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Border Oak - oak framed houses, oak framed garages and structures.

The Border Oak Show House.

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We are so pleased to have a beautiful show house to show the craftsmanship and detail that goes into a Border Oak designed house. 

If you would like to arrange to view the house then please get in touch and we can arrange a booking. We can also advise of any open days that we have coming up at the house over the next few weeks. These are held on a Saturday during the day and are slightly less informal then arranging a private meeting.

You can view the full album from our photoshoots by following the blow link to our pinterest page.

pictures

 

 

 

 

The house is complete…..almost

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I can now confirm that the last 6 weeks of any self build project are MANIC. There seemed to be a crazy rush of trades (all coming at the same time and sometimes in the right order), an endless stream of deliveries and a paperwork mountain the size of Hay Bluff. We spent a long time searching our HQ stores for the perfect black screw and some elusive bathroom fittings - the missing flush plate eventually turned up at the suppliers 30 mins away so an emergency driver was dispatched to collect it before the plumbers ran out of time. 

Of course it is a bit stressful and at times I yearned for a dark room - but it is also thrilling and satisfying to see everything come together and for ideas that were once just scribbles on paper finally become reality.


It probably feels stressful because all the 'small' jobs and decisions pile up towards the end - and theses are collectively more troublesome and draining than the big jobs it seems. For example it took three of us to find the right fixing for a curtain pole. 

But these endless little jobs are often the most visible parts of the house and getting it right is crucial - especially when you are aiming for an exceptional finish. Finding the perfect piece of beading for the stair case or the tiny brass handles for the pantry doors may well be small fry in the grander scheme - but they are very important and elevate the ordinary to something more unique - more 'Border Oak' . 

Admittedly some of my ideas needed a bit more energy and explanation than conventional approaches -  I will concede that the builders gave me a few odd looks when I asked them to fit some towel hooks made of real tree branches to the back of a door. And my reclaimed oak ledge and concrete sink for the downstairs WC is certainly a 'marmite' feature (some people really REALLY aren't sure about it!) but gradually we ticked the jobs off the list and stopped adding new ones.

Some parts of the house are not yet complete - for example we need to fit the interior of the pantry (pretty shelves and reclaimed marble we're thinking) and we will add to the furnishings and art work as we go. But the only biggish jobs left incomplete as I type is the drainage connection which is still held up by paper work and missing certificates from the legal people (how many times can they tell you 'it will be complete in 6 weeks'?) and the landscaping work (we can't do this until they dig the drainage trench). But other than that we know have the most lovely oak framed cottage in a great spot - looking better and working harder than we had expected.

I thought some very basic facts about the project might help give some perspective:

Size                                      190m2

Build Time                            8-9 months

Construction Cost                £288,000 (approx. £1500 per m2)

Construction method           Oak frame with SIPs, faced with render with glass and weatherboard

And finally here are some of the professional images we have just taken of the cottage - I really hope you like it. We will also do one final diary post to give you some background on the performance of the cottage as early indications show that it is out performing our expectations with regard to insulation, heating and heat loss.  Keep an eye on our website, Facebook etc for 'open days' and events in the coming months as we would love for you to see it in the flesh - the first are set for 2nd and 3rd October and the 23rd and 24th October (please call the office to book a slot).

Thank you all  for reading the diary over the past few months, I hope it has been informative in some way  - we are always really grateful for your lovely comments and your continued interest in what we do. 

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So, the scaffold has come down, the internal fit out is chugging away, and we are now at the stage where all the details come together.

With any self build the amount of preparation and research you undertake before you build is crucial - I've probably said this before, sorry. Although it seems like an eternity since we sat down at Border Oak HQ and had a 'specification' meeting* with the Border Oak Project Manager and Head of Procurement (the man who is in charge of buying and finding the very best stuff), it is very exciting to see those paper decisions come to life on site. 

*This is the meeting where all the finer detail is chosen - it's fundamental to the smooth running of the project and also the final finish.

