in the house’s external cladding.” Outside they also love the addition of artificial grass. “No mud, no mess and with the trampoline and slide for the kids, we have an ideal space for them to play in,” says Craig. “The only downside is that even though the brick pavers provide a wonderful surface to walk on, there’s still weeding to do. But that beats having to cut the grass on a slope on a weekly basis, as we used to when we lived in the original house.”