Through the keyhole: Minimalism at its best
PUBLISHED: 16:58 11 May 2017 | UPDATED: 16:58 11 May 2017
Graham and Emily Bizley have created a cosy family home using modern German engineering, as Victoria Jenkins discovers
When architect Graham Bizley and his wife Emily, an interior designer, decided to build a new home, they wanted one as energy-efficient as possible. The obvious solution was a Passivhaus.
These super-insulated, highly airtight houses were first developed in the 1980s by a German professor, Wolfgang Feist, whose aim was to design very energy efficient buildings with a minimal requirement for heating.
“A Passivhaus couldn’t be more different from the traditional, rather draughty Victorian home,” says Graham. “Our practice had become increasingly involved with low energy construction but had never built a Passivhaus from scratch, so this project was an opportunity for us to do so.”
As Emily had grown up in a village near Wellington, the couple began looking in the Blackdown Hills where her father still lives.
“It is almost unheard of to get planning permission on an empty plot of land so we searched for a site with a property which we could demolish and start again,” Graham explains. “Finally we bought a small pre-fab bungalow at auction, built in 1920 and in a poor state of repair, sitting on a quarter acre plot.”
The couple bought it in November 2010, by which time Emily found she was expecting Arlo, now five, and they designed the house over the next four months. “The shape of the house was influenced by the barns we saw nearby and by Alpine chalets with their big, overhanging roofs and verandas,” Graham says.
“Our roof projects to form sheltered outdoor spaces that we can use for dining, playing, parking and storing logs. And the living areas are on the first floor of the two-storey house so we can enjoy the amazing view across the Somerset Levels. It’s actually 230 per cent bigger than the old bungalow.”
The couple moved into a rented house in Somerton in March 2011 and gained planning permission in the April, the same month that Arlo was born.
“Planning came through with no problem. This is because we designed the house to fit into the landscape,” says Graham. “It’s built into a wooded hillside and from the road looks like a single-storey building, only slightly taller than the original bungalow.”
The couple then spent another nine months finessing the plans and then re-applied to make sure the changes were approved.
“Our home sits at the foot of the hill and you enter on the upper floor where there is a boot room, kitchen-dining area, snug, studio, guest bedroom and shower room,” says Emily. “We have large windows to give you great views across the moor to the south from the main kitchen-dining area and smaller windows to frame specific features of the landscape.
“On the lower floor there are three bedrooms, a bathroom, utility room, store room and plant room. And the sun rises over the neighbouring cider orchard to the east,” adds Graham.
They started construction in January 2012 and moved into their home following November, although the house was not yet finished.
“For the next three years we continued to work on the internal joinery, decorating, external landscaping and garden,” says Emily. “We worked together and took our time so we could really think about each stage and develop and refine every detail.
“In fact we designed almost everything ourselves from the superstructure down to the bedside tables and lights, which were then made by local joiners and metalworkers. Even the kitchen table is made from some floorboards from the old bungalow”.
Their house is a test bed for their ideas. “We can try out and develop ideas and product prototypes that we might then go on to use in our clients’ projects,” Emily adds.
The couple employed local tradesmen as much as possible. “We found an excellent foundation worker in the village and a timber frame company in Devon. We employed carpenters, electricians and plumbers, although we did a bit of most things ourselves,” says Graham.
“All the interior walls upstairs are lined in oak while the ground floor bedrooms are lined in plywood then painted. We didn’t want it to turn into a plasterboard house on the inside.”
There is oak engineered flooring throughout except for the local blue lias stone in the entrance hall and bathroom. To provide constant fresh air in the colder months when the windows remain closed Graham has fitted a mechanical ventilation system with heat recovery.
“Having lived in the house for four years we find we hardly need any heating because it’s extremely well insulated and airtight and we have triple glazed windows,” he says. “The heat we lose is balanced by the heat produced in the house by people, cooking, showers and electrical goods like computers, but we have a small electric heater in the air supply for very cold spells. We also have a wood burner but that’s just to heat hot water, and it creates a cosy feeling when it’s looking particularly grey outside.”
It was in 2012 that Emily set up her interior design business and then two years ago Flora was born. Graham now specialises in designing extremely energy-efficient houses in the rural landscape and says: “Somerset is such a great place to live and build in as there are so many skilled craftsmen and such a wealth of inspiration.”
Architect: Prewett Bizley Architects 01458 273778, prewettbizley.com
Blue Lias Stone flooring supplier: Ashen Cross Quarry 01458 274587, ashencrossquarry.co.uk
Groundwork & drainage: GA Doble, 01458 448283, gadoblecivilengineering.co.uk
Interior Design: Emily Bizley Interior Design, 01458 273778, emilybizley.co.uk
Kitchen & snug Joinery: Heartwood Cabinet Makers 01458 898077
Metalwork: Castle Welding 01749 890666, castlewelding.co.uk
Solar array, thermal store and boiler stove installer: 1 World Solar
Timber frame and green oak structure: Allwood Timber Buildings, 01404 850977, allwoodtimber.co.uk