The House at the Bottom of the Garden

Thirty years ago my company wanted to relocate my group to Milton Keynes. I was working in the West End, and Jan and I were living in Croydon at the time. We had just started our family, so the opportunity for a paid relocation out of a terraced house in suburbia into a larger family home in the country was just too good to miss. We ended up buying a somewhat run-down farmhouse in a village between Milton Keynes and Northampton. Jan said: “Think of the potential!”; to which I replied “Think of the work; this is going to be a 10-year project!”. Well, it took us nearer to 20 years to finish the place. We were always cash limited, so we did nearly all the work ourselves, but it proved a beautiful home to raise our family: we had lots of room and a large garden. Today, two of our kids have ‘flown the coop’ and set up their own homes with their partners; one briefly flew, and then returned.

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A large rambling 300-year old farmhouse might look beautiful, but it is now far too big for us; the house and garden are high-maintenance, and it is expensive to heat in the winter. This burden is only going to get worse as we get older, so it is now time for us to downsize. But where and to what? We have friends locally, and we like area. We want a smaller house, an energy-efficient low-maintenance one, but also with enough space to include a bed-sit for our son, and to be able to put our other two kids up when they regularly visit for their mum’s excellent cooking and free booze. However, when we started looking at local properties, the choice wasn’t to our taste or they were just too expensive for what you get.

Our garden has enough space at the opposite end from the house for an infill development – it’s now probably the only such plot remaining in the village as all of the other plots, the two timber yards, the bus business, the garage, the DIY place and even the old Methodist Chapel have all been bought up and developed. We have been approached a few times over the years by builders offering to buy the end of the garden, so we thought: why not do this ourselves? We could build a new house for our own use and then split the plot. So at the beginning of this year we started exploring costs and options, and the more that we looked at this, the more compelling the case became.

We discovered this site during our searches. We have found it – and especially Jeremy’s The House at Mill Orchard blog – extremely informative, so we felt that we should also follow his example and write up our experience for the benefit of others who are considering the same path.

I will cover how our requirements and site have constrained our design choices in my next post.

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