Take a look inside this stunning East Devon eco-home
PUBLISHED: 15:33 15 August 2016 | UPDATED: 15:53 15 August 2016
Chrrisy Harris meets a couple whose perseverance has made their dream come true with a stunning self-designed home
We’ve all done it: watched Grand Designs from the comfort of the sofa and wondered what it would be like to build our dream home.
For most of us, it’s a passing fancy that ends when the credits roll.
Not for Annie and Nigel Laing.
This determined couple - with no previous self-build experience and a tight budget - have planned, project-managed, decorated and landscaped a house-of-a-lifetime, largely based on a sketch Annie knocked up on a piece of paper.
Meadow Croft in Luppitt, near Honiton, is proof that you can do anything when you put your mind to it (and watch a lot of property programmes).
“We’d been watching Grand Designs for years, like everybody else and then one night we probably had a bottle of wine more than usual,” says Annie.
“We looked at one another and said: Yeah! We could do that.”
Meadow Croft, is a beautifully bespoke, eco-friendly, modern home that has been built with the landscape in mind.
The East Devon countryside pours in through the glass, which fills in the gaps between the green oak-timber frame.
The house is powered by solar panels and an underground heating system, while a borehole in the garden supplies the water.
Outside, there are sheep and horses and a vegetable patch, making life here very sustainable – an idea at the heart of this impressive self-build.
But, like many a Grand Design tale, all this hasn’t come easy.
“Let’s just say it’s been a very organic, evolving process,” says Annie, laughing, as she talks me through how it all started.
After their sofa conversation, engineer Nigel, 55, set about finding a plot of land and spotted an advert for a soon-to-be-demolished bungalow, sat on ten acres of land, just outside Luppitt.
It seemed perfect. They could live in the bungalow while they built their dream home.
After investigating the cost of an architect (“the cheapest we could find was twelve grand!”) the couple decided to use Nigel’s skills on the computer, plus a sketch Annie had done of her dream home to put together a rough design of their house.
The planning team loved the idea. It was all going so well.
And then some of the villagers objected. And then the builder pulled out.
“That was on the Sunday,” says Annie, 60. “So I’m left on the Monday morning trying to find another builder who had nothing better to do that start work on our house. “I phoned three. One couldn’t start, one was really expensive and the third was the best price and he could start on Monday.
“It was very stressful because we didn’t know them from Adam and we worried about why they were available!
“Anyway, it was the best thing we ever did. They turned out to be just fantastic.”
Annie and Nigel, or Nij, as he is known, are full of praise for local building contractors J. R Layzell and the army of other people who have helped them along the way.
Like an Oscar winner accepting an award, Annie reels off a list of names and firms she’d like to thank for making Meadow Croft happen.
They include her husband for being the “brains” behind the whole project, her sons - stoneworker Jamie Cornhill, 35, and his carpenter brother Joe, 30, who used their skills to finish the house. Annie’s brother-in-law Paul did the external rendering.
Then there was the friend constructing only the second kitchen he’d ever made, the architectural technician, the friend who made their rose arch – it’s been quite a team effort.
“I just love the fact that everything here has been built by someone we know or love,” says Annie, as we stand in her brilliantly light landing.
“We can look at everything and say: so and so did that. It’s very satisfying.” What is also very satisfying is that this house, built on a budget of £280,000 has no energy costs – all the power is provided by the land.
(The installation costs of the eco-technology should pay for itself within seven years).
“We knew that if we were going to build, we wanted to make sure that we didn’t impact any more on this planet, if we could help it,” says Annie.
“I know it sounds a bit…well I suppose we are old hippies, really. I didn’t really worry about it much when I was younger but I think more like that as I’ve got older.
“What we are proud of is that we have stuck to our principles – we are sustainable and that’s very important to us.”
Annie admits it’s only now, two years after they finally moved in, that the couple are starting to realise why they did what they did.
The thought of long, summer evenings spent next to their pond, sipping cider in the sunshine, surrounded by the local wildlife (there have been encounters with hares and deer) is enough to make all the upheaval and stress fade into the distance.
“The times I’ve thought: what have we done? We’ve made a really huge mistake,” says Annie. “But I don’t think that now.
“Not many people get to live the dream. It just goes to show that anybody can do it if you put your mind to it and if you’re prepared to put the work in. And be bold. For us, all it took was that extra bottle of wine!”