A major renovation of a hilltop bungalow in Devon opened up fantastic estuary views for the growing family of a music producer, while doubling as an occasional recording studio. By James Parker
Paul Yeadon has had a varied life so far, from fronting a pretty well-regarded rock band called Bivouac in the 1990s to being an equally successful music producer. While still being engaged fully in the music world he has also spent a large chunk of his time renovating properties, with the latest being his family’s home in Teignmouth, Devon. And this one is a bit more than a bivouac.
Whether self-builds are as exciting as being signed to the same record label as Nirvana and playing international tours is debatable, but something tells you he finds it just as fulfilling. Now that he has – with the help of his wife Sam and assorted family and friends – managed to turn a 1950s bungalow into a desirable modern home with stunning views, you can see why.
Paul, originally from Leeds, picked up a lot of construction nous early, having originally worked in the building trade when he left school – temporary jobs which enabled him to pursue his music career. He says that he only got into property renovation “out of convenience,” adding that it was the only way he and Sam could get on the housing ladder at the time.
Paul admits that they were “lucky they did it in the 1990s, as we rode the housing boom, and as our knowledge expanded, so did the budget.” Despite the need for a certain degree of knowledge however, he thinks that the main fear putting potential self-builders off is that it “seems so far out of their comfort zone, whereas really most things are achievable, and whilst this is our biggest project it’s no ‘Grand Designs’. Our book shelves and many window and doors sills are made from scaffold planks, our roll-top cast iron bath was £50 off Gumtree and the kitchen is Howdens’ cheapest and it looks great!”
He adds that keeping up to date with knowledge of materials, such as when you are visiting the builders merchant, can be a challenge: “The main difficulty now is that products evolve so quickly, and it’s knowing what’s out there to use and having the vocabulary needed.” In addition, your own needs change. With a young daughter and another baby on the way, Paul is constructing the finishing touch to the renovation, an entrance porch, as they are “sick of all the coats, shoes and prams in the kitchen.”
He says this has illustrated just how things have changed in terms of products: “The first time I did a porch, there were no cavity closers. There are new things that Building Regs say you have to have, but which didn’t used to exist, and if you don’t know, how are you going to know?” The porch is something of an experiment inspired by a shed Paul saw at a National Trust property; he plans to clad it in contrasting black-stained scaffolding boards, with a grey galvanized steel roof.
In the case of meeting Building Regs on this project, which was not without its complications and saw Paul tackling a lot of the construction himself, he is full of praise for the local Building Control surveyors (Scott Adams and Chris Maslen at Devon Building Control Partnership). “They have been so helpful, I could send them an email and they’d get back to me with great advice. Very positive, and happy to do site visits.”
A point of view
The four-bed (converted from three-bed) bungalow sits on a spectacular plot at the top of the village of Bishopsteignton overlooking the Teign estuary. It needed a lot of work to turn it into their dream home, but was close to what they were looking for as a renovation project, says Paul. “Funnily enough our brief to ourselves was probably a 1950s bungalow, hopefully with a view.”
And the view south over the estuary and fields thanks to the bi-fold doors is enviable – with continually changing colours and tides and a big sky, it is truly captivating. The renovation has been designed to allow the family to take full advantage, opening the side of the house up with generous windows and bi-fold doors leading onto a full-length paved terrace.
The purchase was via sealed bid, made somewhat more nervy by the fact that Sam spotted the bungalow on a Friday and bids were due in the following Monday! She travelled down from where they lived in Nottingham over the weekend and assured Paul it was ‘the one,’ and they went for it. They rented it out for around 18 months while they sorted out their affairs and sold up, and began designing their dream home.
Design & dismantling
Paul and Sam made a scale model of their bungalow (as they had done on a previous renovation project) using paper-backed polystyrene. “It included tiny sofas and squares representing things like washing machines and work surfaces,” says Paul. He says that with the family’s needs changing significantly due to becoming parents during the process, “It was useful to be able to run through several scenarios beforehand,” and adds, “I’m a bit of a geek like that anyway.”
