Robin and Christine, the owners of this quintessentially English grade II listed property in Sussex felt they wanted a family space filled with daylight. The existing 1970s conservatory on the back of the house felt tired, did not provide adequate insulation and did not integrate with the house in the way they wanted it to. Making alterations on a listed property is tricky, but their vision and determination yielded great results: a sympathetic oak framed garden room, which seamlessly extends the existing house, whilst respecting and highlighting its period features.
Robin and Christine’s 15th century stone cottage is lovely and full of charm, but it always lacked a bright, spacious room, where the family could gather and enjoy the views of their garden. The living room with the inglenook fireplace in the main house was cosy, but a little dark in the summer months. The house had an existing glass-roof conservatory, built in 1974, which was leaking, had issues in retaining or deflecting heat and frankly, looked out of date.
The existing conservatory was the obvious target. They first conceived the idea of replacing it with an oak version in 2016. They started looking for suppliers, but soon realised, the task was not as straightforward as they first thought. They found they struggled to find someone with considerable experience in extending listed properties, or someone who would take on a small, but challenging project such as theirs.
The couple knew that remaining within the footprint and mass of the existing conservatory was essential in order to have a fighting chance of a successful planning application. They had a good idea of what they wanted: an oak framed extension, rather than a conservatory. The difference being, a conservatory has to be separated from the main house by an external door, whilst an extension can have an open plan connection. This is all to do with the proportion of glazing on the structure and resulting heat loss. A solid, insulated roof usually addresses this issue.
Robin and Christine decided to embark on the planning application themselves, using drawings produced by the architectural arm of a local estate agency. The first stumbling block in the planning process was the roof design. The solid roof, which obstructed the view of the original building from the inside of the new extension, but also did not provide a clear distinction between the old building and the new timber structure was not popular with the local planning department.
Oakmasters were already involved in the design process of the oak frame at that time and suggested a solution, involving glass roof panels connecting the new garden room roof to the existing house. This proved to be the right way forward and finally, after 10 months, Robin and Christine were granted planning consent for their dream garden room.
Once the planning was granted, Oakmasters got to work on the detailed design of the oak frame, working with the couple on features that really mattered to them, such as curved tie on the exposed oak truss, partial roof glazing and the oak volume vs budgeted cost ratio.
In the summer of 2017, Christine and Robin started on the demolition of the old conservatory and the groundworks for the new one. During that time, the oak frame for their garden room was being manufactured on Oakmasters’ CNC machine. In the early autumn, the couple visited our factory to see their extension being made. Robin says, “We came to the factory to watch the frame being made on the machine. It was quite a fascinating experience to see these huge lumps of wood become the oak frame."
By November 2017, the frame was fully prepared, hand finished and delivered to site, ready for assembly. “You get the frame delivered and it’s just a pile of wood, but then they start assembling it and it comes up so fast, it’s fascinating.”, says Robin.
Oakmasters contracted an assembly team to erect the frame on site, including the curved truss, which had to be delivered in kit form, due to narrow access to the site. Access is always one of the most important factors in costing the project. Many parts of an oak frame require lifting equipment or a crane, so knowing this up front helps us to work out the best solution.
“The builders were exceptional, very conscientious and great at communicating.”, says Robin. “They checked with Oakmasters design team each time anything was unclear, rather than just going ahead, to make sure it was right.”
The structure was watertight by Christmas 2017 and they finally settled in in early February 2018.
“We were happy to find Oakmasters.”, say Robin and Christine. “They were so warm and prepared to work with us on the details. We really liked the company and the people when we visited them. Very friendly and personal. We appreciated the fact they were very open and flexible to talk about costs and go to a great level of detail explaining which parts of the structure affect the total cost the most, so we could decide which parts to keep and which parts to change. We didn’t know that in order to get a curved beam, it had to be cut out of a larger piece of oak, hence the cost. Once we understood this, we accepted it, because this was an important element for us.”
“The project plan Oakmasters shared with us was great. We could see exactly what would happen and when. We realised with surprise, quite how much work is involved in a bespoke building like this and how long it takes.
Oak is a magical material and we love it. We did a lot of work ourselves, for example planning, which is a hassle, but you then get exactly what you like. We are very happy with how this garden room has turned out and everyone comments on how lovely it is. It has given us the big, bright family room we felt our home needed, and it has become our family room for all seasons.”
Oakmasters design, manufacture and assemble bespoke oak and glulam timber frame structures. For more images of this project, see our website gallery. For a no obligation chat or a quotation, please call us on 01444455455 or email [email protected]