Adrian Reith explains why the joined up design, engineering and quality of a Baufritz home appealed to him.
Interview with Adrian Reith
Adrian considers himself to be a creative person and, following a career in advertising, he was inspired to re-train and become a business coach.
He and his wife Judy live in the centre of Cambridge, where the opportunities to purchase self build plots are few and far between.
His persistence paid off
Over the years Adrian has been very active on the Land Registry website, paying a small amount to find out who owns various sites.
He used to live over the road from this particular plot, which at that time accommodated a number of small garages, not built for modern sized cars.
Every year, he would write to the owner and ask if they would be willing to sell, and each year he would receive a letter of rejection back. On his sixth year of making the request, they replied that they would be interested in talking to him about it.
The land was owned by one of the Cambridge colleges, and at that meeting, Adrian emphasised how they had roots in the area, loved Cambridge, and were looking to build a family home. His initial offer of £350,000 was rejected. He immediately increased the offer to £450,000, which was put to the college committee and accepted the following day.
The plot didn't have planning permission but Adrian sought advice from a planning officer before making his offer, who thought it had potential to get planning. It was nevertheless a risk to buy what could just have ended up being some very expensive garages!
Adrian says that he is a creative person and believes in holding onto your dreams, which is something he thinks probably helped in his pursuit of the land. He also thinks he was fortunate that the plot never came onto the open market as he knows of other people who had also been keen to purchase it.
Planning permission wasn't a foregone conclusion
The site has 16 adjoining properties so they were quite concerned at their prospects of getting planning permission.
Having lived in the vicinity for a number of years already, Adrian and Judy worked hard to communicate with their neighbours about what their plans were. They even managed to have a number of letters of support for their project, which is quite unusual.
The application went to committee as there were a couple of objections from people who hadn't engaged with them in the process. The committee were hugely positive, understanding of the eco-credentials, and granted them permission to build.
The location had access constraints
The house is hidden from view from the road, which is made up of mostly large, Edwardian villas, and is approached by the side of two mock-tudor style semi-detached houses.
The site is roughly the size of two double tennis courts, and Adrian thinks that a developer would have put quite a few houses on there. When considering their options they did contemplate building two houses, one to rent out and one to live in, but decided on just a generous four bedroom house for themselves.
The groundworks were carried out by a separate company, which was particularly challenging, given the narrow access down the lane and a tree in the way! Being a timber-framed house the foundations had to be extremely flat and accurate.
The Baufritz approach had great appeal
Adrian and his wife are well connected in the area and were keen to build a home that would enable them to welcome people into it. They wanted it to be ecologically responsible and easy to look after as they move into older age.
From his previous experience of having architect designed, experimental glass extensions on the backs of big Victorian houses, that weren't executed all that well or comfortable to live in, he was keen to go for something that wouldn't be causing them problems later on.
The Baufritz approach of joining up the issues of design, engineering, materials, function, execution and low maintenance, was something that had appealed to them for quite some time already, after researching them for a previous project which hadn't gone ahead.
He also liked their emphasis on it being not just an eco house, but a healthy house, making sure that there's no PVC, VOCs and glues. The fact they've built many of these houses before, with tradesmen working together and not against each other, meant they weren't dreaming up a house from scratch, hoping it was going to work.
The design developed during a visit to the Baufritz HQ in Germany
The first step for Adrian and Judy was to write down lists of all the things they liked or disliked in previous houses, including room dimensions. That formed their brief which the architect gave to Baufritz to cost.
Once they had planning permission they spent a week in Germany at the Baufritz headquarters, where they were given an office for the duration, and were able to bring their ideas together.
They were then taken through a series of checklists during the week, covering flooring, bathrooms, toilets, doorknobs, stairs, windows etc. They loved the experience but were glad of the advice of a former customer that they knew, who had suggested doing a reccy some time before where they had time to take stock without any pressure.
A novel approach for them was that the factory had movable components, where they could wheel sinks, toilets, baths etc around to end up with the actual physical layout they would have in their own house.
