Like everyone on a budget with a dream of building their own house we started off looking at timber frame kit manufacturers. Pretty soon we cobbled together some basic decision parameters. They were:
- Large rooms rather than many rooms – we don’t need lots of different rooms but those we do have must feel generous.
- At least one bedroom and bathroom facilities on the ground floor
- Scope for nice views across the garden
- Oh, and “no bloody dormers”.
We had some ideas about the look of the place as well. We were drawn by simpler buildings. It had to be capable of fitting in with the other buildings surrounding our plot but still retain some individuality (cake, eat etc). We liked the idea of slate roof / stone walls / roof lights.
The other aspect was the financial. It had to be affordable and the approach had to be demonstrably low risk. We were quite prepared to make as many decisions as needed early on in the process if that meant we could have a known budget. We had encountered too many horror stories on Grand Designs where budgets had gone out of control to feel comfortable with too many unknowns.
Eventually after many conversations, meetings and trade shows, quite by chance we saw an advert on a web page for Firefly Wood. Andy Black told me later that the advert we saw only appeared a couple of times at that time so it really was pure chance. However, after looking at the designs on his website, I gave him a ring. Firefly Wood have an approach of starting with a standard set of designs then working through client led modifications. They take the resulting plans through planning consent and building control. Then they supply a structural build kit consisting of the timber frame, all the windows and doors, staircase, and insulation. They also facilitate the selection of a suitable builder who commits to a fixed cost for the build.
This means the designer stays in close touch with the structural costs. The approach sounded just right for nervous first time self-builders on a budget so I went off to meet Andy firstly at one of his houses currently under construction; then at his offices in Dundee; then finally at a recently completed house in Stonehaven near Aberdeen. The quality of the light pouring into the houses was the thing that swung it for us. The scale of the build was modest but the light and the imaginative use of the space was remarkable.
In the end the decision was easy. We could have had Andy (or someone else) create us a bespoke design but the off the shelf design with just a few small changes looked like it would suit us just fine.
And so we started.