Hidden House in St. Albans
Hidden House in St. Albans
“Our basement house is full of light, and the innovative design has given us big open spaces providing a flexible and sociable way of living, which is perfect for family life. I love the light and space that modern basement architecture has allowed us”. Duane Parkin.
Duane Parkin has a keen eye for design and some building experience to draw from. Having started his own building and developing business 15 years ago, amongst many projects, he’s built 10 new houses from the ground up. Now he has his very own premanufactured basement house, named ‘Hidden House’, which is a sleek, modern design sitting comfortably with the more traditional architecture in the area.
Duane acquired the plot of land in central St Albans some 9 years ago, having taken out an option out for planning. “As a developer, I like to build one- off properties that are a bit
different, and I bought this particular plot with the long plan of building a house on it at some point. Given that it’s on a tiny one-way street in a conservation area, I knew it wouldn’t be straight forward and with 4 rejections and then an appeal, it took 3 years in total to get planning permission. There were however, several stipulations, one of which was that the house should be built lower into the ground. This is when I started to seriously consider a basement house”, says Duane.
Busy with other projects, time went by and in July 2016, with planning soon to expire, Duane knocked part of the garden wall down to make the entrance so as to kick-start the build. “I really then started to think, OK, how am I going to do this? Given the space restrictions, not to mention that the plot is within the curtilage of a Grade 2 listed building, as well as the local concern about the amount of excavation work, and the disruption it would cause, I wanted a quick build. I looked into the options of a premanufactured basement house, and Glatthaar had been recommended to me some years earlier for another project. I met with a Glatthaar representative and did some costings. It was clear early on, that the Glatthaar build technology was going to give us the quality that I was looking for.
Although tricky at times, I strongly believe that the planning process yielded the best design in the end. I’m not a trained architect but having learnt from previous builds, I did the design myself, and through further discussions with Glatthaar, I knew they were my go-to guys. I signed the contract and set about the ground works.
The first dig was in February 2017, and in an effort to limit the amount of dirt on the street and avoid upsetting the neighbours, I strategically planned the removal of over 1,500 hundred of tonnes of earth over 3 different occasions when the weather was dry and even frosty. I can safely say that not a spec of mud was left in the road.
How long did groundworks take?
Given that accessibility was an issue, I focused heavily on logistics to make sure that the time scales worked. This was vital to ensure that everything came together at just the right time. I arranged the road closure with the council, informed the local police and did a mass maildrop to all the residents in the area to let them know what was happening and when. Crucially, I needed to know that no cars would be obstructing access on the days when the Glatthaar lorries arrived, and I tried to offer reassurance that due to the off-site manufacturing, the on-site build would be quick and with minimal disruption.
The build started in May 2017 and it went like clockwork. The Glatthaar crew, and their workmanship was fantastic. They just got on with the job in hand, and were extremely professional, friendly and respectful. For a couple of days I just stood and watched and such was the confidence and work ethic of the crew that it was although they’d built this house 10 times already.
Every week, there would be people stopping in the street to have a look and several took photos. The build clearly captured many people’s attention and imagination. One day the
crew had been sandblasting the exterior before applying the second coating of waterproofing, and afterwards, they even hosed the neighbours cars in the street to ensure they were clean. In the end, one neighbour, who had originally objected, complimented me on the house. I strongly believe that it’s thanks to the consideration of the Glatthaar crew that I was able to maintain a good relationship with our neighbours.
The Glatthaar build took just 5 weeks in total. They started when they said they would and finished when they said they would. This sort of reliability meant that I could book all the follow-on trades with confidence, which was invaluable. I know from past experience that if you lose your slot for a good brickie or carpenter, it can be a very long time before you get hold of them again!
Everything was completely finished, and we moved in, in late January 2018.
Glatthaar delivered exactly the house I intended to build. They may be little known in the UK but they are a superior product and their engineers are true professionals who get on with it. Not only did they complete the build in a fixed time frame but also at a fixed cost. I would absolutely recommend Glatthaar from start to finish. You just have to put your trust in them and go with it.
‘Hidden House’ consists of two floors of living space. At entrance level (underground), there’s a large open-plan kitchen/dining room which is the hub of the house and where the family tend to gather. A simple pallet of materials has been used throughout. The floors are oak and the walls are, in places, exposed concrete. The kitchen is self-designed and was made by a local joiner.
There’s a TV room/snug and 3 large double bedrooms. The master bedroom has an en suite and there’s a family bathroom as well. A sunken courtyard is accessed through double doors off the dining area, and is positioned between two bedrooms, both of which enjoy floor to ceiling windows onto the courtyard. This affords the entire ground floor a great deal of light and provides an opportunity for al fresco dining.
Although, with 2 teenage children, the house lends itself perfectly to the Parkin family lifestyle, Duane made specific design choices meaning that the bedrooms could equally be used as studios should a professional couple without children live here into the future.
The steel-edged industrial style staircase takes you to the galleried first floor, which is a spacious sitting room and home office. The sitting room, with terraced windows, enjoys a panoramic view over the garden and gabion walling.
“I particularly like the open space that this type of modern architecture affords. Due to the steel in the concrete, there’s no need for pillars, which gives the design a great deal of flexibility. However, the concrete and steel also means that wifi can be an issue, although there are ways to overcome that!
With 3 sides of the house being insulated concrete and 1 side being exposed but with brick facing which is also insulated, the house has significant thermal mass. It’s nice and warm with a stable temperature of 21 degrees throughout the house and because of the concrete, it stays cool in the summer. With such a well insulated structure we hardly ever need to have the underfloor heating on.
Unfinished concrete can be notoriously echoey but in our case the exposed ceiling rafters prevents the sound from bouncing around. I’d like to say this was a conscious design choice…but it would be more accurate to say that we discovered this happily by accident!
Our basement house has 100% met our expectations and I really love the light and space. If I was to build a house like this again, I think I’d like to see more of the structure of the build so would perhaps exploit the opportunities for a fair-faced, or industrial finish, with more exposed concrete. What we have is a light, bright and airy home, and the innovative design has given us big open spaces providing a flexible and sociable way of living, which is perfect for family life.
I’m very happy and have no hesitation in recommending Glatthaar if you require a top quality basement”. Duane Parkin.