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Selleney Cottage by TDO Architecture

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Putting faith in a young practice willing to spend time with the client and doing its best to try new solutions to meet the budget has paid off for the client, says Laura Mark

PROJECT DATA • ARCHITECT’S VIEW • CLIENT’S VIEW • DETAIL • PLANS 

Selleney Cottage in Egham, Surrey, though classified by planners as an extension, is much more than that. The family’s existing home was built in the 19th century but additions built on during the 1960s and 70s were inefficient and created problems with the layout. ‘It would have cost more to improve the fabric than demolish and build new,’ says architect Tom Lewith. So, instead of working on the existing house, Lewith’s emerging practice TDO Architecture chose to extend the home by about two thirds.    

The layout has been inspired by the US Arts & Architecture journal’s mid-century Case Study houses of America programme and in this suburban landscape, the impact of that choice is felt upon arrival. Through the garden gate, which acts like an initial front door, you enter a courtyard then progress through to the main door of the house and into a large entrance hallway. The house is aligned to existing vistas: the remaining house, the wall of an old barn and the entrance gateway. The arrangement creates spaces which flow and feel connected.

The main challenge of the project was the client’s tight budget, which stood at around £1,000/m2, and achieving this took a great deal of perseverance and teamwork. ‘The client, contractor and architect all have to work together and understand each other’s ambitions for a project of this budget to work,’ says Lewith. ‘You all have to be dedicated to delivering it.’

Choosing to use a birch ply structure similar to the one the practice has in its own studio in a Southwark railway arch in Southwark kept costs down. The structure was prefabricated off-site using standard board sizes and has been left exposed. Leaving it on show meant that the finish needed to be good, all the more because other surfaces were kept simple.

In the kitchen the birch ply frames form deep fins, providing shade from the sun and also adding a rhythm to the long, glazed facade. TDO could have done this as a large expanse of frameless glazing but using smaller framed sections kept costs down and here it has created a visual element akin to Walter Segal’s 1960s timber-framed homes. However, using a prefabricated structure rather than Segal’s post and beam method has created larger spans and a more modern aesthetic.

The success of this detailing relied on the skills of the contractor. The quality can particularly be seen where the plywood has been used to create a curved window frame in the master bedroom. Choosing a contractor which bought into the ethos of the project brought the added benefit that they chipped in with ideas. Lewith had originally proposed a system roof like those found on supermarkets but the contractor suggested a different approach, which was adopted. Constructed from GRP, this reduced the cost of the roof from £12,000 to £4,000.

The client was also heavily involved in sourcing materials and helping to keep within the budget. A thrifty approach to finding building materials and finishes second-hand has created a family home which feels lived-in and not new nor precious. The kitchen, salvaged from a modern home that was being demolished, was found on eBay for £5,000. Flooring salvaged from a school sports hall had to be rejected, as it would not have coped with the underfloor heating, but nonetheless was resold at a profit and the money used to buy the large floor tiles used throughout.

Some elements inevitably were lost to keep costs down. A clerestory window on the roof over the living room had originally been planned, also a stone veranda. The scheme doesn’t suffer from these being omitted. The spaces still feel light and airy without the higher-level windows and the glazing and orientation of the house provide a connection with the garden spaces beyond.

Although cost has clearly been a main driver for this project it has not detracted from design quality. The practice has listened to the needs of its client and kept this contingency at the heart of the scheme.

‘We wanted to provide a home. It wouldn’t be one if it was unaffordable,’ says Lewith. ‘It has been hard work but we wanted to prove it could be done.’

‘The client had trust in us and let us experiment and try new things,’ he adds. Putting faith in a young practice has paid off. The client has got value for money and a scheme which deploys materials and processes simply and effectively.

Plan

Selleney Cottage by TDO Architecture

Selleney Cottage by TDO Architecture

Detail 

Selleney Cottage by TDO Architecture

Selleney Cottage by TDO Architecture

One of the early decisions was to create efficiencies through the use off-site production, and exposing the structure of the building as a finish in its own right. The contractor for the project had a strong joinery focus so we were confident in this approach.

We worked with standard sheet sizes where possible and collaborated with the contractor to arrive at details which made the best use of their workshop and minimised wastage, while producing the one-off customised build we were looking for.

Tom Lewith, partner, TDO Architecture

Selleney Cottage by TDO Architecture

Selleney Cottage by TDO Architecture

Source: Mark Cocksedge

Architect’s view

The existing building at Selleney had evolved over time, which was evident from plan regression and old photographs. We agreed a strategy to retain the architecturally interesting elements and demolish all the weaker later additions, which fitted with the family’s desire to continue the site’s evolution. A significant new build element unlocked the potential of the house. 

Working with off-site construction and a contractor specialising in joinery, we saw an opportunity to meet our client’s challenging budget. The single-storey structure was designed with standard sheet sizes and the contractor’s workshop tools in mind. The design also draws on our own experience using birch-face ply, an affordable material which lends itself to being detailed in a precious way. Birch ply provides much of the structure of the building, which was prefabricated off site and exposed in the final building to reduce costs and wastage, and provide ‘free detail’. 

The building is set up around a series of key sightlines, which set up a transition from the moment of arrival to an immersion in the garden setting. 

Window frames on the south-eastern kitchen are formed as deep fins to protect from southern sun and to orientate the space to the courtyard. The exposed structural grid aligns with the frames and oversails the external wall to form a shading canopy.

The north-eastern living area elevation opens to the main garden and the exposed structural grid is accordingly set at 90º to that of the kitchen to reinforce this relationship.

Tom Lewith, partner, TDO Architecture

Selleney Cottage by TDO Architecture

Selleney Cottage by TDO Architecture

Source: Mark Cocksedge

Client’s view

We fell in love with the site as soon as we saw it. The 19th century cottage, although run-down and poorly configured, was charming and the secluded woodland setting was quite magical. The extensions that had been added in the 1960s made the building look squat and the house, although private, was overshadowed by nearby properties. We knew we could make a beautiful home but we needed to find architects who understood what we were trying to achieve. We wanted to keep the cottage, keep the feeling of privacy and intimacy while adding additional space to accommodate the family. We interviewed six practices before deciding on TDO. They shared our level of enthusiasm and empathy for the site and were able to interpret our many requirements into a design that is both contemporary and elegant. The regular design meetings were collaborative and supportive – they certainly pushed our boundaries and I think we may have pushed theirs, too. It became clear that flexibility of accommodation was very important to us, as we wanted our home to accommodate our nuclear family, visiting friends and perhaps elderly parents in the future. TDO was able to respond to this and the result is a home that has far exceeded our expectations. The financial and emotional commitment required to build a home is huge and having professional architects that share your vision is undoubtedly the best investment you can make. The value of great architecture is in great design and, for us, this has resulted in a home that functions well, feels great to live in, looks incredible and adds to the bottom line. 

Helena Posner, client

Selleney Cottage by TDO Architecture

Selleney Cottage by TDO Architecture

Source: Mark Cocksedge

Project data 

Start on site January 2014
Completion December 2015
Gross internal floor area 230m2
Form of contract or procurement route JCT Traditional
Construction cost £ 250,000
Construction cost per m2 £1,086
Architect TDO
Client Helena Posner
Structural engineer Ian Bird, Bird Associates
Approved building inspector Thames Building Control
Main contractor RKUK Joinery
CAD software used Vectorworks

Selleney Cottage by TDO Architecture

Selleney Cottage by TDO Architecture

Source: Mark Cocksedge

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