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STORY: Eleanor Wilde PICTURES: Steve Taylor

Malcolm Bruce and Linda Rogerson-Heath have built their new home on a pretty site in East Sussex.

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alcolm Bruce has spent most of his working life helping other people build their homes, and, after 40 years in the construction industry, he recently decided to put his skills and knowledge to good use and build a new house for himself and his partner, Linda Rogerson-Heath. “At school I’d taken O-Levels in bricklaying and building construction, and then became an indentured student attending college on day release for four years to qualify as a quantity surveyor,” he explains. “For the past nine years I’ve been a project manager for a developer, specialising in design and build, which involves organising around three sites at any one time, but my own homes have always been older properties because I liked their charm.” In 2003 Malcolm purchased a small two-up, two-down, 200year-old terraced cottage, which he completely renovated. “It only had one bathroom and was quite cramped, so when I met Linda and she moved in we were pretty tight for space,” he says. Four years ago the couple decided that enough was enough, and began looking for a plot where they could build something larger which would better suit their lifestyle. “I thought it was about time to experience life in a brand new house,” he explains. Linda and Malcolm wanted to remain living near the sea, and after several failed attempts to buy land they eventually purchased a modest brick bungalow surrounded by farmland on, the edge

Weatherboarding, balconies and dormers give the house a distinctly New England feel. The detached double garage was built with a first floor studio for Linda, which is accessed via an external staircase.

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Linda & Malcolm’s top tip: “Do not scrimp on quality – always go for the best you can afford.”

of the beautiful Sussex village of Winchelsea, 20 minutes drive from their home. The bungalow stands on a large plot beside a stream, just half a mile from the sea. “It was past its sell-by date and had only ever been lived in by the people who first built it in the 50s,” says Malcolm. “The planning officer met me on site and I showed him my initial rough sketches for a replacement house, which had a barn-style look.” The planners preferred the idea of a chalet bungalow with dormer windows, though, and Malcolm used a designer at work to draw up revised plans for a pretty weatherboarded house. Linda and Malcolm requested three bedrooms and two bathrooms, with as many windows as possible to capture light and views on the private site. A spacious kitchen/breakfast room leads into a snug on the ground floor, with a separate sitting room for weekends and entertaining. “There were a few more tweaks made to the design along the way, and the planning officer felt that the covered balcony for the second bedroom was too large, but we loved this feature

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Malcolm built the large brick fireplace in the formal sitting room which is laid with oak flooring from Elka. The bespoke staircase was made with an oak handrail and painted newels by Stairways Group.

and submitted the plans anyway,” explains Linda. “We did compromise by taking out some glass above the front door, and the fact we had so many eco friendly features probably helped our case, because we included reclaimed materials, solar panels and an air source heat pump, with rainwater collected from the roof for garden taps and flushing the toilets.” Linda had also previously owned a small house, which she was using as an office for her homeopathy business. This was to provide a home for the couple during the 12-month build, enabling Malcolm to put his furniture into storage and sell his own cottage to raise funds for the project. “I’d visit the site at seven in the morning and spend 45 minutes briefing everyone before work,” Malcolm recalls. “Then we’d spend every evening working until we were tired, and weekends were taken up with the build too – although I did make sure I always played golf on Saturday mornings, and Linda would go for a run or a bike ride, just to give us a break. We were tidying, painting and ordering materials – anything to help keep costs down.” Malcolm used contacts and trades from work to build the house, including structural engineers and the timber frame supplier. “You definitely have a different mindset when you’re building for yourself, rather than sitting in an office coordinating other people’s builds, and this project has really helped me understand what our clients go through,” he says. “There’s so much to choose and so many important decisions to make, and it’s important to make the right ones and not keep changing your mind.” Work started on site in August 2010 with the demolition of the existing bungalow, and the larger two-storey house has been erected on roughly the same footprint as its predecessor. A raft foundation was needed due to soft ground conditions JULY 2012 SelfBuild&Design 47

Pale blue cabinets from Lorien Interiors continue the New England feel in the kitchen, which has been fitted with an electric Aga.

