Cheshire businessman David Edwards is not a man to do things by halves. So when he and wife Margie – this was very much a team effort – decided to build their own home, they threw themselves into every aspect of the project in just the same way he would conduct himself in business.
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Cheshire businessman David Edwards is not a man to do things by halves. So when he and wife Margie – this was very much a team effort – decided to build their own home, they threw themselves into every aspect of the project in just the same way he would conduct himself in business. Few self-builders would not only attend HB&R Shows – (“I wore a suit. It made the suppliers I was talking to aware that they needed to take me seriously”) – but also go to the bother of trekking across Europe to the large continental building exhibitions in order to get a flavour of what was going on elsewhere and find some perspective on homebuilding in the UK. David has his views on that, too, but more of that later…
It all started with the site – a one acre backland plot on which a 1960s bungalow sat, on one of the best streets on the edge of town. For David and Margie, it faced the wrong way – looking directly at its closer-tothe- street neighbour – and so the first thing that they wanted to do was turn the whole thing around. Secondly, they wanted something bigger in terms of floor area than the existing but, owing to planning restrictions, not adding much in terms of footprint.
“We opted to dig down,” explains David, “in order to address these two issues – but as you can imagine, it was quite a challenge.We ended up getting rid of over 200 trucks of earth to create the space. It was absolutely the best thing to do, though. Not only did it help to get us the space we wanted, but we completed that first and used it as a bit of a base during the rest of the project.”
David and Margie worked with a couple of architects to come up with the Classically-inspired design scheme for the new home, and experienced both extremes of the design world. “The first was excellent at the concept, coming up with beautiful hand-drawn illustrations which it proved difficult to get any practical use out of,” says David. “The second was just too straight, too simple.” That notwithstanding, the result is awesome – a new Classical home with great big windows and an abundance of stonework.
Planning having been achieved, it was something altogether more prosaic that threatened the early progress on site. “Bats,” says David. “The council insisted on sending a bat officer out before the demolition of the existing bungalow and found one pippistrelle holding out.We wanted to demolish in the spring but thanks to that one bat we ended up having to wait almost a year.”
The house is quite an achievement—ambitious in scale (it comes in at a whopping 1,300m2), design and construction, as well as innovative in its use of features. Having done lots of research, David set his heart on using Insulated Concrete Formwork (ICF – effectively a hollow polystyrene block filled on site with concrete) from PolarWall for the external walls due in part to its sensible construction principles but also its high insulative properties—the achieved Uvalue is just 0.19. The outer face of the block was then covered in a through-coloured render—meaning it wouldn’t need painting again.
This house also has a lot of stonework—there are copings, quoins, surrounds, cills, heads and balustrading too numerous to mention, all of it from Wolseley. A lot of it was wet-cast (when putting the mix into the moulds the mix can either be semi-dry which speeds up the curing and therefore production process or wet-cast, which allows finer detailing and reinforcements to be added but, naturally, adds to the time and therefore the cost) and was chosen because – this being the North-West – “it looked good when rained on,” as David explains. “A lot of the stone I saw looked too drab when wet.”
The interiors are a remarkable achievement, with great proportions and an elegant style that marries contemporary and traditional perfectly.Margie took responsibility for these and made the most of sterling help from her friend Carol – “she has a great eye for style,” says Margie – and also used the services of Tim Barnetti. “Tim’s what I would call a ‘visualist’ in that he can take your own ideas and using his excellent illustrative skills, help you realise what you wanted. That makes it so much easier when you’re looking to specify the whole thing,” she explains. Where to start?Well, the highlights include two brilliant orangeries and a sleek, modern Bontempi
kitchen that opens out onto the large patio, complete with not only induction hobs but an induction wok and a sumptuous mirrored splashback. “Contemporary works best with kitchens,” says Margie, “it helps to keep it simple.” Taller-than average ceiling heights help with the feeling of grandeur and the rooms are dotted with well-chosen light fittings and statement pieces.Much of the basement has been turned into a leisure area with home cinema, changing rooms and one of the largest indoor swimming pools you could hope to see, situated in place of the existing home’s original garage.
Having researched the project to within an inch of its life, David and Margie are, quite rightly, delighted with the result. It’s a mix of high quality traditional design and innovative construction methods and features – a testament to the effort the couple went to during the process. “We are so happy with it,” says David. “It’s everything we wanted, and we love living here.”
The Grass Drive
Partly to deal with the slope of the driveway to the front of the house (the old rear elevation) and partly to combine the simple charm of grass with a practical use, David opted for a grass driveway. Thing is, it’s the best one we’ve ever seen – the grass is simply perfect and the sensation of driving on it, particularly up the slope, not a little disconcerting. Green driveways consist of an extruded polymer mesh to reinforce the ground (such as Hexapath), the cells of which are filled with grass seed. In addition to providing a permeable surface (now required for hard landscaping areas as part of some planning permissions) it is also a pretty good value alternative to block paving – a 3mm deep mesh will cost around £3-5/m2.