Winning Combination, Grand Designs, January 2019
All copy as provided to publication.
A collaborative approach helped one couple transform a 1980s bungalow into their dream home – on time and on budget.
There’s an old adage that you can’t have a self-build that comes in on time, on budget, with a high-quality finish – one of those things always has to give. Well, Mark Sewell and Eunice Locher might just have proven that wrong, converting their Scandia Hus bungalow into a detached house in less than a year for just £375,000, and all to an incredibly high standard.
Returning to the UK after living in Australia and Portugal, Mark, CIO for a recruitment company, and Eunice, founder of The Clay Studio (https://theclay.studio), were looking for a plot that would enable them to build an ‘open-plan, inside-outside’ home like those they had enjoyed overseas. The first thing the estate agent showed them was a Scandia Hus bungalow that had been built by its now deceased owner in the 1980s. ‘I stood at the gate and said, “Not in a million years”,’ laughs Eunice. ‘I was horrified. It was overgrown and neglected – and the thought of a bungalow at our age was just too much, so I kept looking.’ Ten months later, she came back and, this time, made it past the gate. ‘It was a lightbulb moment,’ she says. ‘It was very run down, but it was south-facing, on a lovely road, and right on the edge of the Ashdown Forest – I suddenly realised it was a winner.’
Having secured the plot, the couple hired local architect Adam Penton whose work reflected the contemporary style they were looking for, but their brief was more a list of things they didn’t want, than things they did. Having lived in the bungalow, they had come to hate the sauna-style pine cladding used throughout, the low light levels, the clipped views of the surrounding landscape, and the boxy layout. ‘Our brief to Adam was simply to transform it,’ says Eunice. ‘We wanted something modern that was easy to live in, but beyond that, we left it up to him.’ Adam’s scheme takes advantage of the bungalow’s L-shaped floorplan by connecting the two wings with a triangular open-plan living area, that opens onto the south-westerly garden, and includes a first-floor master suite. ‘I liked the idea of this quirky triangle thing,’ says Eunice. At a pre-application meeting with the local planning department, Adam presented an ambitious plan that included everything they might ever want to do. Not surprisingly, the council raised concerns, but with a few tweaks, the plan sailed through – its first floor addition having been carefully considered with a low roofline that didn’t overlook the neighbours. Planning approved, Mark and Eunice moved into Mark’s garden office, which enabled them to stay on site throughout the build.
Working with Nick Weller as the main contractor, Adam oversaw the extension, which used the same stick timber frame as the original construction, clad with Siberian Larch as a foil to the original brick. The master-suite is timber-framed too, but uses steel in its roof and super-structure and is clad in zinc. This cantilevered section provides not only an architectural feature that modernises the exterior of the house, but also a balcony where Mark and Eunice can enjoy their morning coffee. Details such as the triangular windows tucked into the eaves add character.
The original bungalow was triple-glazed and Adam continued this throughout the new parts of the building, reinsulating, sound-proofing and reskimming all the walls. ‘The bungalow did have some clever details, but it took Adam pointing out how cool things like the windows were for me to realise that,’ laughs Eunice. ‘I wanted to replace the windows, but I’m glad Adam talked me around.’ The addition of a separate annex tucked away at the far end of the house provides somewhere for their grown-up children to stay.
When it came to furnishings, it was a case of less is more. ‘We were really keen that this house had no clutter,’ explains Eunice. ‘We now just have the pieces that really mean something to us. It sounds terrible, but we even pared back family photographs. We just had so much stuff – slimming it down felt like a weight off our shoulders.’ Those items the couple have kept are carefully chosen and perfectly placed – a bespoke dining table made by friends of their son, an enviable collection of mid-century furniture supplied by Mark’s brother-in-law, cushions by their daughter and art by their friends. Eunice’s much-reduced pottery collection is now artfully displayed. ‘I love ceramics and this is the perfect place to dot my collection around, I am constantly changing them and always thinking about how lovely they look – that means everything to me.’
Its quality is in no doubt, so just how did they bring it in on time and on budget? ‘Start with reasonable expectations, find a good team and live on site. The secret is not to try to screw anyone over – everyone has to make a profit, so finding a win-win situation for everyone is what makes it a success,’ advises Mark. ‘We also made a point of giving positive feedback to the whole team at the end of every week,’ smiles Eunice. ‘That and bringing them treats.’