Three views you can’t put a price on

Securing one priceless Devon view was an major coup for an architect and her husband, but they didn’t realise their build would give them three

TEXT Ewen MacDonald IMAGES George Fielding & Nick Yarsley

When it comes to creating the perfect self-build, you would expect an architect to have everything in their favour. 

But while architect Julie-Ann Clements wasted no time creating the perfect design for her and her husband Richard’s new home, finding the right plot proved more of a challenge.

The couple wanted to stay in the Devon village of Lympstone, which sits on the South West coastal path, and were looking for a forever home with a great view. But their budget was a big issue.

“We were in the process of selling a house that we lived in on the other side of Lympstone,” explains Julie-Ann. “We didn’t really want to leave the village but we couldn’t find anything that was within the price range we wanted. 

“We had come to the conclusion that we were going to need to move out of Lympstone in order to make enough money to be able to move back so we could make our forever home.”

Their first potential project was a huge property that included a tennis court. But at the last minute, they got gazumped. The next potential house was in the next village. “At the eleventh hour, when everything was all done and dusted, the solicitor discovered an issue about the access,” explains Julie-Ann. It was discovered that the sellers didn’t own the first part of their driveway and the couple knew this would be an issue when reselling it, so had to back out of the sale. 

Soon after, a small uninspiring bungalow came onto the market in Lympstone, and Julie-Ann and Richard were among the first to see it. “It was dilapidated,” she exclaims. “It had been someone’s treasured home, but the roof sagged and it wasn’t in great shape.” 

However, the couple discovered it had a secret attraction: a rooftop view of the estuary of the River Exe, which flows from the city of Exeter to the English Channel. “We were both really excited and we thought ‘this could be the house!’” 

The couple returned to the bungalow and sneakily climbed up on the roof (which Julie-Ann admits was a bit scary), to see the view of the River Exe estuary. “This is a really difficult and expensive thing to get in Lympstone,” she adds, admitting, “we were quite cheeky, and put in an offer below the asking price.”  

Despite the easier option probably being to clear the site and start fresh, Julie-Ann and Richard decided to retain certain elements of the original building. Although not visible to the naked eye, the new house incorporates some of the bungalow’s existing external walls.

The main work they did included removing the roof, partially knocking down some of the walls, extending the ground floor to create three new bedrooms, but more importantly introducing a new first floor. It houses an open-plan living space and a kitchen enclosed in floor-to-ceiling windows. Outside a partial wraparound deck sits beneath an overhanging roof to maximise the indoor/outdoor feel of the house.

“Basically, the main part of the house is still there,” explains Julie-Ann. “We took down two exterior walls and we knocked out some of the internal walls. The old house now forms part of the internal layout. Our bedroom takes up two-thirds of the original house.” 

She says she knew from the start how their home was going to look. “Being an architect obviously you’ve got a bit more vision,” she says. “I could visualise how it was going to look like right from the get-go.” And, according to Julie-Ann, the final design remains true to the first sketch she did.

The project has been a five-year journey. The couple bought and moved into the bungalow in 2017 and Julie-Ann couldn’t wait to get started with the demolition. Before they had finished moving in, she began to strip the interior, starting with the carpets. “The thought of living in somebody else’s dust really grossed me out, so the carpets were going out of the windows as the guys were bringing in our boxes. 

“The next day, when Rich took the carpets to the tip I was ripping out the doors and architraves to expand the space.”

The design meant adding a floor to make the most of those rooftop views. But getting planning permission for the design was complicated. Julie-Ann created a 3D model which was shared with neighbours and while making the most of the views was the priority, the design ensured that none of the windows overlooked their neighbour’s homes. 

The couple also spent thousands on landscaping including trees and bushes to ensure maximum privacy and appease neighbours’ concerns. “We probably spent most money as a proportion of the build on landscaping,” says Richard. 

It took around nine months from the original design to get the planning permission for the new house – longer than they had expected. But the couple had marched on with their demolition. Windows were ripped out and boarded up as they moved in room by room. Once they had gutted the inside, the couple made money by selling off the dilapidated roof via Facebook; they made about £500. But because the buyers removed it, the real saving for Julie-Ann and Richard was in the time it would have taken to remove it themselves. “Some people came from Dorset and they basically took the roof off and took it away.” As well as saving them the trouble, Julie-Ann and Richard repeated this trick with their old windows, which netted them another £500.

