We Built Our Own Dream Cottage
Spiralling house prices and a longing for a quiet life in the country persuaded Geoff and Linda Gaskill to stop looking for their perfect character cottage – and build it instead.
Spend even a few minutes with Geoff and Linda Gaskill and it’s easy to see they are both still very excited about their new home.
Nestled in the Kent countryside not far from the coast, the flint-and-brick house looks as though it has been there for years. It’s only when you hear the story behind the house that you realise just how new it is.
Back in the 1970s, Geoff and Linda were inspired by a dream of living the ‘good life’ – having a modest cottage in the country with just enough land to grow their own vegetables and keep a few chickens. And despite a few amendments to their original plans, it’s clear that this newly-built cottage is everything they’ve always wished for.
‘We started out buying a pretty typical suburban house in Reading,’ explains Geoff. ‘It was comfortable and fairly spacious – ideal for raising a family. As I work for an oil company, we spent several years moving after that – living first in Brussels and then for many years in Singapore. So our route in getting to this dream house has been anything but straightforward.’
Although the couple loved living in the Far East, they knew that eventually, they would be returning to the UK. ‘We sold our house in Reading before going abroad and put all the money into the bank, ready to buy something when we finally moved back,’ explains Geoff.
But in 1998 we realised the prices of property in England were skyrocketing, and that if we didn’t buy something soon we wouldn’t be able to afford even a one-bedroom flat by the time we returned.’
Regular trips back home allowed Linda to keep a close eye on the UK property market and start house hunting. As both she and Geoff are avid gardeners, their main priority was to find a house in the Southeast with some land attached. Unfortunately, this proved more of a challenge than they anticipated.
Linda’s trips went on for an exhausting couple of years, with many offers falling through. ‘Eventually, an estate agent who had got to know me quite well suggested we contact Vernacular Homes, a fledgeling self- build housing firm. They were planning to specialise in building the kind of property we were looking for, and the estate agent thought they might be able to help us,’ says Linda.
After the problems the couple faced trying to buy the right property for the right price, building their own seemed like a perfect way to get the character home they wanted. ‘Building our own home had always been a dream, but we never thought we’d get the chance,’ says Geoff. ‘We also realised it would allow us to avoid some of the maintenance problems that can come with buying a period property.’
The Gaskills went ahead and met with the self-build company, where they became hooked on a design for an 18th century-style cottage that seemed perfect for them. This left the couple with only one more obstacle to overcome – finding a decent piece of land to build on.
Trevor, the owner of the company, pretty much said to us, “Nice to have met you, and ring me in a couple of years when you’ve found the right plot!” But he also gave us a couple of websites to try which sold plots in the region,’ says Linda. This turned out to be a stroke of luck. Within two weeks, a suitable plot came up for sale on the Kent coast. After just one visit, Geoff and Linda knew it was the place for them, and put their plan into action.
The plot already had a house on it that was due for demolition. Planning permission was in place for a new building, but the Gaskills’ design was slightly larger than the square footage that had been approved. Reapplying turned out to be a risky business – by that time, the former house had already been knocked down. Fortunately, the couple’s new plans were readily accepted.
Building work on the house started in March 2002 and proceeded without a hitch. A frame was constructed from green-oak beams, and the exterior walls were built in a combination of brick and flint. Both materials are typical of the area and are one reason why the cottage looks so at home in its surroundings.
Inside, there are more traditional touches, including a vast inglenook fireplace in the living room and exposed timbers in all the walls. Vaulted ceilings in the main bedroom and an unusual pitched roof over the kitchen also add the sort of period character that the Gaskills were after.
When it came to fittings, Geoff and Linda enlisted the help of Trevor and Vernacular Homes’ architect to design and build kitchen units that would harmonise with the house and sourced many other items on-line.
The beauty of the internet is that it offers a huge range of different items to choose from, and gives you access to suppliers all over the world; says Linda. ‘We were particularly impressed with products we saw from companies in Belgium and Singapore.
We ended up choosing many items on-line, such as tiles and bathroom fittings, leaving our builders to order the furnishings and oversee the deliveries.’ Just before Christmas 2002, the couple could finally visit their completed home.
With so much done while they were living abroad, it would be natural for there to be a few surprises in store, but Linda maintains that everything was exactly as they expected, right down to the position of the power points. ‘We had a great relationship with the company’s architect.
She gave us plans of each stage of the build to keep us informed, so we found the end result easy to visualise’ says Linda. the house has been well constructed and is full of character,’ Geoff adds, ‘They haven’t just loosely used an 18th-century style to decorate a box – the personality is built in.
Although it has only been standing for three years, the house has an amazing amount of personality and warmth. Geoff and Linda put this down to clever design, plus authentic building methods and materials.
But their choice of furnishings, many brought back from abroad, has played its part. ‘For the first few months we had to make do with some basic furniture we bought cheaply while we waited until we could ship our things over from Singapore, but once we did, it instantly felt like home,’ Linda recollects.
Now that the couple have obviously found their dream home, what about the ambition to live the good life? ‘We’ve begun to plant up the garden, and can’t wait for it to mature,’ says Geoff.
(This article is reproduced courtesy of House Beautiful magazine)
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