Presented with the opportunity to do a self-build in his East Grinstead home’s garden, Tim Lamont found it impossible to resist, and he enjoyed it so much he’s already planning the next instalment
TEXT ROSEANNE FIELD
The idea of undertaking a self-build was not something that had ever been on businessman Tim Lamont’s radar. But a conversation with builder David Jempson, who was doing some work for him and had recently worked on a self-build, made Tim realise that it was an option. “David’s really the key person in all of this,” he explains. There was ample room for developing in the garden of his East Grinstead home, and although he’d always been aware of the potential value, he had only considered selling land to a developer, rather than doing it himself.
Following the conversation with David, Tim looked into the possibility, and decided he’d give it a go. “There was a financial driver, because property’s value is always very high,” says Tim, who used to work as a model maker and now runs a manufacturing business. “But it was also curiosity, and I had confidence because I had a good builder, he was really enthusiastic. The opportunity was there.” The first step was arranging a pre-application meeting with the council, and presenting a few rough sketches before an official came out to look around the plot. “He was very pleasant, but quite negative,” Tim says. “I understand they have to prepare people, make sure you’re fully aware there are lots of regulations, they don’t want to say ‘this is going to be easy.’”
Although he’d never done a full house build before, construction wasn’t completely new territory for Tim, having done some smaller scale projects before. He says that although he was “fairly prepared, this was a learning curve.”
The next step was to appoint an architect, which Tim did on the recommendation of his builder David. Semi-retired Peter Cook took Tim’s sketches, which showed how the house should look and where it would sit on the plot, and “redrew them correctly,” by hand.
A LOAN LESS ORDINARY
With only a small mortgage left on their current house, Tim and his wife, Janet, thought they would be able to easily get their hands on money for the build, but soon learnt that getting the finance from high street banks for their project was doubtful. Their bank manager instead put them in touch with financial advisor Richard Reuss, who suggested they approach specialist mortgage lender Together.
After assessing the plans, Together offered a remortgage deal to release some equity. “It’s unlikely that high street banks would lend for this purpose, particularly to someone without extensive experience of property development,” says Together distribution development manager Scott Clay. “Mainstream lenders tend to have a ‘computer says no’ attitude when it comes to funding projects which are slightly out of the ordinary.”
The couple were able to choose to receive a lump sum rather than the funding being released in stages, which was a help. “Together were an essential part of the plan,” Tim says. “I’m very grateful to them.” Janet put the money in a savings account, and with close monitoring they kept the project within the budget. Proceeds from the sale of their existing house will be used to repay the loan.
USING THE SPACE
Originally Tim planned to buy part of the neighbour’s garden, and his planning application for a design that used that space was granted “almost instantly,” he says. However, they realised that by moving the house by 4.5 metres they could simplify things by staying within their own garden. “I chanced my arm, and redesigned it, but the planners said no,” he explains.
Approval was given on the basis that the house must be chalet-style, not because of the surrounding buildings but because of the council’s rules regarding infill development. “I wanted more of a cottage style but they wouldn’t allow that, they were resistant to us doing anything different,” says Tim. “It’s just one of those rules they follow. With planning, you’ve got to be so patient.”
When it came to designing the house, Tim and Janet had a few non-negotiable requirements. Their road has ample off-street parking so it was important to them to include space for cars, not only to keep the road car-free but also to include the potential for future electric charging. They also wanted to ensure the home’s main living space would be bright and open plan, and include a downstairs bathroom, and separate utility room.
Once the design was approved and the new title created for the separated land – a “straightforward” process, says Tim – the first task was clearing the site, including what Tim says were “masses” of conifers, blocking light and taking up a large chunk of garden. This was required just to allow space for the build, but it also improved the garden of their existing house.
The site geology is clay, so the first major element to complete was digging it out and replacing it with “substantial soil,” says Tim. “What you don’t want is clay under the driveway.” He estimates groundworks company DK New Homes dug out over 200 tonnes of clay over the course of a few days. “It was phenomenal,” he says. “Trucks were coming every few hours and within a couple of days it was all gone.” They also dug out all the tree roots; “there was a fair bit of heavy preparation.”
CONSTRUCTION DURING COVID
Work started onsite in March 2020, and the majority of the project was therefore impacted somewhat by Covid. The house is constructed with a timber frame, which builder David put up single-handedly. “He had a nice job for a couple of months without having to be with anyone else apart from delivery companies turning up with materials,” says Tim. “We had one trade at a time, sometimes they overlapped but we tried to keep it so there wasn’t more than one or two guys at a time working.”
The other concern in the current scenario was potential delays obtaining materials, but Tim credits David’s good relationship with suppliers with making things run smoothly. “If it had been me trying I’d have stood no chance, but they looked after him,” he says.
