A little history: A few years ago we started getting letters through the post from developers offering to buy our garden—we’d suddenly come within the planning envelope.
As the picture shows, there’s a patch of land beside our house which, we’re told, was once an orchard but the farmer let the pigs in—accidentally or deliberately is not recorded! They de-barked the fruit trees, which died. When we came here, 26 years ago, there were only two fruit trees left. We’ve planted quite few more since.
But what to build? A house? Several houses? Sell the land to one of the demanding developers? But what would they build and would we like living next to it? It seemed to us that a developer would probably try to build as many houses on the half acre as the local planners could be persuaded to approve—which might well be more than we would like.
What if we built just one house, set comfortably in the space, not encroaching on the old house at all, as the whole plot of land divides naturally into two parts? We might not—indeed, we would not—make as much money but it would be far more satisfying, more satisfactory to do this. We could make it suitable for us, our retirement house.
There were some false starts as we tried to arrive at a layout which met our needs. But then, in May 2010, I read an article in the paper about a house in Birmingham. It was a zero carbon house, designed by architect John Christophers, and built for his own use. It’s an adaptation of an early Victorian 2 bed semi into a 4 bedroom house—using only solar photovoltaic panels, solar thermal panels and a log burning stove. I found it fascinating— inspirational—and started doing a lot of research on the internet to educate myself. As a retired electrical and electronic engineer, I found the technologies involved not too difficult to understand. But being an engineer doesn’t make you an architect. Nor does it make you a builder. Who could I find to build this house? Given my limited resources—my savings—this wasn’t going to be a grand design. Far from it, it was going to have to be Modest Design!