Darren and Juliet Milgate fulfilled their lifelong ambition when they self-built a stunning Georgian-inspired property, sandwiched between central London and the splendour of the Surrey Hills
TEXT JENNIFER GRIMBLE IMAGES PAUL NOBLE
Darren and Juliet Milgate realised their lifelong ambition the day work on their beautiful Georgian-inspired Surrey property finished. Located in the tranquil village of Kingswood, the magnificent house is set back from the road and stands proud at the end of a sweeping driveway.
“We’d lived in Raynes Park, south London, for years,” says Darren. “But we wanted to move somewhere that offered more space for our money.” After struggling to find anything locally, the pair turned their search to the commuter belt. “It had always been our ambition to self- build, and by selling our three-bed Victorian terrace, we could afford a substantial plot on which to do so.”
After a lengthy search, the couple discovered Kingswood, which offered the best of both worlds. While being an attractive rural village,
it had the added benefit of a regular train service to London Bridge. “Its proximity to the M25 and the Surrey Hills was also appealing,” says Darren.
The couple searched for an opportunity for three years, looking for either a property they could significantly renovate, or a piece of land on which to build one from scratch. “The search was extremely challenging,” says Darren. “In fact, it was probably the most difficult part of the whole process. All the prime opportunities were snapped up immediately, while others were too rural, which compromised commuter times.”
Finally, the couple discovered a picturesque two-bedroom bungalow that was both within budget and perfectly located. Offering a mature quarter-of-an-acre garden, it was also within easy reach of the train station. They opted to live in the property for a few years, in order to consider their next move. “We got to understand how the building, garden and sunlight could work together, if we designed the house properly,” Darren explains.
BACK TO BASICS
As well as its idyllic setting, the bungalow also benefited from having planning permission in place for a large five-bedroom development, but due to budget constraints, Darren and Juliet decided to amend the plans. “We scaled back the application to reduce costs, but also because we wanted the house to sit on the plot, rather than dominate it,” says Darren.
Looking for a modern and efficient home that could be constructed in a short amount of time, the pair decided to commission timber frame specialist design and build firm, Benjamin Allen. “We’d subscribed to self-build magazines for years, gathering inspiration about build options and internal design,” says Darren. “We were attracted to Georgian architecture and homes with lots of natural light and functional, open- plan layouts.”
Benjamin Allen had previous experience of designing and building traditional Georgian farmhouses, while the timber frame method allowed for certainty of the schedule and cost. “People tend to overcomplicate things when self-building,” says Darren. “So we wanted to go back to basics, using modern materials and well- established building techniques.”
As such, the amended planning application was relatively straightforward, and the couple had no difficulties obtaining consent. “Before we submitted the application, we also approached our neighbours and asked for feedback,” says Darren. “We now appreciate how invasive the building process can be, so we were lucky to have such supportive neighbours.”
Once plans were approved, Benjamin Allen carried out the demolition of the original bungalow. “The beauty of working with Benjamin Allen was that we could contract them to do as little or as much as we desired,” says Darren. “We wanted to be heavily involved and so we agreed to carry on with the work after the first fix stage, using sub-contractors.”
Since Darren was keen to have a hands-on role, he took on project management duties, becoming responsible for everything from the budget to the deliveries. “It was always my ambition to project manage the build,” he says. “I was attracted by the challenges, and ultimate rewards, of managing a self-build project.”
Prior to construction starting, Darren approached various sub-contractors that had each come recommended by Benjamin Allen. “This was one of the wisest decisions we made,” he says. “Hiring trades who had worked together before was a considerable benefit. They helped me, and each other, to plan the schedule and all had previous experience working on projects of a similar size and style.”
STAYING IN CONTROL
As a qualified accountant, Darren knew that financial discipline would be key to the success of the project, but one of the biggest financial hurdles came during the very first month of the build, when there was a significant overspend on the foundations. “Our budget was based on standard foundations, but building control and the house warranty inspectors (LABC) insisted that we dug deeper. It was an expensive but timely reminder that controlling the budget would be key.”
The foundations were ready at the end of April, and by late June the timber structure was complete. “It took two months for the shell to be erected,” says Darren. “When it was finished, before the internal insulation and boarding started, you could stand on the ground floor and look up at the timber frame,” he explains. “Every beam had been painstakingly cut and installed by hand. It resembled a cathedral- like structure.”