At the spec meeting we selected (amongst a million other things):

Roof tiles

Bricks

Mortar colours

Render colour

Skirting boards, architraves, beading and linings

Door types and the way they open

Floor Coverings

Door and window fixtures

Wall finishes

Kitchen layouts

Bathroom layouts

Lighting layouts

Underfloor heating systems

Rainwater goods

Location of sockets

Etc., etc., etc.

Some of these decisions have to be made at a very early stage because of the long lead in times (i.e. you need to order early to get the product made on time - very important when you are ordering bespoke items or those that are specialist and therefore more difficult to source). Other choices have to be made because they have an impact upon the construction detail and the drawings need to be amended (bear in mind that some of these design changes may well attract additional costs as design labour will be required). Meanwhile, some selections are useful in order to arrange third party quotes (electrics and plumbing for example). Basically, the more notice you can give the better.

In an ideal world it really is best if the decisions can be made before work starts on site; the drawings can be altered to include all the specifications and then…….NO FURTHER CHANGES PLEASE! However, we all know life isn't always perfect and so it is inevitable that some changes will occur during the process. Although I really did try to avoid making any alterations I thought I would give you a few examples of changes that were made and the implications of each one.

Change No. 1 - Omitting a door between the kitchen and utility.

Once I could see the space built I decided that I didn't need a door between the two rooms and that it would actually be a obstacle to the function of the space and would stop the long 'view through' (see previous post).

However, the beautiful oak door and the linings, architraves etc. had already been made and the opening had been created. The solution was relatively easy as the dry lining hadn't been completed so we could board around the opening and produce a nice finish. It would have been worse if the door had been fitted and then we asked to take it out. However, we do now have a spare door that we have to pay for but don't need.

Bothersome Factor 4/10

Change No. 2 - The feature wall in the bedroom.

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We thought it would be fun to add a bit of timber to one of the walls to provide some texture and do something a little different. Horizontal timber planks were fitted across the wall rather than plasterboard. This meant adding some extra battening and a dark membrane (so when the boards shrink you can't see the airtightness barrier). We reduced the plasterboard/dry lining work, but increased the carpentry element. It meant a last minute order to the timber merchant, but caused no major delay as it arrived the next day. If there had been a delay it would have been a big problem and costly too. 

Bothersome Factor 3/10

Change No. 3 - Repositioning of bathroom fittings and creating a dummy wall to hide the plumbing. 

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The main bathroom had always been a problem for me - I just couldn't work it out until it was built. Once I saw the space I realised I needed a major restyling, but this was after the main infrastructure had been installed. I had to work around the soil pipe and the required fall, but also needed to rejig the door way and access from the landing. I wanted to hide the pipe work in a dummy wall and we had to alter the wall beneath too; all of this had to be done without breaking the airtightness membrane. Yes, it all looks very streamlined now and I am pleased with the result, but it would be a lie to say that it was easy.

Bothersome Factor 8/10

There were a few other smaller changes (such as swapping the new flagstones in the fireplace for reclaimed flagstones) that have organically occurred, but nothing that would cause a tantrum. There have also been some tiny amendments that are more to do with refinement, problem solving and my own personal vision (such as the extra bit of beading on the staircase string which I think just elevates the profile - and which no one else has even noticed or commented on!) Overall I have really tried to stick to the original drawings and only change things that were absolutely fundamental. Although sometimes the sheer number of decisions and sense of responsibility have weighed heavy on my shoulders, especially the choice of fittings and visual elements, I can honestly say that the finished house is pretty much as we envisaged all those months ago.

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Next time

We can share the complete house and all the interior furnishings.

 


 

 

Part 8

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Some internal design features explained………

This post doesn’t follow chronological order so forgive me for any confusion.

I thought now was a good time to run through some of the internal design features of the house.  Even the most modest and ‘ordinary’ Border Oak house (in this case The Pearmain Cottage) is given an incredible amount of design consideration ‘behind the scenes’,  even if most of it will be subtle or imperceptible once the house is built. Some details become ‘standard’ for all houses, whereas others are specific and distinctive to an individual project.

