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Lesley & Nick McEwen

Finally persuaded to knock down and start again

At 50 years old, Lesley and Nick McEwan have an amazing story to tell as to how they and their three children sit comfortably in their new Potton home nestled in the heart of the Essex countryside.

After they met on holiday, the couple were married and began their journey into the property market.

Initially they bought a house in Harlow new town, then moved into Hertfordshire, and then back again into Essex. Unfortunately like many people in the 1980s, the couple found themselves in a negative equity situation.

After managing to sell the house in Essex and with very little money to spare, Nick's father told them about a bungalow that had come on to the market about six miles from where Nick had originally grown up.

Location:
Essex
Land Cost:
£330,000
Build Cost:
£400,000
Value:
£1m
Completion Date:
March 2018
Floor Area:
2688 sq ft

Refurbishing the Bungalow

The almost derelict bungalow had been lived in by a lady of 90 years old who had been at the property since it was first built in 1921, at a time following the first world war when good labour and materials were not easy to come by, hence the building was very shoddily built.

“The heating and lighting system was almost non-existent” said Nick. “The combination of wiring was so badly installed that even the electrician was amazed. There was an earth wire that had been disconnected and used as a live mains cable.”

"The plumbing was even worse" says Lesley. “Our plumber said he had never seen such a variation of pipe sizes and materials, he suggested most of the piping had come off of a ship!”

"In all the 17 years we ended up living there, the radiator in our sons bedroom never got hot. There was even an old radiator plumbed in to the system that was actually out in the garden!" says Nick.
Despite all of this, Nick and Lesley were determined they would gradually renovate and refurbish the property. They had various tradesmen view the work involved and in fact, a number of them turned the job down as it would be too difficult to price. Most others told them to think about knocking it down and building from scratch.

This didn't deter the couple and in one instance they decided that a number of windows should be replaced as Nick had actually put his finger through the timber itself.

As a matter of urgency they had to replace that one as it was located in the single storey extension that they were hoping at some point to make into their kitchen.

However during the course of the work the builder phoned to say that whilst removing the window the whole structure had collapsed. When Nick asked the builder how to proceed from there, he simply handed him a box of matches from his pocket!

Could Self Build be the Solution

During those years of never ending problems and expense, Lesley had become an avid reader of self-build magazines and watched all of the dream home TV programmes.

Nick however had dismissed the ‘knock down and build again’ idea numerous times but reluctantly agreed to attend some of the self-build exhibitions with Lesley.

Then one day after much research she convinced him they should visit the Potton Show Centre in Cambridgeshire just for a look.

It was after this that the ball was finally rolling, and whilst still living in the old bungalow, the couple met with an architect to discuss a design that they had in mind.

“This came to a dead end as he was not on the same wavelength and really just wanted us to have something he had designed” said Nick.

Following this, they decided to contact a local architect. "He was far more in tune with what we wanted and was familiar with local planning requirements and came up with ideas to suit both us, and the local vernacular. Albeit that the final planning approval was very detailed and required contamination tests and arborologist reports.”
We were both absolutely inspired! I just stood inside the Gransden show house and thought to myself, this is it! We we were immediately struck by the quality of everything we saw, and the knowledge, capabilities and friendliness of the staff from the organisation.

Designing with Potton

3D scale model of bespoke self build
During the early stages the couple pursued the idea of working with Potton and even a year before they started building, met with Graham Hughes who guided them along with what was to be the final design.

"He was so knowledgeable and helpful and suggested little tweaks that would improve the property and help us come up with a home that gave an overall feeling of space and light, with no dark areas. And with a six foot six son, we needed plenty of head height!” states Nick.

"We literally tailored every room to meet all of our lifestyles" says Lesley.

In 2015 during the course of designing the house and prior to obtaining full planning permission, Nick decided that he would make a scale model of the house from cardboard. This would allow both himself and Lesley to get a real feel for the layout and decide on room allocations for the family.

"The final design was basically a mix of our own ideas, incorporated with some of the areas that most impressed us with the Potton show houses."
Nick, who is a project manager for a large European bank in the city, was used to planning so prepared a log which included CAD drawings he had prepared himself. He also prepared a detailed diary with dates and specifications for the whole project.

He even installed interactive cameras on the site so in the event of a query or problem he could liaise and discuss live situations directly with the builder from his office desk via his mobile phone.

Nick was also lucky in as much as he was able to take time off work when needed to assist Mark who he had known for years and who was the builder and on site project manager.

The other benefit to the couple was that they were able to stay in the bungalow as it was adjacent to where they were building their new home.

Project Timeline

  • We put our first thoughts together on paper in 2014
  • Planning was finally approved in February 2016
  • We placed our order with Potton in September 2016
  • Foundations were in place in December 2016
“Then, on the advice of our builder and Steve Tozer, our Contracts Manager from Potton, we delayed our kit delivery until after the Christmas period in the hope that any bad weather would be out of the way. So;”
 
  • Our Potton Frame was delivered and erected  in February 2017
  • We finally moved in during March 2018
"We moved in over Easter weekend 2018. Even though the landscaping was not complete, and every day since, we feel like we are on holiday!"
The couple incorporated an air source heat pump, underfloor heating on the ground floor with radiators on the first floor, this gave the new house a ‘B’ energy rating.

Summing up their whole Potton experience, the couple both agree that they could not have asked for a better service from start to finish.

"They were so supportive with any query we had, Graham was excellent with the design stage and Steve Tozer was very knowledgeable and great to work with. Hereditas who you recommended for groundworks were also excellent, they even did some work on my Dad's driveway” says Nick.

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