While the house was without a roof (or windows) the couple moved out. Opting for an old caravan in the garden, they spent four months wearing fleeces, hats and gloves, and eating food from a camping stove throughout the winter. 

The budget meant doing as much work as possible themselves. Contractors were used for skilled elements, including a carpenter for stud work after the timber frame arrived, as well as an electrician and plasterer. But if the couple could do it DIY, they did.

“We did all the insulation and plasterboard, but we had electricians that did all the wiring because that’s not something you should ever do – under any circumstances!”

Having moved out into a caravan for the winter, the couple were keen to get back inside as quickly as possible, even though it meant living on a building site. “As soon as the windows went in and it was theoretically weathertight, we were back in. It was basically like camping inside,” says Julie-Ann. By 2019, they had installed a kitchen and the bathrooms. But it took a further three years before it was finished. “The flooring, bathrooms, garage and annexe were completed in January 2022,” says Julie-Ann. “And we still have bits to finish yet!” 

The couple have many favourite bits in their new house. “I really love the big living area because it’s so light, and every single angle that you look out is like a completely different scene,” says Julie-Ann. “In one direction is the river, then you turn about 45 degrees and see the hills and then if you go another 45 degrees you are looking out towards Woodbury Commons. It’s quite extraordinary and actually, I say this to people all the time, we only knew that we had the view of the river but the fact that we’ve got these other great views as well is a real bonus. 

“Rich wanted to be able to sit inside but feel like he was outside which is why we’ve got the roof overhang; it also offers shade because the house faces south.”

The couple has made provisions for old age, which few self-builders would consider. This includes building in a lift shaft so that a lift can be added to access the top floor when the owners are less mobile. The doorways are wide and a self-contained guest annexe in the garden has been earmarked as a potential home for a professional caregiver for them one day. “It is designed around being able to stay here forever, so long as we’ve got the means to be able to pay for somebody to look after us,” says Julie. This element of her design was inspired by an elderly couple in a nearby house, who have live-in care. 

Julie doesn’t think of it as a showcase for her architectural skills, just her home. “I think because it’s very modern, people sometimes look at it and think that that’s all that we do at In Ex Design. But all of our projects are completely different.”

Her advice to potential self-builders is the same rules she gave herself. “I would really advise against having the subcontractor do any design: don’t let the electrician design where your lights are going to go because they’re coming at it from a practical perspective. However, if you want to have the perfect house for you, you need to think about where you want it based on how you use the room.” She adds: “It’s the little things that people don’t necessarily think about. That’s why you employ a professional.” 

The exterior of the house is created from render board – a breathable cement board. It allows the movement of the timber frame behind it. Part of the exterior of the house is covered in porcelain tiles. “They are the sort of thing you might expect to see in the bathroom,” adds Julie.

The joy of self-build projects and bespoke designs is the wish list you can fulfil. Alongside the tiled exterior, the house has a bespoke staircase that combines steel and poured concrete. It also has an aperture in the roof, which is there for aesthetic reasons, and sits over the entrance. Julie-Ann says: “People ask us: ‘What’s that there for?’ and I can say, ‘Because it’s cool’. The hole creates an amazing shadow line that changes throughout the day.” The house also has a wall that conceals the practical part of the house, including the washing line and potting shed. 

The biggest constraint for the couple was the financial aspects of the project, when Julie regularly works on projects with budgets in the millions. “Clients generally have much more money than we have,” she says. A lot of time was spent getting the most for their money. This meant shopping around for bargains and doing around 80% of the work themselves.”

In labour costs alone, the couple estimate they saved over £600,000. “It was relentless. We worked every single day in all weather conditions, regardless of whether we felt like it. We just worked all the time – every weekend and work holiday and after work. 

“People will visit and say, ‘It’s really modern, but it’s really calming and relaxing at the same time. ”Ultimately,” she concludes, she it’s not about what a house looks like, it is what it feels like and how we experience it.”


Spending four months of winter in a caravan. “We spent four months wrapped in fleeces, wearing hats and gloves with a camping stove.”


Climbing onto the roof of the bungalow and realising the possibilities of the view. “We were both really excited and we thought: ‘My God, this could be the house!’”



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