It’s September 2016 and I have two features in this issue of Build It, in my opinion the best of the specialist titles aimed at self-builders. Here are just a few pictures of the two builds featured, together with some thoughts about my experiences in recording this sort of project.
Alongside my work for direct clients, and my editorial features for the glossy décor monthlies, I’ve been sourcing interesting, individual self-built homes for Build It for at least twelve years – it must be that long, since I was still shooting film, and my first feature for the title (under another editor, a different publisher) made the front cover with a shot taken on Fuji Provia in my Mamiya RZ-II with the 75mm shift lens… Film nostalgia! As usual, I do the complete feature, shooting more exteriors than the décor glossies would require since architectural detail is important, interviewing, writing lengthy copy and including reams of facts about materials, costs and suppliers.
These features are really good publicity for e.g. architects, builders, suppliers of products & services such as SIPS panels: some such contacts have provided me with leads to several feature homes and they appreciate the free publicity, plus the pictures I give them for their own websites.
By now I’ve met many self-builders and seen the super homes they’ve made for themselves. I enjoy it immensely, and they always impress – the houses themselves, and the people who often travel a hard road to achieve the house they wanted. No matter how smooth the process for some people, having your own house built is a major undertaking, a huge challenge: there are always difficulties of some sort, unforseen problems, delays. Planning is often a bugbear, since planners are in the end bureaucrats, for whom the safest course is always to say no! Planning committees can be very stuffy and conservative, reluctant to let someone be a bit different. The wrong choice of builder or key artisans can be disastrous, or at least cause holdups – though self-builders do find some marvellous people to work with as well. More than one self-build couple (it’s nearly always a couple) have said to me that their key advice for anyone contemplating a build is, Don’t do it if your heart is at all dodgy… It can be that stressful, especially if you’re combining a build with full-time work, bringing up children, and so on.
Certain homes stand out. The oldest self-builders I’ve met were around 70, sold their Victorian home near Epsom but kept part of its garden, researched the subject – he’d been a senior business executive but knew nothing about building – then built a super modern home for retirement. Cost control was impressive: he showed me a vast ringbinder in which everything was spec’d & costed. The build came in 47p under budget…
Then there was Rob aged 28 and single, who received part of his family’s Oxfordshire farmyard as an advance inheritance: he built a lovely home for himself, and alongside it another to rent out for income.
I travelled to the Costa del Sol to cover a truly different self-build by an American architect resident there – his house was modelled on a traditional pueblo, with a sinuous walkway at the top of broad shallow steps, separating the house (built largely in adobe) into two halves for living and sleeping…
There are many terrific self-build projects to write about. I’ll do so again from time to time.