Hello A Life Loved readers, I’m Kate – welcome to part one of my diary of a self build, through which I’ll be sharing my experiences (ups, downs, and everything in between), as my family and I build our home from scratch in the heart of the New Forest.
Channelling my inner Julie Andrews, ‘let’s start at the very beginning’ shall we? The Scrumbles tribe is a family of four – we have two mini Scrumbles (aged 3 and 6) and two years ago, we decided to move our little family away from our beloved Brighton, where we’d spent incredibly happy 11 years, in the search of a new way of life.
I make this sound simple but I promise you, it wasn’t. We agonised over it and moved three times in three years, just in and around Brighton trying to find the right house before we realised that we were actually looking for something else for our life.
We decided to go West so our bubs would grow up climbing a tree and with a surf board under their feet and our search took us to the beautiful New Forest, which being 20 minutes from the beach ticks both boxes, and more. We timed our move to coincide with our daughter starting school and decided to rent whilst we settled her in and hunt for the right opportunity for our home.
The next six months was spent searching and viewing houses which offered the potential to renovate and convert and also hunting for land with the prospect of building from scratch. We searched through lots of the surrounding villages (and fields and barns!) around us but none were right, they either took us too far away or landed us in the middle of nowhere with no amenities and therefore out of catchment area for schools and the prospect of a life spent constantly in the car.
And then we had a knock on our front door and everything changed! Our dear 87-year-old neighbour had come over to tell us the owner of the house next to him (so three doors down from where we were renting!) had passed away and did we want to come and see the property and garden. We’d walked passed the house every day for six months and never given it a second thought, that was until we walked around the back. Wow, what an incredible plot it was. Poor Rightmove’s web traffic took a very sudden hit that day as I’ve not looked since and having been that person who searched for dream properties at least 10 times a day for six years I’m sure they noticed!
We fell in love, instantly! It was more like an orchard than a garden. And the whole perimeter was marked out by an old stone wall that rivals that in The Secret Garden. Now we just had to try and make it our own!
We always felt the house was somewhat irrelevant as it was the plot it sat on we fell in love with and we knew we had the vision and excitement to make the house something new. As it was, it was a rabbit warren of tiny rooms and had no windows at the back of the house. But it did offer us the chance to live our dream and build our home on an amazing plot in the middle of the New Forest with school at the end of the road.
Following our hearts
After our first visit our hearts never really caught up with our heads as we decided to write a letter to the executor of the estate and tell him about our dream to reinject love, life and family back into what had become a neglected house on a beautiful plot. We wrote of our dreams for our daughter to be married under the willow tree in the garden and of how and why our journey brought us from Brighton to the New Forest and we asked if he would consider a private sale. Fortunately, he loved it! Unbeknown to us, the family had been approached by developers for years asking to buy the house because they could fit 10 houses in the garden and they felt very strongly that they didn’t want this to happen, so our letter was timely.
What’s in a name?
It then took 18 months of a lot more letter writing, meetings and calls whilst probate was being granted (oh how we underestimated the length of this process!) before we were finally gearing up to get the keys. During this time we still lived three doors down and as the house wasn’t lived in we spent a lot of time in the garden playing and introducing our children to what would hopefully become their home.
And that is how Scrumbles got its name. We’d go over and collect apples from the trees during the autumn and our son (then two) would say he was picking apples to make ‘apple scrumble’. The name stuck!
Working with our Architect
The time it took from first falling for the plot to being the owners, whilst frustrating at times, was actually a real help because it meant we had time with our Architect to flesh out the right design and go over a lot of design iterations until we had the design that best suited our family life.
Having read our body weight in Living Etc and Grand Designs mags over the years we were fairly set on what our house would look like but it was brilliant to work with our Architect for his expertise on how best to build and to get his vision for how to use the spaces more efficiently. Choosing our architect was easy as he is a friend of ours, he has designed houses we love and he also lives at the end of our road which was brilliant as we were able to spend time on site coming up with ideas together rather than remotely.
We worked together over these months and were so ready that the same day we completed on the purchase, we submitted our plans to the planning office and the eight to twelve week wait to hear back started.
Tendering for builders
Now we had plans together we started talking to a number of different builders. We met four and they were all so different to each other. We knew straight away to avoid the builder who never gave us a straight answer and made us feel like idiots for every question we asked! Also up for the chop was the one who didn’t listen to our brief and also the one who told us he’d just Google for his ground team. This was not the reassurance we were looking for. And even though those guys were all quoting cheaper bottom lines, we instead decided to trust our guts and go with who felt right. As we always knew we’d be living on site, and with our little ones in a tiny touring caravan at the bottom of the garden, we knew we had to feel safe and trust our builder.
Living on site
Being the renovation types we are, we set about completely renovating the caravan turning it from a salmon/beige shambles into a vision of things hygge. I’ll do the big reveal in my next post.
All this renovation and planning work took us up to when our tenancy on the rented house was up and on the 26th May this year we moved our little family into our caravan and bell tent at the bottom of the garden and that same day we had planning permission granted. Wow, what a feeling that was. The fizzy sure did flow that night.
Our bubble was slightly burst though as we hoped to jump straight into building work but had massively underestimated the time it would take, and red tape and hoops we would have to jump through to get the building control drawings ready. This process was as lengthy as getting planning permission.
The first thing to do was for Mr Scrumbles to get digging! We needed three separate inspection holes for the Structural Engineer to inspect the existing foundations. That’s a long way down and a whole lot of brick and dirt to dig down into. We were quoted £2,000 to dig the holes so instead Mr Scrumbles set to work with a pick axe and sledge hammer and dug us three beautifully deep pits. Then came the scary bit. The phone rang to tell us the whole ground floor of the original house would need underpinning before any work could begin and would cost roughly £35,000.
This was because the original house was built circa 1900 and building control basically didn’t exist then! I was sitting on our little caravan step with my babies playing in the garden thinking what the hell have we done? Fortunately, the builder we had appointed by this time thought we should get a second opinion. Thank God we did! It turned out we didn’t need to underpin the whole thing, just the three sections we were going to open up and glaze. Phew!
So before we’d even started any building work it felt like we’d been on a huge journey. And it had been. 18 months of planning and dreaming and hoping and we were about to start. First things first, we had to get used to living with no plumbing, heating and cooking over a camping stove. For eight months! I’m really excited to show you how we live though, it sure is cosy!