Retired architect Helen Heslop Brunt and her husband Martin on building their family home.
It is every architect’s dream to design and build their own house, but not many are lucky enough to achieve that. Helen Heslop Brunt made her dream come true, thanks to the support of her husband and Baufritz.
Helen, why did you decide to build your own home?
Helen: As an architect, I worked for many years on various projects, including commercial ones. My husband, Martin, and I also completed some property projects in the past, and I refurbished our two previous homes. But what I really wanted was to build a house for my own family – one where our grown-up children could continue to live with us or come and stay in comfort. A house filled with light and positive vibes, with great living spaces, both indoors and outdoors, but also one in which Martin and I can grow older and continue to enjoy.
How did you find the plot?
Martin: Well, we’d almost given up on Helen’s dream because there were so few available pieces of land. However, when browsing the internet one day, I came across this plot with a rather tired old bungalow for sale and what looked like stunning views. And I said to Helen, “I think we've got to go and look at this. I think this is the one.” The site is wonderful. It faces completely due south with fabulous views over the Weald of Kent, and is even on a hillside which falls away from where the house would be naturally positioned.
What made you choose Baufritz?
Martin: We always assumed we would follow a traditional build route, where you complete the design, go out to tender to several suitable contractors and wait for their prices. This all takes time and resources and the budget cannot be fixed until the process is completed. A prefabricated building wasn’t on our minds at first, but then we came across Baufritz on the internet and spent a couple of hours looking at their website. We were very impressed with the variety of designs, and by the idea that it is a bespoke package. The fact that they offer extremely high-quality prefab building and project management as a turnkey solution also appealed to us.
The single most important factor was that Baufritz gives a price for the building so that you know your financial commitment before you make a planning application. Past Baufritz clients also told us that the company delivers on time and on budget.
Did you visit Baufritz’s headquarters in Germany?
Martin: Yes, we did! We spent a day at the Baufritz factory, visited the sampling centre, saw their show houses and their impressive production facility. We knew straight away that this is what we were looking for. We also visited two reference houses in the UK. One of them was ten years old, and we were really very impressed with the great condition it was in.
Can you tell us about the design process?
Helen: Together with Martin, I first wrote a brief for the building before getting to the proper design stage. For me as an architect, site and context have always been key factors. The house is visible from the Weald, just as we have that fabulous view over it, so it was very important to break down the mass of the building. I decided to design three linked volumes to achieve this.
Inside the house, we wanted open living spaces with free-flowing transitions and plenty of natural daylight. The house faces south and west, so I made the most of the views and the sunlight, which makes the house delightful to live in. A key part of the brief was to build a house that would be low maintenance with good accessibility so that we would be able to enjoy living there as we got older. To achieve this, I designed one of the ground-floor rooms as a multipurpose space with a disabled access shower room that could be used as a bedroom suite if needed. Upstairs, we wanted a generous master suite for ourselves, as well as three hotel-style bedrooms with good en-suite showers for the children to either live in or stay in when they come to visit.
What did Baufritz make out of your design?
Helen: I sent my hand-drawn, scaled design drawings to Robert Lumme, Baufritz’s architect in the UK, to be translated into CAD. He worked hard to translate my design requirements, including high ceilings and window heights, suggesting some minor tweaks to fit it to their building system. Robert also prepared CAD three-dimensional views that were very useful in the planning application.
At that point, Baufritz gave us the final price for the house, which was just as well, because my first design was 20% over our budget! So it was back to the drawing board. I incorporated some of Baufritz’s most attractive components to produce a house design that was still an individual response to the site but met our budget constraints.
As Baufritz started to develop pre-production drawings, I was able to work with the project manager and the team, to develop a bespoke brise soleil solution. This helps to keep the house from overheating by allowing the full amount of sunlight into the house in winter when the sun is low, but shuts it out in the summer. It also looks great! Again, the process is very good because changes or developments are quickly reflected in the contract cost.
What did you think about Baufritz’s production process?
Martin: After we were granted planning permission in August 2020, Baufritz and its UK groundworks partner swung into action. They started demolishing the old bungalow and preparing the ground slab and services from January 2021. The slab was completed on schedule. While we were waiting, we chose the internal fittings and finishes for the house with our Baufritz project manager and interior designer. It was all very professional and efficient. We were particularly pleased with the way we were able to develop our unusual and bespoke staircase with an industrial style. We waited with mounting excitement for the date in early June when our house would arrive on low- loader vehicles and be assembled on-site.
Was the house delivered on time?
Helen: Yes, they told us the building would arrive on 1 June at 9 a.m. And it did! We sat in the garden in glorious weather and watched our house being put together. It was such a thrill. By the end of day one, most of the ground floor had been completed. The next day the ground floor ceiling was in, and by day three it had a roof. The house was secure by the end of day four. It was just amazing to see it go up so quickly.
But of course, the process wasn’t over yet, because there were all the interior fittings to do, which required high-quality craftspeople. Baufritz planned everything really well – the finishes and flooring, the underfloor heating, the installation of solar panels and the air source heat pump.
And did you manage to keep within budget?
Martin: Yes, Baufritz did very well on both the cost and the budget in view of two very difficult factors that were thrown into the equation: Covid and, of course, Brexit. We left the European Union just as our house was in the finishing phase. This clearly caused problems for Baufritz in terms of paperwork. I think we were one of the first houses to be built after Brexit. Plus there were labour and supply chain issues, not to mention the lack of building materials.
In the end, the finishing process was slightly delayed, but we still moved into the house just four weeks after they promised.
What is it like to live in an energy-efficient house?
Martin: We both wanted our new house to have great eco-credentials. Helen worked hard to get the angle of the roof pitch just right for the solar panels. The house is heated using an air source heat pump that runs on self-generated electricity. As a result, our energy costs for the last year were just over zero, which we are delighted with.
The house is beautifully warm in winter, very comfortable to live in. Our previous house was a Victorian former vicarage which was draughty and cold. The comfort factor is also important as we get older because we're hoping to stay here for a long time. Even on moderately sunny days in winter, the sun warms the house, and because the house retains the heat so well, the heating is barely on during the day.
What do you enjoy most about your new home?
Helen: We just love the comfort and convenience of living in a modern, warm, well-laid out house. We use all the space really, so none is wasted. It has a great link with the outside so we spend a lot of time in the garden. I can truly say that Baufritz has delivered my vision, which was this easy-going, very functional, light-filled, beautiful space.