Through the keyhole: amazing new hew home couple built in their Membland garden
PUBLISHED: 11:42 01 December 2020 | UPDATED: 11:42 01 December 2020
Devon downsizing project has been a true labour of love for pair
It was at the end of another fruitless day of house-hunting when the idea suddenly hit. Sat underneath their wisteria-covered pergola in the garden they had spent more than 22 years creating, Shirley and Paul Fleming were looking out over the trees and flowers, when Paul turned to his wife and said: “I don’t know, but I reckon you could get a small house in here.”
“That was it,” says Shirley. “We started trying for planning.”
The couple decided to build their next home in the garden of the house they had lived in since 1998.
They loved the location of Tanglewood in Membland, South Devon, with its peaceful woodland surroundings and close-knit village feel. But the three-storey, four-bedroom house with nearly an acre of garden was becoming too much for the couple to cope with on their own – so why not create their next home in their own back yard?
Shirley and Paul, both retired from careers in finance, were approaching their eighties when they made this life-changing decision to downsize and rebuild. That’s quite an undertaking, isn’t it?
“Yes, I suppose so,” says Shirley, making me a cup of tea using her new boiling water tap (I just love it!” she says). ‘But we’re very fortunate. We’re both fairly active. And we realise that we were extremely lucky in that the whole thing was so fast and absolutely fascinating.”
The couple did go through a few ups and downs, trying to get planning for the simple, modern building they wanted to create on their garden plot, which happens to be in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
READ MORE: the stunning North Devon new-build based on one man’s childhood dream
After the first plans were rejected, Shirley and Paul contacted local architect Eric Davis of Ercle Architects in Plymouth.
He was able to guide them through the process, which involved tree surveys, wildlife surveys and more. Finally, it looked as though the building work could start
“That was in the May of 2018. I was so excited when I took the phone call, I couldn’t speak,” says Shirley. “I had the phone in my hand but as I ran up the garden steps to go inside, I fell and broke my foot.”
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the trail then went cold. The couple waited and waited before discovering that the plans had subsequently been refused. Eric launched an appeal, a government inspector arrived, published a report and finally, construction of their eco-friendly, contemporary home could begin.
“Once the planning was in, everything after was just super,” says Shirley, praising the ‘fantastic’ building team, Cornwall-based Doyle and Whitley. “They were all great; friendly, cheerful and enjoying what they were doing.”
The house was constructed using a system of insulated concrete forming (ICF), a quick and straightforward way of creating an eco-friendly building.
Inside, there are three bedrooms, perfect for when the couple’s three children and three grandchildren come to visit.
There’s also a studio for Shirley, who makes ceramic sculptures. And then there’s the best bit: a bright and light large, open plan kitchen, dining and living area which opens out onto a sun-soaked terrace, overlooking the garden.
“We’ve just spent so much time sitting in here, looking out,” says Shirley, explaining that the view includes trees planted by the couple when they lived next door, including a magnolia grandiflora and the red-coloured Parrotia persica, the Persian ironwood. Do they ever look longingly over the fence, though? Do they miss their former home?
“No, not at all,” says Shirley, without hesitation. “We’re absolutely thrilled to bits with this house. We have to pinch ourselves to believe we’re in here.
“It’s small but perfectly formed for us now at this stage in our lives. It’s depressing to say, I know, but we wanted it all to be accessible for wheelchairs. And look, here, there’s space for a lift, should we ever need it.
“It’s the old saying: it’s either beautiful or it’s useful!”
The couple named their new home, The Cote, an old English word, meaning ‘small shelter on a hillside’. “That’s what we were aiming for: a modest home that sits unobtrusively in its landscape,” says Shirley, who is just about to celebrate her 80th birthday in her new house. “We love it here. I suppose we were just stick-in-the-muds who just didn’t want to move, really!”
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