Celebrating the old through the new

A modern living space with sustainability at its core.

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Some years ago, the Barr Build team had the pleasure of renovating Ferry Cottage Annex; creating a micro home in which its owners could live for the duration of the works to the main house. Four years on, the team were back, once again working with WWA and this time for the big restoration and rebuild project.

Our clients based the plans for the restoration and rebuild of their beautiful 16th-century riverside cottage on the belief that modern sustainable living need not compromise the integrity and authenticity of the original, and that nothing great can be achieved without taking risks and rising to the challenge. Perfectly aligned to the Barr Group values of ‘embracing the challenge’ and ‘doing things differently’, a like-minded approach between client and contractor was evident from the outset. Brave enough to strip their 500-year-old cottage down to its bare bones (knowing that, quite probably, further structural anomalies had already come to light), breaking some eggs would be inevitable if this particular omelette was to be made with Michelin Starred excellence!

Or client Daniel (a rare maps and books dealer and owner of Daniel Crouch Rare Books), his wife and their teenage daughters moved to North Oxford 10 years ago, having searched long and hard for a period property which could become their family home.

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The view up from the river, to their historically significant 16th-century cottage, had long been obscured by a 1970s extension, which bore no relation to the original property. Soon after purchasing the property, our clients engaged the expert architectural services of West Waddy Archadia (WWA) to assess and specify the restoration works. Their goal was to preserve the 500-year-old cottage, as well as to redesign its additional living space in a way which would reveal and celebrate the rear facade of the property. In a nutshell they aimed for spacious sustainable modern living, whilst protecting and celebrating their property’s heritage architecture.

Fern Cottage Rear View
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WWA Project Architects Ralph Saull and Matt Jackson modelled several potential extension formats to show the varying degrees to which the old building could be sympathetically joined to and still visible through the new section. The final design set two bedrooms, a bathroom and ample utility space almost entirely below ground. It used an ‘invisible’ glass link to join the old and the new, and a see-through glass wall to the back of the extension – for maximum visibility right through the building. The link and roofline of the new section would sit significantly lower than the old eaves, allowing the original stone facade to the back of the property to take centre stage. Rough-hewn Cotswold stone walls, to the property’s side faces, would tie in the new part with the local vernacular. The result is a layered effect, not unlike looking into a doll’s house after the front panel has been lifted away, achieving the desired effect of an extension which is ‘there but not there’, a concept with which the North Oxford planning department and local community forum were delighted.

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The beginnings of the design process began a soon as our clients moved into the property, but it would be some time before they could put their plans into action. The first step was the conversion of a large outbuilding to the side of the property, to create an annex in which the family would live during the build. The annex would also house much of the infrastructure which would support the low carbon footprint of the main house. Having successfully delivered the annex conversion, the Barr Build team, headed up by site Chris Thornton, were ready to take on the challenge of the main house restoration and rebuild.

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In true Grand Designs style, and not altogether unexpectedly, a few of structural anomalies were indeed uncovered during the strip out phase, including a severely crumbing rear wall. Revised timelines resulting from its inevitable underpinning and restoration works, however, may have been the salvation of the wider project. The foundation dig out for the basement section was pushed back to the summer months, when an exceptionally high water table had subsided to a more manageable level. In this case, the old adage about never working with children or animals was replaced with ‘never work with old buildings or riverside properties’! Significant water pumping and specialist restoration aside, the project was interesting, challenging and enormously enjoyable for the whole team.

The project centred heavily around extensive energy-efficiency upgrades and new technologies. Low carbon features included rigorous insulation systems, to both the old and new portions of the property, as well as secondary glazing of the historic portion, underfloor heating powered by three air source heat pumps, the prior installation of an array of 28 solar panels to the annex, and three Tesla batteries for both three-phase electricity and electric car charging. The interior features low-energy LED lighting, grey water flushing toilets, and the use of reclaimed materials such as York stone pavers and seventeenth-century floorboards. Additionally, the garden is equipped with an irrigation system that will soon utilise water from the nearby stream, and the house operates entirely without gas.

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The drystone rough-hewn Cotswold stone walls, complete with an inset gargoyle rescued from the dig out, were exactingly built to meet to the impressive and delicately attached glazed link, manufactured and installed by architectural glazing specialists Trombe. A polished concrete floor, by specialist contractor Midlands Flooring, meets a bespoke contemporary oak staircase with a glazed balustrade. And finally, the electric, retractable glass wall, by Cotswold Windows allows the huge open-plan kitchen/living party!

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The wonderful project outcome at Ferry Cottage is that of an historically important listed property which remains authentically and uncompromisingly ‘old’, sitting comfortably and in contrast with the new. The additional section acts as a vehicle through which the 16th-century cottage can be accessed and admired. We thank our clients for trusting us with their vision, and for living alongside the Barr Build team, with engagement and humour, whilst we brought their fabulous plans to fruition.

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