A Level Best: Designing a Home with Disability in

PUBLISHED: 10:47 09 January 2009 | UPDATED: 15:41 20 February 2013

The projecting window in the centre of the house was once the front door and porch of the original cottage

The projecting window in the centre of the house was once the front door and porch of the original cottage

For this family, escaping from London has entailed renovating a cottage with the future needs of their young disabled son in mind, planting more than 100 trees and breeding alpacas. Words by Victoria Jenkins and photos by Nicholas Yarsley.

Almost ten years ago, Elizabeth and David Parry moved from London with two small children, (Charles, now 12, and William, now 11). They wanted to escape from the city and yet be near enough to a motorway so David could easily get back to London to see clients of his architect's business. But then they learned that William, who was born disabled, would probably never walk, so they had to think of living somewhere more suitable. They found an old stone cottage through an estate agent which, despite its three bedrooms and three reception rooms, was still too small. "However, it did have 26 acres, so there was plenty of room for us to build," says Elizabeth. "We bought it in July 2003 with planning permission in place to extend."

However, the family didn't move in for nearly a year. The L-shaped property, which may have begun as three one-up, one-down cottages, or maybe a cottage with a barn attached, dated from around 1780 and needed to be made habitable. So, first they had to re-plaster and also make the floors as level as possible for William's wheelchair, then install a new kitchen, new loo and two woodburners to help them survive the cold. They finished by redecorating the entire property throughout.

"While we did this we remained in our previous house and only moved into the cottage in October 2004," says Elizabeth. "As it is deep in the countryside at the end of a long lane, our London friends thought we were mad."

Once they'd moved in they changed their ideas about what form the extension should take. "Originally we had planning consent to make the whole cottage double in size both upwards and outwards - almost like a small manor house - with a wheelchair lift for William," says Elizabeth. "Then David decided that extra single-storey wings were more practical, and as it took us nearly two years to get planning permission for our new designs we didn't start the new work until June 2006. We also needed approval from both the Water Authority (to discharge effluent from the septic tank) and the County Arborologist to remove the sycamores from our piece of ancient woodland as sycamores spread rapidly and would threaten the other indigenous species."

They also had to hide the last 100 metres of electric cable and 300 metres of telephone wires underground. "There was so much work involved we had to move out for ten months," says Elizabeth. "So, in August 2006 we rented a house nearby and stayed there until May 2007. We began by having part of the cottage demolished then rebuilt to create an entrance hall and dining room. Then we had two timber-framed new wings built on, one at each end of the cottage, which doubled its footprint. The timber frame sits on a base of stonework to raise it well above ground and floor levels."

One wing contains their sitting room, which has a double-height ceiling and new oak A-frame beams designed by David, plus a smaller sitting room called the snug. In both rooms the floor, skirtings and architraves are of solid walnut. In the other wing there are two new ground-floor bedrooms for the boys, with a bathroom, wet room and WC. The wet room and loo were specially designed for William to use, as is part of the kitchen, and the adaptations were funded by Mendip District Council and Somerset County Council.

Meanwhile the original cottage contains their kitchen-breakfast room, two guest bedrooms and bathroom, an office and a music room (on the site of the first kitchen). The newly built part of the cottage contains the hallway and the dining room, with the main bedroom, dressing room and shower room above.

"We had underfloor heating installed throughout the ground level with a polished limestone floor from Bath Stone covering most of it," says Elizabeth. "We put in slate ribbon inserts to break up the large areas of stone to help William get around more easily as his sight is impaired. We put in oil-fired central heating too as well as contemporary gas fires fuelled by canisters."

Such an excellent job did Steve Brine, their builder, make of the five-bedroomed house, that he won the 2008 award for Best Domestic Extension in the South West. "Apart from the timber framing, he did everything, including all the stone walls, floors and so on," says Elizabeth. "He not only created the kitchen space but the units too."

Their kitchen-breakfast room used to be two small rooms in the old cottage divided by a passage leading from the porch and front door. Steve Brine demolished the passage to make the two rooms into one big area and replaced the old front door with glass to form a projecting picture window. He also had to raise the existing floor in this area by two feet to bring it up to the level of the new wings.

"Then he made the laminated white units for us with brushed nickel, round-bar handles, while the worktops are of paduk, a Central African red hardwood, made by a local joiner near Shepton Mallet," says Elizabeth. "One area of the kitchen has been adapted for William to use and consists of a two-metre-wide worktop, adjustable in height, housing a sink, hob and electric sockets."

The Parrys have also made their home very energy-efficient. The new wings have eight inches of insulation in the walls, floors and ceiling, which is double the usual amount, while the cottage has eight inches of insulation in the floor and two inches in the ceilings.

"We get our water supply from a bore hole and have installed a radon barrier which prevents this carcinogenic gas from penetrating our house from the ground; a common problem in the South West," says Elizabeth. "And in place of the sycamores we have planted 100 hazel trees as well as an orchard of 24 apple, pear, peach and damson trees, and a double row of lime trees along the driveway."

She finishes, "We love it here and so do the boys as there's so much space for us all both inside and out. Plus we've put in so much thought and work to make this house suitable for William so he can live as independently as possible that we plan to stay here for the rest of our lives. We also have a couple of holiday cottages that we let out and a family of alpacas that we keep to breed so we're always busy."


Main contractor and mason SM Brine 01749 345384

Avalon Architects 07973 225720 (David's company)

Burnt House Farm Holiday Cottages, 0870 0781100, www.english-country-cottages.co.uk

Burnt House Alpacas 01749 840125

Latest from the Somerset Life