The major building works – designed by Paul and Sam but undertaken by contractors – were adding an extension to the east end of the house to make a new master bedroom, small double and shower/WC room, plus an apex window to open up the kitchen to the north that would allow a view straight through the house to the estuary. They removed and/or replaced several windows and walls, in what was a total rearrangement of the room layout, including creating a corridor connecting the bedrooms. In addition, a new Spanish slate roof was added to provide a better structure for solar PVs, with Velux rooflights to the loft studio.
Work began in earnest three years ago, and the house was pretty much gutted. This was a mammoth task however because it was a very substantially built double-skin concrete block construction. “The guy who built it owned it all his life,” says Paul, “the graft that went into it was incredible, it was obviously a labour of love.” The site is a steep slope and around a quarter of an acre, originally enclosed by a shuttered concrete wall. The slope meant that deliveries had to be ferried up the drive from the road, and Paul found that a hired track barrow was a major ally.
Paul adds, “Huge pieces of steel had to be lugged by hand up the driveway,” as well as a cast iron bath. All the blocks, plus all concrete for the footings, came up in a track barrow, and at one point two barrows were running in relay. Then of course was the even bigger task of getting rid of all the waste. “It’s only a bungalow, but two chimneys have been taken out and there are a shedload of bricks in two chimney stacks.” Paul used what he could on site such as in raising the garden in certain areas, but there were still around nine grab truck loads of hardcore to be taken off site.
He jokes: “It’s kind of the final indignity, there’s all the graft involved in smashing it down, then the graft involved in getting it to the end of the driveway, then you’ve got to pay somebody to take it away and they sell it anyway!”
Paul says that given all the challenges of the existing house, “I had a lot of comments from people saying I should knock it down and start again, and with hindsight that may have been quite an easy thing to do! But at the end of the day, we chose this path, and it’s brilliant.”
Part of what he describes as the “interesting” journey of investigating someone else’s construction was discovering that the house had a combined range cooker and woodburner heating system. However, although Paul was potentially looking to achieve something similar (with added solar thermal in his case) the venting solution his predecessor had devised – routing into an old cistern through a U-bend – was idiosyncratic to say the least. Paul says he could not get anyone to replicate it, but it was always the plan to rip the whole system out anyway as it was defunct.
Paul decided against filling the wall cavities – “because they are not very big and I believe the cavity itself provides a fundamental role. I have heard so many horror stories, and witnessed bad results, from filling cavities.” He adds: “I know a lot of people that have filled their cavities then have huge damp problems because moisture just wicks from one skin to another.”
Gutting the bungalow in this case meant taking out virtually all the above ground services: “All the wiring came out, the fusebox, and we just left a very skeleton lighting circuit and power for tools. All the copper for heating and all radiators came out. After that we started knocking walls down.”
One of the reasons there so much waste to take away was that there is a space approximately 2 metres high under the entire property where supporting walls were also removed once not needed. This functions as a workshop and garage but also a plant room of sorts, housing the heat store, boiler and fuse boxes.
In the loft is a studio where Paul has recorded two albums and a few demos for bands. In fact the whole house occasionally functions as a studio; Paul has installed multicore cabling to enable him to set up a full drum kit in the living room or record amplifiers in the cellar. He says the only issue is “the rest of the family has to leave home while I do it and I need to be sympathetic to my neighbours – but it’s effectively a mixing studio so I can keep the volume down.”
The major changes included making what was a “tiny” kitchen into a much better space for cooking, entertaining and living, with a large window into the roof apex of the new rear extension. Other numerous smaller changes were more about achieving a better layout to the house, including two clearly defined living and sleeping areas.
Another small room, this time a dining room, with “a funny little door” into the lounge was removed by Paul and sealed up. Also removed was a porch at the south-facing former front of the house, plus the adjoining hallway and an adjacent room.
Paul says: “Even moving a door a metre can make a massive difference to how you use the house. We blocked up the old door to the bedroom which faced into the living space, and the door is now into the new hallway, which divides the house in a very different way.”
The back extension took the place of another porch, removed together with its dwarf wall and Crittall window, and the back (main) door was opened up to be 2.5 metres across, leading into the enlarged kitchen. What is now the snug, featuring a wood burner, was originally a dining room, its wall and chimney breast removed and an attractive and comfortable area adjacent to the kitchen achieved. “That was definitely Sam’s idea,” says Paul, “she really liked the idea of a sofa in the kitchen, and I did too, so why not turn it into your whole living space.”
