The Moat House is our flagship Georgian House design and sets the standard for high quality as demonstrated in each project undertaken by Benjamin Allen Bespoke Homes. During the final stages of construction we were delighted to have received comments from passers such as ‘what a wonderful conversion’ and ‘how lovely to see an old building being renovated’. This was down to the choice of materials and quality of labour used on the project. We are able to apply that same ethos to any build and would gladly discuss how we can make a Moat House for you.
Please take your time to read through the different stages of the build listed below:
- May 2008
We see the land at Ditchling advertised through King and Chasemore Estate Agents. We go down to Ditchling and have a look. Ditchling is a lovely Downland village which nestles at the foot of the South Downs. We instantly fall in love with it, but had not sold our own home in Crawley. We cannot see any possibility of securing the plot as we have no doubt that it would be snapped up by a cash buyer. Within a few days of our viewing the plot is under offer and removed from the market.
- June 2008
We have an offer on our house from an English couple moving back from America, cash buyers! We see a barn conversion down in Scaynes Hill that looks interesting so have a look. It is beautiful but we can’t accurately ascertain the build costs and the labour involved. We are on a tight budget and cannot go into a project where there may be lots of unforeseen costs.
- July 2008
House sale falls through and the property market is becoming tougher meaning it’s becoming difficult to sell. As our house was a self-build and very unique we still had plenty of interest at this stage, but no firm offers. Allen was walking the dog one afternoon when someone stopped him and asked if our house was still for sale, he had visited it in the early stages when it was first marketed. He asked if we would accept an offer as it was a little out of his price range, we agreed provided we could find a project. This was agreed and the buyer of his property was also willing to wait. We Searched all around the South East for a building plot or knock down and re-build but found nothing suitable.
- November 2008
We went on to Rightmove for the millionth time and the plot at Ditchling was being re-advertised at the same price. By this time the housing market had become completely stagnant and very little property was selling. The price of the plot for us now was too much as we had taken an offer on our house; we decided to put an offer in over the internet. The agent called the following day, checked our financial position and put the offer forward. It was a week before we received a reply but it was good news – the vendors had decided to accept!
Everything about the plot and the village gave us that warm feeling. We found everyone friendly and we started to look forward to living in a village environment. This would be a first for both Allen and I as we are both ‘Townies’ from Crawley. We checked with our buyer and they were delighted that we had found a plot and that it was going to be a quick sale. We all exchanged solicitors and the sale process began.
Three weeks into the legalities, our purchaser loses his buyer, finance was becoming increasingly hard to obtain and for this reason they had pulled out.You can imagine how we felt, we had secured this plot a, got a buyer for ours and now it looked like it was all going to fall through. We explained the situation to the vendor of the plot and he was very patient and extended the amount of time we had to exchange.
The only problem was the housing market had now collapsed and prices were on their way down, our purchaser was not going to get the same price for his house as he had previously.We came up with a solution and put it to our purchaser. What if we were to buy his house from him, which would give us accommodation whilst we built and then he could continue with our purchase? This was agreed and once again the legalities started again.
The finance for both of us was very slow and difficult to obtain as the banks and the financial market was in dire straits. The banks were being very selective in offering mortgages, but eventually everyone received their mortgage offers and the sales went through at the end of May 2009.
We cannot thank the vendors enough for their patience. Allen made a point of keeping both them and the agents fully informed throughout the purchase and I am sure without this continued contact the purchase would have fallen through, as there were many tense moments along the way.
- April 2009
We had decided that once we had exchanged on the plot we would start designing the house straight away so that we would not lose any time.
The plot had full planning permission for a 3300 sq. ft Sussex style house. This planning permission had been gained some time ago and styles had changed considerably. Having a large family, we wanted to live within a house that was much more open plan and suited our family, instead of a house with lots of small box rooms.
It had always been our dream to live in a Georgian House and the majority of the architecture in Ditchling a South Downs Village was Georgian, so we didn’t see a problem in designing such a house.
