Life on the River: A Contemporary Self Build with Stunning Views

Life on the River: A Contemporary Self Build with Stunning Views

It isn’t hard to see what attracted Nigel and Alison Maddocks to the Worcestershire plot that is now occupied by their spectacular new home.

With the River Avon meandering along the bottom of their garden, a selection of balconies from which to enjoy spotting the local wildlife and a G&T deck to boot, their new home is something of a tranquil haven for the couple. But the build was not without its complications.

As keen boaters, Nigel and Alison had been looking for a plot close to the water. The site already had planning permission in place for a traditional style house, but the couple were keen for something more modern.

A Difficult Site

“We had some idea of the kind of house that we wanted and liked the idea of SIPs [structural insulated panels] as a construction method,” explains Nigel. “Then we met architect Allan Corfield and SIPs were kind of his bag.

“Working with Allan, we changed the design for the house completely,” he continues. “We wanted an upside down layout to make the most of the views and we were keen on an open-plan arrangement internally. I liked the precision and speed of SIPs —  plus they work well with large open-plan spaces.”

Project Notes

  • Homeowners: Nigel and Alison Maddocks
  • Project: Contemporary self-build
  • Build Timeline: Apr 2016 – Dec 2017
  • Size: 262m²
  • Plot Cost: £219,000 (April 2014)
  • Build Cost: £750,000
  • Value: Unknown

“From the initial consultation with Alison and Nigel it was clear that they had strong ideas and a detailed brief for this challenging site,” adds Allan Corfield. “Two of the key requirements were to maximise the river views and to have all of the main living spaces on the upper floor. These spaces were complemented by the vaulted double roof space, made possible by the SIPS construction.”

The new plans were granted planning permission with no difficulties, something Nigel attributes to the fact that there is a broad range of architectural styles on the road their new home resides on. Nigel took on the project management of the build, despite the fact that he and Alison were still living in Derby at the time and working full time.

“We knew this was going to be a difficult site,” says Nigel. “It was heavily sloping and totally overgrown. In fact we struggled to find a groundworker who could cope with the site. In the end, Allan came up with a contact — a company based in Scotland. They came down and stayed in the local village hotel.”

In order to level the site and prepare it for the new house, extensive areas required sheet piles to be inserted into the ground. “In some ways the slope helped, as it informed the design and made it possible to fit in a two storey home, where only a single storey was allowed from the road,” explains Allan.

“However it did cause significant issues (and added costs) during construction, especially at the initial groundworks stage. Once the various retaining walls and beam and block floor was installed, it created level working areas. Choosing an off-site construction method such as SIPs reduced on site time quite dramatically.”

“There are retaining walls all over the place,” says Nigel. “Four metres of sheet piling runs along the river frontage, they have been put in at the road side too. There was a period of time when the entire site was sliding towards the river — it was pretty scary stuff! Luckily our groundworkers were really skilled at what they do.”

Around half the width of the road frontage was temporarily held up with sheet piles, before a five metre retaining wall was constructed, built using Tobermore Secura Grand blocks, the same material that was used to build the retaining wall at the rear of the house. “Around twenty lorry loads of concrete went in behind that wall,” recalls Nigel.

Designing the Exterior

With site preparation complete, the shell of the house was constructed using SIPs. These panels are made up of an insulating foam core sandwiched between two structural facings, usually oriented strand board. Once the shell was up, the construction company took on the rest of the work, with various specialists organised by Nigel.

Externally, the striking house is clad in a combination of white CorkSol render, which was sprayed on, and brick. Huge areas of the rear elevation are made up of full-height glazing and sliding doors that open out to balconies, a feature that makes the very most of the setting of the house.

“The rear of the house is south facing,” explains Nigel. “From the balconies we get the sun in the morning and the last sun of the day.

“We had been used to living in old, cold houses before this,” he adds. “Being able to build in some thermal efficiency was a draw of self build. We get lots of solar gain from the reflection of the sun off the water so that the house is never cold, yet awnings fitted over the windows mean it never overheats either.”

The house is heated by underfloor heating on the ground floor, while the first floor has no heating at all.

“Alison and Nigel were conscious of designing a large home that wouldn’t cost a lot to heat,” says Allan. “This is why we adopted the fabric first approach, focusing on creating an airtight, highly insulated shell with renewable heating and cooling.” The front elevation of the house has been left deliberately understated in comparison to the rear — “it suits our personalities,” explains Nigel.

A rendered section of the house, named ‘the Undercroft’ by Nigel and Alison, sits to one side of the brick-clad section. In response to the sloping site, the Undercroft was created in order to build up to drive level from the rear, with the garage sitting above. Internally, this space is accessed from the bedroom down several steps.

“We could have just filled the space with rubble,” explains Nigel, “but we felt we would rather use it as a room, so now we have this big space, used for everything from office meetings to parties.”

An Upside-down Layout

Internally the house is accessed through a hallway, with a dramatic open stairwell leading to the lower ground floor to one side. The living spaces are bright and open, with the sitting area at the heart of the layout, looking out over the river beyond.

On the lower floor, three large bedrooms all open out to the rear, with their own balconies providing stunning spaces from which to take in the surroundings — Nigel and Alison are regularly treated to visits from a kingfisher to their balcony while sitting in bed in the morning.

“This project was extraordinarily stressful,” says Nigel. “The groundworks in particular took longer and were more expensive than we had anticipated — thankfully nothing fazed our groundworkers. Most of the solutions for the problems we encountered with the house involved more concrete!

“However, while we might never want to build again, we would never have ended up with a house like this otherwise and we now have somewhere we will never want to move from.”

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