They experienced a slight delay getting the water supply connected – which Tim reports was Covid-related – but the rest of the utilities were connected without a hitch. Because the couple were still living in their house while the new one was being built they weren’t in a rush, so any delays caused by limiting the number of tradesmen onsite weren’t critical. “We never had big problems because of Covid,” says Tim. In fact, he says he feels lucky they had the project to keep them busy during lockdown.
Tim took on the role of project manager, with help from both Janet, who took care of the financial side, and Dave who appointed and managed the subcontractors. “My wife was essential because she handled the money and kept all the files. Dave was like the foreman,” says Tim. “I did the paperwork, legals, applications etc. I think anyone who’s going to do this has to be prepared for that, if you leave it to other people it will probably go wrong.”
Living next door meant they were onsite pretty much 24/7. “Every evening I would go down and see what’s happened and therefore if there were any small issues we would keep on top of it, so it stayed pretty organised,” Tim explains.
Timber forms the vast majority of the frame, along with some supporting steels, which was suggested by his architect Peter Cook. Although Tim was very clear on what he wanted visually from the house, how the fully brick-clad structure would be built was something he was more
than happy to be guided on. Having fully overseen its construction, he says he’s very impressed by its sturdiness. “This house is a significant structure, it will be there forever,” he says. “It’s extremely robust.”
Despite the restrictions imposed by Covid, the build was remarkably quick. Having started onsite last March, by mid-April the timber frame was constructed at ground floor level, and by mid-May the entire frame was up, including the roof and dormers. By the beginning of June the brickwork was completed and the house was watertight, with the roof finished by mid-July and the windows and insulation installed – meaning work was ready to proceed inside – by the start of August. “The house flew up in no time at all,” Tim remarks. “But the inside takes just as long.” They “more or less” finished all internal work by January, having finished the painting and flooring over Christmas, as well as the final plumbing and electrical checks.
Tim admits that having been lent the money for the project could have been “quite stressful” when it came to budgeting, but with David’s guidance and what Tim describes as “realistic ideas of what things would cost,” they managed to stay within their budget. “We were very careful,” he says.
DESIGN & FUNCTIONALITY
Tim has ensured that the house is as future-proof as possible in a couple of ways. A friend, Geoff Fox, owns renewable energy systems company Enlightened Solar, and recommended he install an air source heat pump – something he’d not heard of before. The result is “magnificent,” Tim says. “We never set out to build a house with an incredible heating system, but thanks to them it’s just top notch.”
The pump system is housed in a small shed- type building attached to the house, and feeds the underfloor heating and upstairs radiators. Each room has its own thermostat so they can be individually controlled, and he has been told he’s unlikely to need the radiators due to the system and house’s efficiency.
Their electricians suggested installing all the cabling required to connect every room to computers and smart TVs. “When you look at the hub under the stairs the cabling’s a bit daunting!” Tim says.
Visitors enter the house into a hallway containing the stairs up to the first floor and a glass door that leads through to the open plan kitchen/dining/living area. The kitchen sits at one end in a narrower space, which Tim says helps it feel slightly separated. Bifold doors open out onto a patio, and the utility room sits off from the living space. From there is a Jack and Jill style bathroom, which then leads into the spare room.
Upstairs is a family bathroom and two double bedrooms. The chalet-style house means they have encroaching ceilings, but David built in wardrobes and drawers, all painted to match, which Tim says utilises these “awkward” spaces. “With dormer-style bedrooms if you’re not careful there are spaces you just can’t use, so by building in cupboards you can get into the corners and use every square inch,” he explains.
The family’s existing home is five bedrooms, so they are downsizing substantially. Their eldest two children have moved out leaving Tim, Janet and their 18-year-old son to move into the new home. “We’ve thoroughly used the space and the next stage of our life doesn’t require us to have so many bedrooms,” Tim says.
Janet took care of the interior design, including choosing the kitchen and bathroom suites. “We discussed it all, but she wasn’t really involved with the design of the house so I thought it was appropriate to let her take over once the house was built,” explains Tim. “We wanted it clean.” The kitchen is pale grey with white stone worktops, while the rest of the house is painted white with oak flooring and oak doors. “She’s got good taste so it worked out really well as teamwork!” They picked everything out online or from catalogues on the recommendation of the tradesmen. One extra feature included was an illuminated shower, with lights that change the colour of the water depending on the temperature. “Just for the fun of it!” Tim says.
Although Tim admits this is not their dream house, he’s still pleased with the result, which he says is thanks to the people who worked on it. He highlights the heating system as one of his favourite features. “It’s amazing,” he says. He admits their new home will be “fairly compact, and arguably a bit on the small side,” compared with what they’ve been used to.
However, having enjoyed the process so much, he’s already thinking about the next build. “It will be next level, an eco house with a full solar roof,” he says. “It will be our dream house, to live in forever, built to a similar specification but bigger. We’re definitely interested in doing it again.”