We spoke to the planner officer over the phone about our ideas, and he laughed! He said that he would not be particularly happy with a mock Georgian house on this plot. We explained that we didn’t wanted to see a mock Georgian house either and that we were very conscious that great care would have to be taken in selecting the external materials and the detailing would have to be authentic.
We agreed to have a meeting once we had some plans drawn up and that we would bring in some samples of materials we intended to use.
- May 2009
We then went to work on the design; we thought it would be very simple to design; after all Georgian houses were very boxy and symmetrical.
Right and wrong! They are boxy and symmetrical from the outside as the windows have their positions and cannot be changed. You therefore have to design the rooms internally and around the window positions.This proved a little more challenging than we thought but we got there in the end. We had designed a Georgian house over three floors with 5 bedrooms and four bathrooms but keeping it within the 3300 sq. ft. This was the same area as previous application, so as not to be too controversial.
We arranged a meeting with the planners and took our plans and samples along. The planning officer was genuinely impressed with what we had designed and said he much preferred it to the original application. Although not giving too much away he said he didn’t see there being much of a problem and that it should go through on delegated powers which meant it would not have to go back to a committee meeting. This was brilliant news as it looked like our dream of a Georgian house was going to be realised.
The planning officer suggested that we visited our local parish planning meeting and just run it past them, if they liked it, it would help with the application.
- June 2009
Our planning application is submitted and we arrange to go the Parish Council meeting the following week.
The parish council meeting went very smoothly and all members seemed very impressed with the Georgian house design and thought that it was much more suited to the architecture of the village. One lady committee member said she thought, “It would sit very handsomely at the foot of the downs”, we came away from this meeting very positive.
- July 2009
Mid July we receive notification that planning permission has been granted for our Georgian house design. We can now give the go ahead to our technician to start the building regulations application and the engineer to commence the engineering for the timber frame.
We decide at this stage that we would really like a modern glass garden room to the rear of the property and go back to the planning officer for his comments. As our permitted development rights had not been removed, providing it met a certain criteria, we did not need planning permission. This was now to be included within our design.
For lorries to gain access to the site we needed to strengthen the existing culvert bridge over the stream that runs to the side of our plot. This was already engineered by the previous owner so we were able to carry out the works immediately.
We called the highways who advise us that we should advise them 5 days prior to commencing work to form a new cross over to the plot.
10 days prior to starting this work we notify Highways that works are about to begin and we hit an obstacle. To carry on with these works we would need to instruct a contractor with a street works licence, for this reason this work could not be carried out by ourselves.
We also needed to write to all utility companies to make sure that none of their cables ran under where the crossover was. In all this delayed the project by 3 weeks whilst we waited for confirmation of this and employed a bonded contractor. The workers themselves were very quick, taking only a couple of days.
In the meantime we put in place insurance for the self build and instruct a warranty company for the 10 year warranty at the end of the project.
- August 2009
We can now gain access to the site with plant machinery and lorries. When we bought the plot we inherited a soil test report and a tree survey which we assumed was correct.
We excavated three trial pits for the building and warranty inspectors to inspect and agree to the foundation depths prior to the excavation of the foundations. We also invited a soil engineer to this meeting. It was our hope that with both inspectors and soil engineer on site we could ascertain suitable foundation depths.
Unfortunately we immediately hit a snag as both the existing soil and tree surveys had not taken into account the close proximity of several Elm trees that were located close to the site boundaries. The soil engineers local knowledge of the likelyhood of highly shrinkable clay made the required foundation depths ranging from 1.5M – 3.0M.
From my experience gained within the construction industry I felt it would be more cost effective to go to an engineered solution. Our structural engineer suggested a pad a beam foundation which negated the need for deep foundations.
This created a further delay of approx. 2 weeks while we waited for the engineer to design this and the making of steel cages which would now be required. At this stage we order the block and beam floor. The cost over of this foundation was approximately £3000 plus £1050 for further engineering and soil test report. Foundations are now complete and we go to work on the suspended floor beam.