Almost all of the ‘features’ described below were designed on paper  - before a length of oak was ordered or a spade hits turf.  It all started with a mood board on Pinterest and a collection of images from books and magazines and grew from that with the Border Oak design team.  If you are considering a self build it is never too early to think of the internal features and ‘ambience’ that are important to you – everything Border Oak build is bespoke and our team are highly skilled, creative and genuine artisans, so you have an exciting opportunity to create a  unique home. Here are just a few of the characteristics of this house and how we have created them:

Storage

People often think that oak framed houses don’t have enough storage – I have no idea where this worry comes from as we definitely build A LOT of cupboards – but this house has given us the opportunity to showcase some of the options.

There is a  typical under stairs cupboard (set within a T&G paneled wall), but we have subdivided ours so it is accessed partly from the kitchen (to form a pantry with two narrow bespoke doors to make sure it doesn’t encroach on the kitchen space).  The remaining space will be a generous hallway storage cupboard, for coats and shoes etc., with the underfloor heating manifolds also concealed inside.

In the utility area each appliance (apart from the fancy Fisher and Paykel fridge) is hidden by a cupboard, including the teeny tiny eco boiler which is concealed by a another bespoke cupboard  - with linen storage below. Even the fuse box has been hidden in a void made by a dummy wall for the cistern of the downstairs loo – maximizing every inch of space we can.

Upstairs we built a beautiful boxed window seat (with storage under) beneath a large sky light, with full length cupboards either side of the seat to hide the under floor heating controls and the sockets and provide hanging rails and shelving space.  The seat and cupboards work well with the sloping ceilings upstairs and have become a feature that is both pretty and practical and so the ‘lost’ floor area is barely noticeable.

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Between the master bedroom and smaller bedroom we have built a pair of substantial ‘dummy’ walls (softwood construction) and have subdivided the space into two large fitted wardrobes – one for each room. We have applied decorative panelling to one side of the dummy walls for a textured feature and further adding to the excellent soundproofing throughout.

In the en-suite shower room and bathroom we have utilised every nook and cranny created by the dummy walls built to hide pipework – forming niches and recessed cupboards for all the bathroom stuff you want to hide away but maintaining a very smart and streamlined feel because most of the plumbing mechanics are concealed.

The downside of all of this clever cupboarding is increased cost – it is undoubtedly more expensive and time consuming to make all of these spaces, niches and storage . However we have tried to minimize costs by using ‘standard’ ready made doors which will be upgraded with lovely handles and painted in heritage colours.

Open Plan and light, bright interiors
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We wanted this cottage to be very light and to have a feeling of being a little bit open plan without actually being open plan. We looked at how best to create an unimpeded flow around the ground floor rooms -  using little tricks to borrow space and light and to form cheeky little glimpses from one area to the next. We eliminated internal doors and focused upon views through the space – from one room to another. Often ‘open plan’ works best if there are still areas of privacy (such as utility areas, bathrooms etc) – so in places the layout remains conventional.

However, creating the actual ‘view through’ was a lot more complex than the concept itself.  And omitting doors required radical design alterations to work successfully and look architecturally strong. We had to consider how the eye might read all the spaces together, without doors and divisions, and what happens above your eye line from one room to another.  I became obsessed with lining up archways and streamlining every possible line! Sometimes we accepted a compromise – such as the downlighters not being able to sit in a straight linear run because of the change in direction of joists required for the room span. Annoying at the time, but actually unnoticeable now implemented.

During the build I realised how easy it was for me to flippantly ask for something to be done, but how hard it actually is to do in physical terms due to the constraints of construction and engineering.  It was a great learning curve for me and I quickly worked out the true meaning behind the builders facial expressions (for example a long stretch of silence, combined with a deep inhale, followed by some neck scratching and raised eyebrows translates =  ‘why-would-you-even want-to-do-that-when-it-is-basically-impossible-to-do-and-far-too-late-to-ask-me-to-do-it’).

Making the house light and bright was much easier we passive orientated the design at the planning permission stage to maximise the natural daylight coming in, with double and triple aspect rooms and a lot of glazing. The hardest part was making sure the glazing style still suited the cottage feel and wouldn’t look odd from the outside. We tried to preserve the cottage essence but with a lot of glass in all the right places.

Contemporary Country

One of the most recognisable Border Oak trademarks is probably our ‘look’. It’s really hard to describe this but ‘contemporary country’ seems to sum it up.

