Steve and Julie didn’t Plan to Build a New Home Until They Saw an Irresistible Opportunity

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Steve and Julie weren’t strangers to property development, but they had never built a home from scratch before. Faced with the endless opportunities of an empty plot, we helped them design the neo-Georgian mansion of their dreams.

They recently visited the site to paint a picture of their future home in its empty steel frame, which also gave us the opportunity to ask Steve how he was feeling about the project so far.

What made you decide to build your own home?

My wife and I were not really looking to move house as we were happy where we currently live. But then the opportunity came up to buy a fantastic plot and we started to get excited about the idea of building our own house.

It was a perfect development opportunity: the biggest plot on the best road in St. Albans with the smallest, oldest, dilapidated house on it. There were 32 bids a day, some from big developers who planned to build six houses there, but we managed to win.

We quickly realised how much we had taken on. When you buy a house off the market, you choose the location, the number of rooms and the interior. Now we had to choose all those details that we didn’t have to pay attention to before. We felt a lot of pressure to get it right.

It was clear that we needed to hire an architect to relieve some of this pressure. We spoke to one we knew locally, one that had been recommended locally and one from London – who was John.

Why did you choose DGA to be your architects?

We chose John because right from the start he asked us more challenging and thought-provoking questions than the other architects. We hit it off right away, we always felt more positive and less stressed after talking to him, which gave us the comfort that we were using the right firm.

He also took the time to explain to us why houses look the way they do and what functions various design elements serve, so became more confident in our understanding of architecture and what was and was not possible.

Our plot quickly went from an intimidating blank piece of paper to a very enjoyable creative process.

How did you settle on the mixed Georgian and contemporary style of the final design?

Before we spoke with any architects, we were excited by the idea of building a very contemporary, white box design, partly inspired by a home that had been built not far from the plot.

One of the earliest questions John asked was, how important is it to you to move in as quickly as possible? Because if we were to pursue a contemporary, white box design, we could be waiting three to four years for that to happen.

We weren’t prepared to wait that long, so we opted for a design that would give us the best of both worlds by having a very traditional appearance from the street – which would pleases the planning officers – and a contemporary, open, glassy design in the rear and garden.

When it came time to settle on a style, we gathered photographs of various houses in the area that we liked the look of and John explained the pros and cons of each, which really helped us narrow down what style of house we would pursue.

Initially, once we had ruled out a contemporary style, we were interested in building an arts and crafts style home. But John demonstrated how such a building – with its pitched roof and irregular floor plan – wouldn’t be the most efficient use of space, which is when we moved over to the more generous, square proportions of Georgian architecture.

Had we not worked with John, we may have continued with a style that wouldn’t have been ideal for us.

Director John Rookyard and Project Architect Clodagh Somers show Julie around her future home.

What were your main objectives for the design of the house?

We had substantially redeveloped our current house so we already had a good sense of what we wanted from a home. A lot of the design process involved replicating what we like about where we live now and then combining that with our wish list of features that are only possible when starting from an empty plot.

At the top of this wish list was to have a wide open plan kitchen, living and dining area that opens directly onto the garden through sliding glass doors without giving up the smaller, cosier rooms that we also enjoy.

This was achieved through designing a ground floor that extends far back from the main house and landscaping the garden to complement its contemporary appearance. From the street, you have no idea just how large this space is, it’s a real Tardis.

It’s the part of the house that we’re most excited to see completed. The amount of glass, the amount of light and how everything will flow naturally into the garden, it will be something we have never experienced before.

That harmony between the house and the garden is only possible by creating both at once, and we’re thrilled by the garden design that Emma Griffin has come up with and how well it accompanies DGA’s work.

How do you feel about your future home now that it is under construction?

The process was quite intensive early on with the amount of decisions we would have to make. DGA did a good job spreading them out so we were never overwhelmed, but sometimes we couldn’t understand why we were making decisions so far out.

Now that work has started, that process has paid off and it all makes sense. We get to turn up at the site and see the progress which has been an incredibly exciting stage of the journey.

It’s very much become a reality now. We can appreciate the architectural design and epic scale of the house now that the walls are going up and we can walk around where our kitchen will be, or our play room, or our gym.

Steve and Julie stand outside what will one day be the front door to their dream home.

Finally, what advice do you have for anyone who is considering a similar project?

You have to decide early on to what extent you want to be involved with the project and how much you want it to impact the rest of your life. Do you want it to consume you, or do you want to give it to somebody else to manage for you?

We took the latter option and it’s been a brilliant decision. Between running our business, spending time with the kids and keeping up with our sporting activities, there was no room left in our schedule to squeeze in managing an entire house build.

Thanks to DGA, who specialise in helping families like ours, our lifestyle has remained unchanged since taking on the project. We pay a premium to have them take the reins for the project, but it’s one that we are completely happy to pay for. This house simply wouldn’t exist if we had to manage it ourselves.