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Having undergone a self-build in England, Rebecca Pendergast knew exactly what she needed from her new home in Co Down.

When we moved to Northern Ireland with four children in tow, we started to look for a house, but when you’ve lived in a home you’ve done up yourself it can be a struggle to find something that suits,” says Rebecca. “In England we’d built a big extension, and it really delivered. We’d done it so it would suit the comings and goings of our large, busy household. Unfortunately none of the houses we visited here worked, at least not those within our price range!”

“Since we were renting at the time we wanted to speed up the process and decided to broaden our scope, to look at properties in need of renovation. We found a bungalow with lovely sea views and decided this would be the one.” That was six years ago.

From the inside out

The house originally had a very small kitchen and three bedrooms; the playroom was over the garage and only accessible from the outside. Needless to say the layout was not ideal.

“We needed a large kitchen, one that was integrated with the playroom so we could keep an eye on the children,” says Rebecca. “I also wanted a separate sitting-room to give us a space to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of daily life.” Luckily, their house-to-be was located around the corner from where they were renting and a friend had recommended an architectural technologist. “He came to have a look at the property to let us know if he thought we could get planning permission. By adding an upper floor we’d be able to double the size of the house, which really was necessary. Being able to maximise the space upstairs was the deal clincher. It all seemed fairly straightforward from a planning point of view so we went ahead and bought the house.”

Rebecca has fond memories of the initial days. “Designers think in lines and curves, while I was always thinking of the space inside and the practical elements of using it as a home. It was a fun process to combine the two.”

“We had experience of what worked for us from our previous home, and since we didn’t like the design of the house we were renting we had a list of what not to do. We would also watch a lot of home programmes in the evenings (I notice there are rather fewer on now!) and from that, magazines and shows, we put together a folder of ideas of what we liked, shapes and styles.” The first plans provided four bedrooms, two ensuites and a main bathroom. “I knew we needed five bedrooms so one of the bathrooms had to go.” Only the master bedroom retained its ensuite.

Rebecca and her husband were happy with many of the designer’s suggestions, such as positioning their bedroom windows so that they could look out to the sea from their bed. But most impressive to practical Rebecca was his brilliant idea of adding a linen cupboard to the landing, while the downstairs cloakroom is large with ample space for coats, shoes and even some storage.

“We gave him a free hand, up to a point,” she adds. “We didn’t have a particular look in mind, the main thing from our point of view was to benefit from big windows and lots of light, which we got. Although at the time I didn’t think of how big the curtains would have to be! It’s only when I got down to sewing that I realised how much glass there actually is.”

While the original plan was to convert the existing bungalow into their dream home, once it came to the tender stage it became apparent that it would be more cost-effective to start from scratch. “When the prices came in we realised we were better off with a new build. We stayed within the footprint of the old house, only extending from the sitting room.”

Planning permission for conversion and eventually to build a replacement dwelling went smoothly as the house is in line with the neighbouring properties. “We kept the same initial design we’d submitted to the planners but just built it new,” she adds. “The roof is in line with our neighbours’; there are two different roof heights, one lower than the other, which I think works really well.” The site is on an incline, which lent itself to a split-level configuration. Groundworks were also required to make the site level for access.

Inside, the split level meant there would be three steps going up from the hall, which separates it especially well from the main open plan living area, as Rebecca wanted it. The upstairs is also split-level. “I thought it might cause trouble with the younger children but having three steps is actually quite nice for them: it’s fun to go up and down, especially when they’re learning to walk, and not dangerous as it’s all carpeted.”

The architectural technologist handled all aspects of the build. “He recommended the builder and liaised with him on site; we were on the phone a lot,” recalls Rebecca. “We would have managed the build if we could have given more time to the project but with work and the children there was no way to work it into our schedule. The house is busy!” And yet it still took up a lot of their time, which she says was actually a welcome distraction. “We’d just had our fifth baby and found when he was born that he has Down’s syndrome. Going around to find things like door handles and skirting boards was actually quite fun.”

Experienced choices
The design process started with the ground floor plans which is where many of the changes were made. Rebecca had a good idea of how the rooms would work out: “I could picture us there,” she says. Case in point is the kitchen, the heart of most families’ home and Rebecca’s is no exception.

“I wanted a big island; that was the main thing as we needed the kitchen to be able to cope with many people in it, cooking, doing the washing up and generally moving about. The island serves as a sideboard when we have guests over – we recently had 20 people sitting down to eat and the island was the perfect place to put the plates.”

At the time she says it was difficult to source anything but under-counter cupboards. “I only wanted drawers, not cupboards, and I found them difficult to find,” she says, adding that now it’s much easier. “I also wanted drawers with no handles, which I think is a fantastic design feature.” At the front door, she chose tiles for ease of cleaning but the rest of the house is all carpet and wood. “There’s a no-shoe policy in place which helps on the upkeep and also with hygiene (there are a lot of dog-walkers close by, not all of them responsible!), while in the kitchen/dining area the choice of wood was with potential knocks or falling off chairs in mind. Timber has a bit of a bounce compared to some alternatives. I actually had a lot of fun choosing finishes with the help of our designer but he didn’t agree with all of my practical and maintenance-driven choices; for instance I still maintain you’re definitely better off with wall-hung toilets!”

Of course cost was also a consideration; for example while they went for underfloor heating on the ground floor, upstairs they installed radiators, solid-concrete upper floors being dearer to install than timber. “If money had been no issue we would also have put in solar panels for hot water but instead we chose a 300-litre tank to make sure we would never run out of hot water – or so we thought. We hadn’t reckoned on how long teenagers can spend in the shower! In the downstairs bathroom we put in an electric shower just in case the hot water ever does run out. Good job….”

Rebecca’s only regret is the size of the utility room. “I would have loved a much bigger space, and more basement space in general,” she laments. The utility is just wide enough for a washing-machine and tumble-dryer side-by-side. “With 10 or 11 people in the house, it can get cramped for washing.”

Even when you think you’ve got it all covered, there’s always something…

Plot size: 685 sqm / 0.17 acres
House Floor Area (including basement): 272 sqm / 2,928 sqft
Build cost: £246,000
House value: £400,000 [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text css=”.vc_custom_1457023266221{padding-top: 5px !important;padding-right: 5px !important;padding-bottom: 5px !important;padding-left: 5px !important;background-color: #f2f2f2 !important;}”]Build spec
Build up: walls 100/100/100 Blockwork cavity wall with 100mm full-fill EPS bead insulation; floor 75mm screed on 100mm EPS board on T-Beam & Block; pitched roof standing seam metal roof on ply sarking on rafters with EPS board with graphite: 150mm between rafters and 25mm below, then finished with plasterboard and skim; flat roof proprietary single-ply membrane on PIR board on ply deck on joists with unvented airspace between, then finished with plasterboard and skim. U-Values: walls 0.29W/sqmK, floor and pitched roof 0.19 W/sqmK, flat roof 0.18 W/sqmK

Windows: double-glazed low-e hardwood timber, U-value of units 1.8W/sqmK[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

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