By the middle of July, the roof was on and the windows were in, which meant the property was watertight and the internal work could begin. Since the project was planned to take approximately 12 months, Darren decided to take a six-month career break for the second half of the scheme. “This worked out really well and allowed me to focus on the final part of the project, when key design decisions needed to be made.”
The materials the couple chose were critical in ensuring the house had the traditional Georgian farmhouse aesthetic they were so keen to achieve. “Selecting the external materials took time,” Darren explains. “For example, York Handmade Brick gave us a list of properties that had been built using their Old Clamp blend. We spent weekends driving around south east England looking at them, to ensure we ended up with exactly the style we wanted.”
While the project ran fairly smoothly, Darren and Juliet did face a few obstacles along the way, the biggest of which happened one evening, after the house had been locked up for the night. “Someone broke in and stole the lead capping from the roof, damaging the patio doors in the process,” says Darren. “Luckily we had Protek Site Insurance, which proved invaluable.”
Despite the company being quick to act, the break-in remained at the back of their minds for the rest of the build. “It was a real concern,” says Darren. “Every time we locked up, we were worried. It didn’t feel very nice.”
For Darren, project management was a highly rewarding job, but it also wasn’t without its challenges. “I was responsible for deliveries to the site,” he says. “I hadn’t considered the complexities of this and materials would turn up on different sized lorries, with various offloading mechanisms. Some even turned up with no offloading facility at all!” Despite good access, the logistics of every delivery had to be planned and monitored meticulously.
Co-ordinating the scaffolding also proved to be a tricky aspect to manage. “I hadn’t considered that each trade would require the scaffolding to be positioned at a different height,” says Darren. “In order for everyone to work safely and efficiently, there was a constant need for compromise.”
Another challenge came in the form of the chimney, which ended up being a complex part of the design. “I had no appreciation of the technicalities involved in designing and building a chimney,” says Darren. “It’s a dark art, but with the support of Benjamin Allen, our bricklayer, and a patient builders’ merchant, we got there in the end.”
Benjamin Allen was only contractually responsible for work up to the first fix stage, but despite this were always there to ensure the build went off without a hitch. “From day one, they couldn’t do enough to provide advice and guidance. They were always available with 24/7 support and were quick to answer any questions,” says Darren.
The project turned out to be a full-time job and Darren and Juliet found themselves onsite almost every weekend. “We were involved in lots of aspects of the build, including painting the external open eaves and pointing the pre-formed brick arches,” says Darren. “You shouldn’t underestimate the time commitment involved in a self-build.”
However, all their hard work paid off the day the scaffolding was removed. “We could finally see the natural beauty of the handmade bricks, the traditional wooden sash windows and the detailing of the open eaves,” says Darren. “After weeks of driving around the country, it was a magical moment.”
THE FINISHED ARTICLE
The completed property is a stunning juxtaposing of tradition and modernity, heritage bricks and Georgian-style sash windows beautifully blending with a sleek, open-plan interior. The home’s timber frame is referenced throughout, in the property’s doors, staircase and natural wooden floors, while extensive glazing allows for a seamless flow between the interior and exterior spaces.
As well as five bedrooms, the home also benefits from a large, open-plan living zone that is perfect for family socialising. “Our favourite aspect of the house is the free-flowing kitchen and dining room,” says Darren. “It has a real wow factor.” Sitting at the centre of the building, the garden wraps around the room and a large roof lantern allows lots of sunlight to travel indoors, making it bright and inviting no matter what the weather is doing.
The build was a collaborative effort, something that Darren believes was crucial to its success. “The whole project was a massive team effort,” he says. “Juliet’s mum lent us a second hand car, which proved invaluable for daily trips to the builders’ merchants, while my dad, who’s a carpenter, shared his general building knowledge throughout the design and planning stages and contributed to second fix tasks, too. His input was invaluable.”
As for Benjamin Allen, Darren and Juliet couldn’t be happier with their involvement. “They always had a duty of care and were part of the journey through the highs and lows, ensuring that we successfully built our dream home,” says Darren. “It’s been very rewarding to share pictures and feedback with them. We’d go so far as to say the project wouldn’t have been the success it was without them.”
Every now and again, a passer-by will stop and comment on how attractive the property is, something that reassures Darren and Juliet that every effort was worth it. “Positive feedback always fills us with an overwhelming sense of joy, pride and achievement,” says Darren. As for undertaking another project in the future, this couple hasn’t ruled anything out. “We’ve fulfilled our lifelong ambition and we’re living in our dream home, but never say never!”