- October 2009
The engineering for the timber frame is now complete and we start to call off for the materials for the timber frame.
Due to the experience we have gained over the past 20 years we are fortunate enough to be able to manufacture our own timber frame structures. By undertaking much of the work ourselves and not having to rely on a timber frame supplier we are able to produce high quality frames at a fraction of the price. The specification that we settled upon was comparable to a locally based Scandinavian timber frame company. The costs savings were approximately 30%- 40% less!
We now have the call off complete and the materials due to arrive the following week. We also take into the Council the samples of the materials we would like to use for the exterior of the house and details of the wooden sash windows, folding doors for the sunroom and the front door.
We selected York handmade bricks from the suppliers ‘Old Clamp Range’. Handmade clay roof tiles from Ashbury. The tiles we selected are known as ‘The Restoration Mix’
With regards to the joinery, we carried out a great deal of research and settled on a company called Bereko, we went to great lengths to compare specifications and price and although not the cheapest they were no means the most expensive, one English manufacturer was nearly twice the price!
More importantly the quality of the finished product was superior to every other company we looked at. Before finalising the order Allen visited their factory in Poland and he found a modern factory with a fully automated production line. The whole set up was impressive in that they have their own fully sustainable forests and their own sawmills. Not only do they manufacture the joinery they also manufacture the Argon filled glazed units. They also offered a complete bespoke service and this enabled to design the main entrance door to a style and size which we believed would enhance the overall appearance of the house.
All the joinery comes factory painted and the finish is far superior to what would be achievable onsite. Another option available is the colour, you can choose any RAL colour or BS colour at no additional cost, we choose an off white which suited the house perfectly.
On design, finish and on price I would have no hesitation in recommending Bereko windows to any self-builder. A decision is made within a fortnight and all samples are approved. We then place the order for the windows and doors.
The scaffolding is erected ready for the timber frame. Deliveries are taken in for all the timber frame components and the Timber Frame begins.
- November 2009
Just three weeks later and the timber frame is complete. The sliding sash windows are fitted and the structure is watertight and secure. One of the main benefits of timber frame is being able to work on the inside even if the weather outside is dire.
Once the timber frame is complete the roof tilers commence on site. As there is a flat part to the roof which is lead the estimated time for this is 3 weeks.
The windows and doors arrive and are fitted within two days. The Entrance door, WOW! From our drawing to manufacture it was spot on and it far exceeds our expectations. All the windows and folding doors are perfect and the finish is outstanding.
As we can continue with the project inside we start to erect the partition walls internally to create the rooms. This part of the house always excites me as before this is just looks like a large empty box. Once you start to carry out this process you can start to imagine yourself living here and you start to visualise where your furniture will go. I know it sounds silly because we are still about 7 months away from moving in, but you really do start to get a clear picture of what a 4M x 3.5M room really looks like and it’s not just a dimension on a piece of paper. We start to schedule in the first fix trades i.e. plumbing, carpentry and electrician and we insulate all external walls.
- December 2009
We are now taking in deliveries on a daily basis and the roof is coming along nicely. The roof tiles we have chosen are handmade and if you can stretch your budget that little bit then the results are stunning.
The bricklayers have now started on site, we have decided to go for the Flemish bond which is a little more complicated to work out for every brick there is a half brick, so we have had to have 10,000 cuts carried out by a brick cutting company. The Flemish bond is a bond that was used for this style of house and was considered to be one of the strongest forms of constructing a brick wall. We have now also instructed the brick cutting company to create the arches above the window off site. They make them up and point them up which gives you a much neater finish. The lead dormers are now complete.
It’s two weeks before Christmas and the weather has now turned. It seems to either be raining, thick frosts or temperatures below freezing. Our bricklayers have no option but to pull off and the last bits to the roof are put on hold.
Fortunately we can continue inside and we commence the plaster boarding of ceilings and walls. Christmas comes and goes and along with it the weather conditions deteriorate.
