Look through the keyhole of this beautiful Dartmoor home
PUBLISHED: 10:47 30 January 2017 | UPDATED: 11:01 30 January 2017
A unique home on Dartmoor was built with nature in mind, as Chrissy Harris discovers
Wildlife photographer Brian Segbeer doesn’t have to go far to find inspiration for his work. In fact, it often comes to find him. Foxes, owls, wrens, robins and many others regularly pass his front door, perhaps to take a look at his unique Dartmoor house that was built with nature firmly in mind. Brian, 48, and his wife Sheree, 57, have created a home that not only complements the landscape they adore but also helps to look after it.
The timber-built Journey’s End, near Haytor, looks like part of the scenery and cleverly uses the very latest in eco-technology.
Solar panels power the LED lighting system and a thermodynamic unit heats the hot water.
The building is well protected against the infamous Dartmoor elements with high-tech insulation made from aluminium foil.
It’s a triumph in low-carbon living and thoroughly deserved by this couple who have worked hard to achieve their green goals.
Brian and Sheree designed, planned, project managed and helped to build their home, with Brian cutting every piece of the cedar wood by hand.
Sheree’s builder brother, Nick Brown helped them, along with a roofer and electrician.
For the most part, however, the couple have gone it alone - all while living on site under polythene sheeting.
“Yes, that bit was a nightmare, an absolute nightmare,” says Brian, as he tells me horror stories of open-air showers, no hot water, head-torches to find the toilet and plug-in heaters.
“Going through a winter was, well, it was hard work.”
But it was only one winter. The amazing part of this self-build story is that it took just seven months to get the place habitable.
“’I’m a firm believer in that there’s no such thing as can’t,” says Brian, who has previously built two other houses and improved two more.
“It’s just that you don’t know how to, so you find out. There were certain things that I didn’t have a clue how to do but it’s all about doing the research. The basic structure of a house is quite straight forward - it’s pieces of timber screwed together. If you can follow a drawing, you can build a house.”
It’s still not something many of us would attempt but then Brian seems to have an extraordinary amount of energy and drive.
As we talk, it turns out he’s worked in construction, studied art and design and been a tree surgeon before becoming a top wildlife photographer seven years ago. He also casually mentions that he’s a six-times British rifle shooting champion. “I’m one of these people that once I get into something, I do it to the highest level I possibly can,” he says.
“I said to Sheree with this house that I’m not going to stop until it’s finished. I know people who’ve started doing their house and then ten to 12 years later, the house is done but the garden’s a bombsite, all concrete blocks and tarpaulin. I didn’t want that.
“I’m just not into this: ‘oh, I’ll do part of this now and then move onto the next thing’. I’ve got to finish something otherwise it does my head in. I can’t rest.”
These are all excellent qualities in a self-builder – that and plenty of patience. The Sedgbeers had to go through several months of committee meetings, six sets of drawings and a number of compromises with Dartmoor National Park Authority’s planning officers before Journey’s End was able to begin. The house is built on the site of a former 1930s bungalow and the couple faced some initial opposition from people worried about how a new building would look.
“We were expecting a few issues to come up, “ says Brian, adding that he totally understood the concerns. “I know that it’s very hard to look at a plan and visualise it.”
“Then all people could see for six months was this monstrous great polythene tunnel.” Once the hard work was done, Brian and Sheree, who got married in Botswana last year, invited the neighbours around for Christmas drinks.
The open house event did the trick and everyone loved the clever design, with its clearly defined rooms inside one, light and airy space.
“Most modern, contemporary houses you walk into, people are frightened to sit down or touch anything,” says Sheree, a buyer for a local farm shop.
“I definitely didn’t want that here.”
The couple now delight in showing off their warm and welcoming home, whether entertaining guests at dinner parties or hosting exhibitions of Brian’s photographic work. The walls are adorned with images of elephants and big cats, photographed on the couple’s regular trips to Africa, as well as framed pictures of local wildlife.
“There are a lot more animals on Dartmoor than people realise,” says Brian, as he explains how a fox recently came right up to the lens of his camera as he was working just outside his front door. “It’s all about sitting still and watching.”
That’s the perfect pastime in such a nature-friendly house. There will be an exhibition of Brian’s work on 26 and 27 November. To find out more, see brsimages.co.uk
Journey’s End began as a little 1930s-built two-bed bungalow, one of three holiday homes in the area.
“We were living in Stoke Gabriel at the time but we were looking for places up here,” says Brian. “Sheree phoned me up one day and said I’ve found this amazing little place just down from Haytor.”
Brian says the location grabbed them straight away, despite the massively overgrown garden.
‘We came here walked around the outside and thought: ‘wow’. This could be amazing. The estate agent said: ‘Would you like to look inside, sir?’ I just said no. We’ll make an offer now.
The agent was amazed. He told us were the first people he’d ever known to make an offer without looking around the house.”
The Sedgbeers admit they took a gamble, knowing that converting the bungalow into a new house could be problematic, planning-wise.
But in the end, they worked with a ‘very good planning officer’ who was able to tell them what they could and couldn’t do.
“I love my kitchen because it is my design and is exactly how I wanted it,” says Sheree.
The end cupboards are curved to match the shape of the two far worktops “because there’s always someone leaning in the corner of a kitchen”.
There are plenty of drawers, at Sheree’s request, so she doesn’t have to crouch down, looking in cupboards.
Two electric ovens ensure she has enough cooking space when the couple entertain.
A luxurious bathroom
“I’ve always wanted a big bathroom,” says Brian. “It’s great in here and it’s all under-floor heating.”
The hot water system:
Not usually a glamorous feature but the one at Journey’s End deserves a mention.
The thermodynamic unit produces all of the couple’s hot water for the same amount of money it costs to run the fridge every year – about £130.
With this, the solar panels and the insulation, the house has gone from a G energy performance rating to a B and there’s even talk of it being awarded an A in a few years’ time.
A special recognition
Journey’s End was runner-up in the Local Authority Building Control (LABC) awards for “best extension or alteration to an existing home” in 2014.
“We didn’t cut corners and I think that’s why we got this,” says Brian. ‘We put such a lot of thought into how things would look.”
The trophy and medal cabinets
Brian is six-times British rifle shooting champion, as his silverware shows.
“Those six medals up there are my prized ones,” he says. “I won the British championships six years in a row and the Millennium Trophy.
“I started qualifying for the Olympic squad but then they dropped the discipline.”
Brian started shooting back in 1996/1997 and his sport took him all over Europe. He coaches now and still occasionally shoots.
“I need these now though,” he laughs, pointing to his specs.