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in the valley and the presence of mature trees. “We were unable to have normal strip foundations as the bearing capacity of the soil at the required depth was insufficient, and this came as a bit of a shock,” says Malcolm, who admits that these unforeseen costs swallowed up the couple’s contingency fund before they were even out of the ground. A carpentry company was employed to erect the timber frame once it was delivered, and some of the exterior walls were clad using mellow bricks, reclaimed from a demolished coach house nine miles away in Hastings. “There was around 25 per cent wastage for the bricks, but the end result is lovely,” Malcolm explains. “Our clay roof tiles came from an old mill in Lancashire.Very few were wasted and we’re really pleased with the colours.” Much of the exterior has been clad with pale green HardiePlank siding, which looks like timber but is actually made from fibre cement and requires no repainting. A lowmaintenance home was high on Linda and Malcolm’s list of priorities, and the couple chose uPVC windows for this reason, with aluminium folding/sliding doors in the sitting room and kitchen. “Living near the sea meant we had to make careful choices, and we didn’t want to spend all our spare time climbing ladders to paint the cladding and windows,” says Linda. “To be honest most people can’t tell the difference, and we’ve had passers-by stop their cars to admire the house.” Unsurprisingly, considering Malcolm’s profession, the build was completed on time and virtually on budget with very few dramas. Planning consent was granted to increase the size of the proposed detached single garage, which has been built as a double garage with a studio above, designed


The extended sitting room now

so that Linda can run her homeopathy business from home. External stairs lead up to the first floor level and the timber-framed building is finished in the same materials as the main house, with dormer windows to match. Both buildings were constructed on raft foundations at the same time, although the smaller garage/studio was completed first and has proved a huge success. With no gas to the site the old bungalow had previously been heated by expensive oil-fired radiators. Instead, Malcolm and Linda chose an air source heat pump to operate their underfloor heating system. “We wanted to be as eco friendly as possible, and quotes for ground source heat pumps proved too expensive,” says Malcolm. “Two solar hot water panels are mounted on the south-facing roof and our domestic hot water is always red hot.” Internally, the house is a combination of traditional features with some contemporary touches. Malcolm built the large brick fireplace in the sitting room, where window shutters ensure privacy at night. Engineered oak floors have been laid in the majority of rooms, with tiled floors in the two JULY 2012 SelfBuild&Design 49

The bath in the master en suite has been raised on a plinth so that Linda can look out of the window. The sanitaryware is from Ideal Standard and Villeroy & Boch.

bathrooms which have been fitted with modern, angular sanitaryware. The bath in the master en suite is raised on a tiled plinth, allowing bathers to enjoy views out across the fields – a particular request from Linda – and speakers are inset into ceilings throughout the house. The couple moved into their new home in September 2011 and are very happy with all the space they now enjoy. “I’d always admired other people’s new homes because of the gadgets, low bills and easy maintenance, but was still drawn to the charm of older properties,” says Malcolm. “It was definitely time for a change, though, and now we’ve completed one build for ourselves we may well consider another at some point in the future.”

THE BOTTOM LINE Malcolm and Linda paid £250,000 for their plot of land in 2010 and spent £230,000 building their timber-framed house, which is valued at £600,000.

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In the principal bedroom, doors open onto a glazed balcony. The pretty guest bedroom has a large covered balcony and a vaulted ceiling built in the roof space.

FINAL THOUGHTS Q. What was the high point of the project? Seeing our dream home and wish list come to life, and watching visiting grandchildren running from room to room with so much space to play is fantastic. We have enough room to entertain guests really comfortably.

Floorplan 200m2

The house features a spacious kitchen/breakfast room opening into an informal snug. There’s a separate sitting room on the ground floor, a utility and WC. Upstairs there are three bedrooms, a family bathroom and a master en suite. Bedrooms one and two both open onto balconies.


Q.…And the low point?

There was a period of around six to eight weeks when we came to a standstill while we waited for my house to sell because we’d run out of funds. It helped in other ways, though, because it gave us time to catch up on things like choosing tiles and other finishes.

Q. What was your biggest extravagance? Our electric Aga wasn’t in the original budget and was an extravagance, but it makes the whole house very warm and homely and goes into sleep mode overnight. We didn’t actually buy anything online for the house, which is perhaps unusual.

Q. And future plans?

We’re just about to build a little sun patio with a fire-pit, positioned to catch the late evening sun.



EXTERIORS Timber frame Patrick & Thompsons Ltd: 01494 565000 Air source heat pump Ice Energy: Weatherboarding James Hardie Building Products Ltd: Window shutters ShutterCraft: Rainwater harvester Polypipe: uPVC doors and windows Windows for Construction: INTERIORS Kitchen Lorien Interiors: Staircase Stairways Group: Oak flooring Elka: Oak internal doors Benchmarx Kitchens & Joinery: Underfloor heating Warmafloor:

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