- January 2010
We wake to find that there has been 6-8” of snow overnight and for safety reasons we have decided to close the site for three days. This time has not been wasted as we have used this time to finalise our kitchen design and electrical plan.
It’s mid January and the weather is just starting to ease and the temperatures are increasing slightly. Our plumber and electrician are now on site carrying out the first fix.
- February 2010
Finally the weather is getting better and our bricklayers have been able to return to site. The length of time the brickwork is taking is more than we had estimated. We are laying the bricks in the Flemish bond style, which is one stretcher and then one header, so for every brick laid there is a half brick to go with it. That meant that instead of laying 15,000 bricks the bricklayers end up laying 20,000 bricks, 10,000 of each. The results are well worth the wait, the bricks are from the York Handmade range, the effect means that the brickwork looks aged already, which is what we were trying to achieve.
As we have mentioned before, the beauty of timber frame is that you can keep building no matter what the weather. You can continue with the insulating, vapour control layers and plasterboard, all while the work carries on round you. Scaffolding has been erected internally as we have a 3 storey vaulted ceiling in the hallway.
We decide now might be a good time to sell the house we are in as we will be moving out at the end of June.The house goes on the market and within days we have a buyer who is willing to wait until our house is ready for occupation.
- March 2010
The weather has really brightened up and we continue with the externals now the brickwork is complete. Soffits are painted and fitted, gutters and downpipes are fitted. The roof to the Sunroom is completed and the glass atrium arrives.
Taping and Jointing is carried out internally and by the end of the month we are ready to fit the coving. Three weeks down the road and the buyer for our house pulls out meaning that we are back to square one. We re-advertise and start showing potential buyers around again.
- April 2010
We now have Water, Electricity and Gas laid on to the site. We have decided to go for wet rooms in two of the bathrooms, we fit the trays and drains for these. The coving is fitted and we are now ready for decoration.
Finally we now feel we are on the home straight, all of a sudden we feel like we’ve got to the good bit, we are making decisions on the final finishes and planning landscaping. We now put in a planning application for the double garage and workshop.
After about 4 weeks we find another purchaser for our house, a young couple returning from Australia after 4 years. All seems to be going though OK and we are looking to move out the middle of July.
We fit the glass atrium to the Sunroom and take off all the polythene that has been protecting the windows and doors since almost the start of the project. We cannot believe what a difference this makes the house looks so bright and airy.
We now think about tiling to the bathrooms and hallway. We would like to have marble tiles and go about ordering several samples online. It’s a bit of a mine field as there are so many options on the market and so many lovely products to choose from, we really are spoilt for choice.
Eventually after a couple of weeks deliberating, we decide on Marble in the hallway and polished marble to the bathrooms and en-suites.
Our tiler has been scheduled in for several weeks and now arrives on site. The floors are laid, sealed and then protected with polythene dustsheets as we are still some 12 weeks away from completion.
All the bathrooms and en-suites are tiled and the sanitaryware is fitted. We now decide on the stairs for both floors and place the order with a 6 week lead in time as they are a bespoke option.
Decoration can now begin, we decide to spray finish the house from top to bottom, ceilings white and a very pale grey to all the walls. This is a very quick process after masking up all the windows, first fix electrics etc. Within 2 days we have the whole house decorated 2 coats and we are left with just the final coat to be carried out by hand.
We visit the Grand Designs show at Excel Exhibition Centre to look for wooden flooring for the remainder of the house. Again there are so many products to choose from ranging from £25 per metre to £140 per metre. We take home many samples and have many family discussions before finally choosing an oiled, smoked, distressed Oak flooring, which looks old as soon as it is laid.
This arrives on site and is laid to all floors over the remainder of the house, given us hard floorings throughout. This we feel is a must with our pet Labrador and four boys.
Once the flooring is laid we order the skirtings are architraves, we have gone for an 8” skirting to carry on with the Georgian house look, and wider architraves.
The door linings are ordered, decorated and then fitted. We then fit the skirting and architrave and bring back the decorators to finish the woodwork. We are now ready to place the order for the internal doors. We have decided on doors that are not standard size as we have high ceilings we require doors 7’ high x 3’ wide.
