Merimac Diary Part One: The Big Dig

Monday, March 16, 2015

Work has finally started on site at Merimac, Assad and Lisa’s state of the art, contemporary home in the picturesque East Sussex countryside. Now that the project has moved from concept to concrete, we checked in on them to hear their thoughts on the journey so far.

“It feels real now. Before we were visiting Putney and looking at pretty pictures and choosing bathrooms and kitchens,” Assad said. “It’s felt more like an art project than a physical construction project. I’ve visited the site three times since work started and even though there’s not much to look at yet I’m very excited.”

Unpredictability and risk are inevitable realities of a self build. Like every client, there were a few anxieties Assad was having to overcome.

“There have been some hiccups along the way, as expected. Asbestos was just found in the basement of the bungalow we demolished, which we’ll have to pay to remove. Problems like that are my only real worry as we have a budget to consider, in terms of delivery time and final quality we’re confident.”

Despite his confidence, we wanted to know if there was anything he would have done differently now that he has the gift of hindsight.

“It’s the first time I’ve done a self build but I wouldn’t do anything differently. I’m too busy to go to site meetings so I have to place a lot of trust in Liam. He’s been a legend, he has amazing attention to detail and it gives me a lot of comfort knowing that when he visits the site he’ll make sure it’s running at a very high level of quality.

“That attention to detail is why we chose John and the team. We interviewed five different architects, all known for award winning, contemporary homes. But it was their approach of managing the project from start to finish that made me trust that they would bring it in on time and on budget.”

With construction under way, the lid has been shut on the project’s conceptual phase. Luckily, Assad and Lisa are very proud of the results.

“We always wanted a modern, contemporary house. The design process let us come up with something unique, there’s no other house in the country that looks like ours. We put a lot of time into explaining how we live and did our best with little bits of paper to describe what we wanted, right down to the fiddliest details like where to put sockets.

“I think I’ve been a more involved client than most,” Assad laughed. “It’s got to a stage now where Liam knows us and our tastes that, for example, when I’m choosing the lights he knows exactly what I’m looking for.

“We always looked ahead too. We’ve got two little girls – eight months old and three years – and as they grow and our family changes the house will adapt around us. It’s not like an off the shelf house where you need to keep making adjustments, we have a future proof home.”

By drawing heat from the pond on site and finishing the build to a very high specification, Assad and Lisa’s home will achieve zero carbon emissions. We asked why this was such an important detail to him.

“I’ve always been interested in the concept of getting a house to pay for itself, to have a zero energy bill at the end of the year.

“There’s two reasons for that: one, I do care about the planet we live on. I think if everyone makes a little bit of effort it will be a better place for my two daughters. And linked to that, well, fuel prices are only going one way. If I can get my house to run at zero, it’s win win.

“Knowing we’re drawing our heat from the pond also suits the setting in a way, there’s something quite earthy about it.”

At the start of the process, Lisa wasn’t sold on countryside living. Now that work is full steam ahead, we wondered how her feelings had changed.

“I haven’t got a choice now,” she laughed.

“But really, we’re both fed up of London. With two young daughters now, we’re spending more time at home and London doesn’t feel like the right environment for them. There’s great schools in East Sussex and we’re only an hour from the city if we want to visit.

“Assad’s brother made the same move a few years ago. He warned us that the first year will be a hard adjustment because everything won’t be on our doorstep anymore. But now when he goes into London he can’t wait to get back home.”

The plans may be finalised but this is just the beginning for Assad and Lisa. It’s going to be a long, sometimes difficult road before they can move in but they’re both excited to see their new home gradually emerge.

“When it’s just a hole in the ground it’s hard to imagine how the house will take shape. In three to four weeks there’ll be foundations and the steel frame going in. That’s when we’ll be able to start visualising what the concepts will turn into.

“There’s been a few bumps on the road but I continue to recommend John, Liam and the team, and now some of our friends are starting their own projects. It’s been a very pleasurable experience.”

We’ll be paying another visit to Assad and Lisa when we hit the next build milestone. In the mean time, take a peak ahead to the finished build by looking at the Merimac page here and enjoy one of the most unique designs we’ve ever had the pleasure of producing.

By John Dyer-Grimes