West Horsley, Surrey
This couple had long enjoyed a large family home of 7 bedrooms set in 7 acres complete with indoor swimming pool, tennis court and other luxuries. With the children now all grown up though, the 1920’s property had begun to be a burden, and the seed had been sown to investigate a self-build project.
"We had two main motivations to build our own house. Firstly, with just two of us now living in a large country house we were feeling increasingly guilty about the effects of fossil fuels on the environment. We thought about installing renewables into the property but to do it effectively we would have had to rip the house apart. Secondly, we were interested in being able to build a healthy house. I’d sold my marketing consultancy business, and subsequently experienced an extended period of severe stress and allergy related symptoms. I loved my work, and even through having three children, I’d worked tirelessly at it for many years. After selling the business, my body went into shut down and I had ME type symptoms. Unfortunately, I was a casualty of emerging modern times. I had multiple chemical sensitivity and electrosensitivity, which meant that I reacted to things like computers, mobile phones and wifi. I spent three years being housebound. This was when I looked to alternative therapies such as yoga and hypnotherapy. I also changed my diet, and eventually I brought myself back to health. My parasympathetic nervous system had suffered badly, and I needed to be in an environment that was free from chemicals and toxins, as well as low-level radiation.
So, when we looked into building our own house, we had looked at a conventional build first of all, but then found a German manufacturer that could fulfil our needs. Their unique build system ensures that all materials used are healthy. The building envelope is even covered in a carbon-shield, cutting out 98% of any Electrosmog in the nearby vicinity.
Just two weeks after deciding to self-build, the couple found their ideal plot. It had a large 1950’s bungalow chalet on it, which had two bedrooms and a small basement. “We couldn’t believe our luck when the offer that had previously been accepted on the bungalow fell through. We quickly bought it with the hope that we’d get planning permission to rebuild and I went about researching designs. I avidly scoured through design books and magazines and found myself inspired by an Argentinian ranch house with deep overhanging eaves and columns. I then came across the prairie style homes of world famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. His stunning designs are heralded for their simple planning, and ability to sit low in the landscape. They are characterised by their low angled hipped roofs and large overhangs, cascading down from the upper floor, which offer shade in summer and solar gain in winter.
Our architect worked out the accommodation we needed with a sociable kitchen and generous living space being priorities. Given that we didn’t want an unwieldy house with a sprawling ground floor and that we wanted it to have minimum impact on the landscape, we knew we wanted a basement to further our lifestyle. We were referred to Glatthaar through the German house manufacturer we’d committed to, and given the precision of premanufactured houses, we needed to be confident that the basement was going to match up regarding the quality of the product and workmanship. It was evident that the two companies had a strong relationship and we decided to go with Glatthaar for the basement as we had the peace of mind that two like-minded companies were working together. And work seamlessly together they did. Glatthaar also worked diligently with the ground workers. The build had to be dropped down by a metre into the ground, so there was a lot of extra soil removal and work to be done.
We had seen another basement and had learnt that it was best to have natural light. We also found out that we would need a fire escape so we created a well on one side of the basement, which would provide both natural light and the fire escape.
Happy with our design and having got planning permission in August 2011, work began on the basement the following month. Glatthaar finished on time, just weeks later and coordinated perfectly with the house manufacturer who arrived mid- November to finish slightly early by mid-June 2012.
The whole build experience was a wonderful learning curve. One thing that is absolutely necessary is to always think forward. Although we had a project manager, there are still lots of decisions to be made along the way, and the timetable for the build is vital in bringing everything together.
The property consists of 3 floors of living space. On the ground floor there’s a large entrance hall leading to an open-plan kitchen and dining room. The kitchen opens to an external morning patio area, and similarly, the dining area gives way to a further luxurious external dining area which is under cover and with glass walls which open to slide into one another thus ensuring alfresco dining whatever the weather. The ground floor also has a separate living room, two WC’s, and boot room as well as two guestrooms with a jack and jill bathroom.
In the centre of the house is a stunning Oak staircase to the first floor with two large double bedrooms with walk-in dressing rooms, two bathrooms and a utility room. Access to the basement is via a further Oak staircase from the central entrance hall. The quality of build and the outstanding quality has given us a basement that we can have a lot of fun with. It consists of an entertainment/cinema room, a gym with its own WC, a spa room complete with sauna and jacuzzi bath, as well as a massage table and shower, a plant room and plenty of storage. Glatthaar were well informed about the necessary electrics for the basement. Given that it’s a concrete basement and obviously concrete has no noise absorption factor, the sound system for the cinema room is quite sophisticated. It is fantastic though, and we love to watch films with the grandchildren in the cinema room. My husband loves to use the gym, and I fully indulge in a massage followed by a sauna in the spa room.
The basement is insulated in just the same way the house is, and we have underfloor heating and a ventilation system throughout, so there’s a constant temperature everywhere, including in the basement, and the air always feels fresh and clean. We have a ground source heat pump but we hardly ever need to have the underfloor heating on. We also have two large solar panels. We do have temperature control pads in every room but the basement always stays at a very pleasant temperature.
Both the house and the basement have exceeded our expectations and there is nothing I would change about the design except, in hindsight and as we’re getting older, I would perhaps have installed a lift.
From the outset Glatthaar provided sound and helpful advice, clear costings and arranged for us to see examples of their work. One of their most impressive attributes was the ability to work seamlessly with our ground workers and main contractors. When the odd problem inevitably arose, we arrived on site to be presented with solutions agreed by all parties. I have no hesitation in recommending Glatthaar if you require a top quality basement."