Sam is now a full time mum, having been a primary school teacher (and part-time tiler), but has been fundamental to the interior design and planning. She has tiled both bathrooms and the kitchen floor as well as undertaking copious painting duties and, crucially, helping prioritise jobs. “I can get bogged down with ‘option paralysis’ when there are so many disparate things to do,” says Paul. “Sam is great at prioritising (and dealing with my moaning).” The interior spaces look very smart, while being cosy, with everything organised to take advantage of the views. The kitchen flows into the snug and dining space very well, and there’s a playroom for their daughter just off the dining area so Paul and Sam can enjoy the views without being surrounded by toys.
The windows were all upgraded to double glazing (PVCu for the windows but aluminium for the bi-folds and apex kitchen window due to its “better build quality”). All the existing ‘old’ rooms at the north-facing back of the house were re-insulated by 100 mm using Celotex board insulation behind new stud walls. The loft ceiling has the same insulation spec and the floor space was brought up by building a false floor, in addition Paul insulated the cellar’s ceiling to the depth of the 9 inch joists using loft roll.
The new extensions are standard blocks with 100 mm cavities plus 50 mm insulation which was added by Paul. For the bedrooms extension, which lengthens the house’s depth by a metre, he used a specialist moisture-resistant roll insulation to the depth of the joists.
The former bungalow had an EPC rating of G (“horrendous” as Paul rightly says,) but as a result of the renovation, including the extra-insulated north facing walls and loft, plus the renewables, it is now an A+. As the roof faces almost directly south, “solar PV and solar thermal was a no brainer,” says Paul. The solar PV can be diverted to the heat store, and he says the bills are “minimal” with most hot water provided by the renewables during the year.
Windows on the world
The large bi-fold windows to the living area were one of the biggest challenges, and not just financially. The builders installed the bi-fold to the bedroom including the necessary RSJ but Paul decided he would tackle the joist installation in the living area, with some help. “It needed to span a 3.5 metre gap, and effectively hold the roof up, so you have to have two RSJs bolted together to provide the width, and that’s a lot of steel. That was me, family and friends, and whoever else I had on site helping.”
Now they provide a fantastic open vista, only slightly impeded by the mainly glass balustrade, built by a local fabricator with spindles in a tasteful dark grey to match the windows. A delay installing the new windows led to an experience that Paul now looks back on with amusement, and which is no doubt familiar to many self-builders. As a result, Paul found himself sleeping on a camp bed (with the family terrier Pippin) in a house with no windows, while doing renovations in the depths of November. He comments: “I’d lock the door and laugh because there were no windows anyway”.
The view which has resulted from opening up the side of the house makes it all worthwhile, as Paul agrees: “It’s terrific, I wouldn’t ever have imagined I’d ever live in a place like this. I can’t imagine I’d ever get bored looking out at it.” It no doubt helps makes things like the trials Paul and Sam experienced with ‘vanishing’ builders and plumbers disappear into distant memory every time they look out on the Teign estuary.
Paul remains a genuine enthusiast for self-build, shown by several successful projects, but he’s convinced the family is staying put. “It is something I enjoy – it’s nice to be your own boss, and building a home is quite a privileged thing to be able to do.”
Paul Yeadon: “I was sleeping on a camp bed (with the dog) in November, no heating, hot water or windows. So getting the windows in, finally, was definitely a major high point.”
Paul Yeadon: “Approaching summer (2014), my plumber and builder disappeared and stopped answering calls. We were hoping to be in the house for the birth of our daughter but this changed our plans.”
A bit of advice
Paul Yeadon: “The internet is a fantastic resource, there are a lot of people giving you their knowledge. A lot of manufacturers have exploded drawings on their websites, and a lot are almost doing full how-tos as well which are very helpful. It needs to be the genuine article when you come to sell the place – it’s got to be right.”
Cementone by Bostik
Scolmore Inceptor micro (LED lights)
Dulux Weathershield paints