We search through several catalogues trying to find off-the-shelf, wide panel doors but have no luck. We go to several suppliers for handmade internal doors but they are coming back with prices we just cannot afford.
Back to the drawing board.
We pick up several more brochures of door manufacturers and finally find a door company that can make the doors to order at a reasonable price, although double what you would normally pay for a good quality door.
Once we have had the price and haggled a little we place them on order with a 12 week lead in time. We now start the search for good quality, reasonably priced door furniture. We decide that we would like a pewter finish and once we have narrowed down our options we order 3 or 4 samples and choose one.
- May 2010
The decorators have been in for the past 2 weeks and have given all the woodwork 3 coats and the walls their top coat. At this stage the hall has been left as we still need to fit the stairs.
The stairs arrive and after waiting 6 weeks they are wrong. We ordered two bespoke staircases in white with oak stair treads and oak handrail left bare for staining dark. For some reason the stair company have lacquered the oak, giving it a very orangey look to it, exactly what we didn’t want.
We go back to the stair company, who agree to replace the two staircases. Only problem is, it will take another six weeks to arrive.
Panic!!!! We are supposed to be moving in, 8 weeks. There is absolutely nothing we can do and agree to this delivery date.
In the meantime, we continue with the internal fittings. All the sanitary ware is now in and the second fix electrics are being fitted. The Kitchen arrives and fits perfectly, this is then hand painted on site and the granite work tops and island unit are fitted.
WOW! We have a kitchen, it looks really stunning and we are walking round with smiles from ear to ear. It’s better than we ever dreamed.
- June 2010
Planning permission is granted for the garage/workshop. We have now exchanged on our house with a completion date of the middle of July. We are now working around the clock to get things finished.
The site is full of trades including Plumbers, Electricians, Decorators, Carpenters all doing their bit and all working really hard to make sure we can move in with the house complete. The Carpenters start to fit out all the wardrobes with shelving, hanging rails etc. We are now at home every night packing.
Blinds and curtains are measured up and will be ready for fitting the first week in July. The last time we felt this tired was some twenty years ago when our sons were all little, but we know it will be worth it, in 4 weeks we will be in our beautiful house.
We start to think about the outside works and re-visit our landscaping plans. We decide that we will leave this until after we moving in, apart from laying a temporary drive of p/shingle so that we have clean access to the house and somewhere to park the cars.
I think once we start living in the house we will be able to gauge where the best spot will be for the patio, decking, etc. Where the shady spots are and where to put the hammock!!! Oh I can dream!
I think this Summer/Autumn we are going to be very busy outside but luckily it will be the right time of the year to carry out all these works. We continue in the house where there is lots of cleaning to be carried. All the windows are cleaned inside and out. All the sanitary ware and tiling is polished and the kitchen is sparkling.
Two weeks to go and the new staircase arrives just in the nick of time. The carpenters are brought back to site to fit it and discover that several parts are missing. We cannot believe our luck, we call the company immediately but received very bad customer service and are told that the missing parts will not be with us for another 10 days.
We explain that this is not viable as we are moving in in 14 days but it is like hitting your head against a brick wall. After several days of phone calls and emails we eventually come to an agreement with the manufacturer that we will source the missing stair parts elsewhere and where necessary have a joiner on site to make up some missing oak winder treads and they will compensate us accordingly.
So it’s full steam ahead, 1 week to go and the stairs are finally in.The internal doors to the first and second floor are fitted, just leaving the ground floor. The clearing of the site continues and the p shingle temporary drive is laid. We are now on site all day and half the night finishing bits off. We are moving clothes from our house into the new cupboards, we cannot believe the amount of space we have.
The day before moving in the curtains and blinds are fitted and the house is starting to look like a home, talk about cutting it fine. Tomorrow arrives and we are all packed and ready to move.
The moving in goes exactly to plan and everything fits perfectly, we crack open the champagne and celebrate!! We did it!