A Healthy Home Fit For The Future

Front House is an impressive two-storey, upside down timber frame self-build in St. Andrews. Situated along a small residential road it would look equally at home nestled amongst St Andrews’ wild coastline. Its cube-shaped boxy design is clean and simple, partly clad with a fibre cement façade which complements silky Siberian Larch cladding. The minimalism of its design is echoed inside with simple, carefully curated interiors that are not over designed or over complicated. It perfectly reflects the couple who have built it, bright and sociable with a fresh, open outlook.

Push the boundaries but forget the bells and whistles
Having just completed their sixth self-build home, there’s not much Aileen and Dave Downie don’t know about self-building. And they are very clear on one thing; if you are lucky enough to build your own home you should push the boundaries of what’s possible. Both in terms of performance and aesthetics. But they don’t believe in bells and whistles, observing that it’s too easy to get carried away with fancy new ways of building and lots of toys.

Why self-build timber frame?
Aileen and Dave chose to self-build in timber frame on the basis that it has been tried, tested and incrementally developed and improved over hundreds of years. Their philosophy from the outset was to build Front House from the inside out, investing heavily in its fabric. They prioritised high levels of insulation, both in the timber frame and in the floors and ceilings. They chose the best windows and doors they could afford; Rationel alu-clad and triple glazed for low maintenance in the years to come.

Future proofing
The couple’s structural choices demonstrate a forward-thinking approach that acknowledges the rapid pace of technological change. While not a requirement today, they have invested in additional structural elements that may be a priority for future owners. For example, a structural wall has been integrated into the Plant Room along with changeover switches to allow the house to be powered by batteries if so desired.

A design fit for the site
Working closely with local architect, Joanna Lockhart, the Downies spent a great deal of time thinking through views, orientation and the positioning of the house. It has been built towards the back of the site to take advantage of south-facing light to the front. The house is dug into a sloping site, giving privacy for the downstairs bedrooms and sunroom behind walls, trees and high gates all of which have sliding doors out on to individual garden areas. Upstairs comprises a large, highly social open plan area with an additional bedroom and lounge.

Natural light has been maximised in the social areas with large flat roof windows and sliding doors on to a balcony eliminating the need for artificial lighting even on the most overcast days. Daylight combined with the warmer air rising from downstairs ensures that heating and lighting costs are minimal. The house has been designed with stacks of storage of every kind including a well-sized garden store/studio. In addition to looking and feeling good, it works well on a functional and practical level too.

Healthy house
Aileen and Dave Downie have also worked towards achieving a healthy house choosing materials such as timber and aluminium clad windows, hardwood floors and low VOC (volatile organic compound) surfaces. Additionally, they have installed whole house water filtration, air to air heat pumps with plasma filters and a whole house heat recovery unit in response to achieving a remarkable 1.3 Air Pressure Test result. More importantly for Aileen and Dave, a healthy house is one which doesn’t keep them awake at night. And they have no regrets about how they have invested their self-build budget feeling confident they have spent money where it really counts – in the fabric of the house.

The result?
“We love living in our new home. We love how bright and airy it is. We love walking out on to our balcony, which has a glass canopy to protect us – we do live in the UK after all. We love the fact that it is easy and cheap to run and maintain. We particularly love the fact that we had this opportunity to build our own home in what is a lovely part of the country. Working through this process with Fleming Homes was a pleasure. They didn’t try to talk us into spending money we were uncomfortable with. They helped and advised at every turn. They never once dodged a phone call and all the help offered was given in good humour by a team who clearly love what they do and seek to give you the house of your dreams. Who could ask for more?”

Photography by Tom Manley Photography


Read more about Dave and Aileen’s self-build journey in the May 19 issue of Build It Magazine.

DownieCaseStudy BuildIt May 2019

A testament to Aileen and Dave’s self-managed self-build, Front House was shortlisted for the BuildIt Awards 2018 in the category of Best Timber Frame.