THE idea of coming up with a grand design is seductive, but it takes a lot of persistence and planning. Donald Cline meets some North Yorkshire self-builders showing how it’s done

WHEN it comes to looking for a new home, there’s a lot of talk these days about ‘ticking all the boxes’. It can happen, if you’re very rich or lucky, but in reality house-hunting for most of us brings compromise as standard.

The Northern Echo:

The intricate wooden structure in the Laborde's house

We get that fourth bedroom at the expense of a decent garden; we move to be near good schools but break the bank in the process; we find a house with a decent garage, but alas, no playroom or utility. You get the drift.

Perhaps it explains the growing popularity in self-building. More people across the region are going it alone – presumably thanks to inspiring property TV shows such as ‘Grand Designs’, but also because so many new builds are unoriginal, under-sized and over-priced.

Meanwhile, the internet has given increased access to information, contacts, ideas and competitively priced materials, while there are now more mortgage lenders offering stage payments for self-build schemes.

So, it’s fertile ground these days for any would-be self-builder. And you don’t have to be in the building trade to get on board. Self-build as a concept covers many scenarios – from property owners doing all the physical work themselves, through to those labouring on site alongside professional electricians, plumbers and other specialist tradesmen, to those who contract out the entire shebang, either overseeing the work as project manager, or employing someone else to do it for them.

Research, research, research

IN fact, the ability to build is probably less of an essential than certain other skills and attributes: tenacity for one (self-build is not for the faint-hearted!); patience for another (land purchase and planning alone can take months), as well as a willingness to work hard, a positive ‘can do’ attitude, and an unfaltering attention to detail.

Self-builder Nigel Laborde displays all of the above in abundance. He’s worked tirelessly for the last 18 months and more, putting in 12-hour days, seven days a week, labouring over 3.5 tons of reinforced steel, 100 tons of stone and five tons of oak to create an impressive and imposing 317m² five-bedroomed detached house on the banks of the River Swale, near Richmond.

The house has a full height open landing with floor to ceiling glazing overlooking the river, set off by a handsome central staircase in oak and several hefty internal beams all fitted and crafted by himself. With underfloor heating, super-insulation, a inbuilt eco-friendly sewage treatment system and off-roof rainwater harvesting, every detail has been carefully considered and executed. Nigel has aimed for, and achieved, a quality, high-end product – something, he admits, that he and his wife Debbie could never have afforded to buy, either as a completed house, or by paying others to do the work.

There is no doubt that with such stunning riverside views Nigel has more than ticked the location box, but that said he still maintains that any successful self-build is more about research. “Forget location, location, location,” he laughs, “it’s more like research, research, research. I spent entire days looking into all aspects of the project to find out everything I could before making buying decisions. I can’t help being thorough; it’s in my nature. It made for a slower start, but everything ran more smoothly in the end.’ So much so that when it came to the actual build he only had to make one minor alteration to his original design.

The Northern Echo:

The views onto open countryside and the town beyond are stunning

WHILE self-building and full-time employment are not exclusive, juggling the two can be challenging. For self-builder Terry Rea, currently based on Skandi Africa, one of the world’s largest offshore construction vessels, the solution for the self-build he is about to embark upon has been to commission a timber frame structure which will be factory-built then delivered to site at Cleasby, near Darlington, and erected as a watertight building in a matter of days. Local building firms are also tendering for other aspects of the build and Terry will work on the house himself whenever he’s on leave.

As this is Terry’s second self-build project, he has experience and wisdom behind him, which counts for everything with timing being so critical. Building work hasn’t yet begun and already he and his wife Laura have sourced and priced up key parts of the build, including heating options and solar panels.

They have worked with Matt Ball, their Richmond-based architect, to create an elegant 225m² four-bedroomed scheme combining a traditional frontage to fit in with neighbouring properties and a wow-factor rear elevation using timber cladding and a double-storey glass wall with glass eaves. The full-height glazing will descend from a Juliet balcony on the landing down to a central wood burner in the kitchen diner below.

Terry and Laura may only be at the early stage of the build process but everything about their approach promises success. “There’s never a fallow period,” Terry says, admitting that the project is already all-consuming. “I started out years ago as a joiner dreaming about building my own house. I never imagined I’d be able to do it. Having the funds is one thing, but to be honest it’s more about having the courage. My advice to any would-be self-builder is simple: Believe you can do it and you can.’