We focus on natural materials, textures and colours, a very high standard of workmanship, craftsmanship and an unrivalled attention (some might say obsession) to detail.

For this house the ‘look’ will hopefully come from a combination of the beautiful hand made oak frame (we have left ours a natural light colour, which isn’t shiny or orange, and we haven’t put oak framing everywhere – I think some oak houses just have too much wood?) together with the chalky lime render, handmade bricks and clay roof tiles and painted weather boarding. We have contrasted these ‘vernacular’ textures with glass, galvanized guttering and contemporary lighting. Internally the grey oak and limestone floors, painted joinery, blacksmith made door latches, brushed steel light switches, brass taps, handmade kitchen, antique furniture, classic bathrooms, hand made doors, light fittings and artwork will hopefully work together to create a cottage that is brimming with artisan detail and feels homely, tactile and fresh.  Of course the only way we will know if all the tiny detail and our meticulous planning and sourcing is really successful is when we open the doors and show you what we have done – we are really looking forward to it!
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First fix

With the roof tiling complete and looking spectacular, we were able to start the window installation and tackle the interior first fix along with the detailed outer facings.

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The installation of doors and windows made the house pretty much watertight in construction terms, which enables us to divide the scheduled work into two sets of 'critical path' trades (internal and external) running parallel to and largely independently of each other. This saves time on site, gives some flexibility with trades and releases us from the vagaries of the British weather. 

We've chosen to use the Border Oak softwood windows throughout on this cottage as they are our most popular. However, in a crazy moment, we asked for them to be painted in a more daring dark green. We often recommend our lovely soft greeny/grey colour on our joinery, but thought this was the ideal opportunity to experiment and make a more contemporary statement. After endless test pots (of colours that were marginally distinguishable from one another) we decided upon this bespoke mossy tone, with a hint of ink and smoke (sounds fancy doesn't it!) hoping it would work well against the brick and render, but would also complement the glass and weatherboard. As it is very much a 'natural' colour, we felt it would work against the rural backdrop and changing seasons. It was a bit of a risk, but we thought it would be fun to try something new.

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By using the same colour on the windows, doors and weatherboard we have been able to unify all the various parts of the cottage, but we have used different products to suit each application and base material. The product used to treat the weatherboard is a new OSMO product, which is half oil/half opaque paint and can be mixed to any paint reference. The only issue is that the bespoke colours are mixed in Germany so it can take two weeks or more to get it. Thinking we were being super efficient we chose to paint all the loose boards before they were fitted. This works well in theory, until you realise you have under ordered and run out of paint! So that the carpenters could carry on without delay, we decided that the boarding should be fitted and the remaining wood painted in situ. Next time we will order more paint than we think we need!

The exterior of the house is mainly rendered, which is now an iconic Border Oak finish that has been one of our most recognised trademarks since the original Pearmain Cottage appeared on Grand Designs in 2001. Under the outer render facing are layers of super modern and innovative construction details; devised by us to meet and exceed the ever changing regulations and help us deliver a house that is virtually airtight with minimal thermal bridging. The core structural material is Kingspan SIPs (we are one of their approved partners and one of the very first people to ever to use SIPs in the UK; so we have a very thorough specialist knowledge). 

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The SIPs work in partnership with the oak frame to provide overall structure - on this particular house there is also a section that is completely oak framed with our infill panels and glass inserts. The internal face of the SIPs is battened (to create a service void) and lined with a continuous high tech intelligent airtight vapour control membrane. This is taped and sealed at every conceivable point, before the interior plasterboard is fitted. The external face of the SIPs is battened (with a cavity), covered with a breathable membrane and overlaid with a continuous insulated carrier board before two coats of a specialist render and integrated mesh are applied. Obviously that is the slightly simplified version of what is involved - all the complicated junctions, details and 'break through points' are already designed and factored in by our technical design team before the house is built. Our aim is to deliver a house that is virtually airtight and super insulated, but not to the point where you are forced to consider swapping your heating system for a mechanical ventilation system! Our approach is to build houses that don't need either - passive in the truest sense.

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Next……the internal features take shape.