Ultimately, Adrian is pleased with the decisions they made, although, being a perfectionist, he was bound to have some things he wished he had done differently. Having been in the house for five years now, and making the decisions about it seven years ago, times have moved on and he wishes he had opted for an electric car charging point for example. He also says it was difficult to visualise quite where things were going to go inside the house, as to where electrical sockets would need to go, and how many of them would be needed. He thinks this is something he probably underestimated.
The factory-built approach gives quality of workmanship
What they liked about the factory build approach, was that the house components are put together in ideal conditions. So for example, a window is sealed into the wall, in ideal conditions, using ideal tools, and not by someone in the rain on a Friday afternoon plugging a gap with some expanding foam!
Theirs is a timber frame house with walls filled with a wood shaving waste product. There is plasterboard on either side of the walls to keep the insulation in, with a void before another plasterboard layer to run the services in. On the exterior there is another void before the external covering on the outside of the house.
There were logistical challenges in getting the house components to the site
Once the foundations had been signed off, they had the go ahead for the house to be built in the factory, and Adrian and Judy were given a date for delivery.
Adrian negotiated with a local airfield to have a crane stationed there, for lifting the loads off the six, 20 metre trucks, onto a smaller truck to shuttle back and forth to the site. Once at the site, two cranes lifted the pieces of the house over the tree.
The house is around 26 metres long, and the facade arrived in only four pieces with the triple glazed windows pre-installed. The first wall was swung over on the Tuesday lunchtime, and by the time the sun was going down on the Thursday, the roof was on and the house was watertight.
The internal works, such as the underfloor heating, screeding, taping, decorating, plumbing, wiring, kitchen and bathroom installation etc, took a further five months to complete. That work was also done by Baufritz, and they actually moved in ahead of the estimated time, and on budget.
“This is a modern house with soul”
This was how one of their friends described the finished house, and Adrian believes it does have a human quality about it that speaks to you. He thinks the oak flooring and doors contribute to this, and give it a sense of calm.
Something they particularly enjoy is returning to the house after a period of time away and finding that the MVHR keeps the house still smelling fresh.
The house has an upstairs laundry room, with zoned, controllable heating. They hardly use heating anywhere else in the house, except for in this room where the clothes are washed and hung up to dry. The hot, moist air is extracted from the room, with the heat being recycled and the clothes drying quickly.
The landscaping will give them privacy
Adrian and Judy spent time with their architect to understand the light and work out which aspects to look out onto. From the office at the top of the house they look over the mature gardens of their neighbours, and downstairs they face across their own garden.
To create privacy for themselves and their neighbours they planted 30 small hornbeam trees, which will create a high level hedge for screening and leave them feeling less exposed than they currently do.
In hindsight, Adrian would have imported a few tonnes of topsoil for the grass, as he wishes he had sought advice on that from a gardener and not a builder!
It is at the premium end of housebuilding
Adrian accepts that it is not a cheap house, and all the convenience does come at a price. However, its central Cambridge location means that it warrants the investment as they would get their money back should they ever wish to sell.
He very much enjoyed the process of having a menu of options, and tinkering around with their choices to see what impact that would have on the price. One example was they decided during the planning stage to enlarge the hallways and staircase, even though they knew this would have a heavy cost impact with extra roof, foundations, floor, ceiling, wall etc.
They are happy to share their ideas
Adrian and Judy have opened their house to hundreds of visitors over the years as part of Cambridge Open Eco Homes.
“As a creative person, everybody needs their inspiration, everyone needs to steal ideas. That’s the best way, not to come up with your own ideas but to take someone else’s and adapt it. That’s the best thing. So, I’m delighted to show people around and to help them see a vision of how they can do something that they want to do in their own place.”
They recently published “Act 3”
Building the house in their 50s is evidence of their attitude towards life and, during the lockdown period, Adrian and Judy published a book that links into their work as life coaches.
They found themselves repeatedly meeting people of a similar age and stage in their lives where they were thinking about their roles and responsibilities to themselves, their families and the world.
Their book, Act 3: The Art of Growing Older, is designed to be a framework for helping people answer those questions, based around the ideas of looking at your values, what's important to you, finding purpose, and sorting out your key relationships. It is their belief that starting with those fundamentals will make the rest much easier to work out.
Find out more
Visit the website of Act 3
Find out more about Baufritz
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