Self-build in the garden in Combe Martin

Using considered design in a tight space to achieve planning in an area outside the development boundary

This project is located in Combe Martin; a beautiful village bordering Exmoor but one that presents challenges from both a planning and design perspective.

The brief from our client was to design a single, sustainable dwelling in their garden to provide future accommodation for family.  Not only is the plot sloped but also situated outside of the development boundary, so our approach and designs would have to take both matters into account.

We focused on developing a design that picked up on the local barn vernacular and sought to exploit the site's change in topography to enable a contemporary family home that was well screened from the neighbouring properties.


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The noticeable change in level from front to back and side to side  of the plot provided opportunity to stagger  the development mass so, visually, the building appears as a single storey form from the main road. The apparent single-storey form will ensure that the ridge line is far below the natural skyline, appearing small-scale against a backdrop of mature trees and the River Umber valley. Through reducing the pitch, narrowing the floor plan so the building fits comfortably on the site and ensuring the topography is used to maximum effect, a two storey dwelling gave us the best balance and was the direction we all felt was the most appropriate. 

The choice of larch batten and charred larch enabled us to create a rhythm and detail in the facade that hinted at the quality of the building within, whilst providing a pallet of materials that was familiar to the local area and planning authority. The double height entrance hall enabled us to create a focal point within the home that let both light and air into the heart of the building but also provided that wow moment as you entered. A detailed landscaping scheme incorporating native wildflower bushes along with specimen species helped feed the building into the landscape and blend the more formal landscape areas around the house into the wider more natural context.

Further to feedback given at the pre-application stage, the planning application focused on showing the dwelling in relation to the landscape and surrounding dwellings, demonstrating how it will respect and reflect the open and staggered character of the rural/urban fringe in Combe Martin.

This project is an excellent example of how submitting a pre-application can be an extremely valuable exercise. Gaining input from the local planning authority at a very early stage in the proceedings not only gives you an indication on the likelihood of planning success, but also  good feedback on the style and size of a building that is likely to be acceptable in a typically tricky area before significant investment has been made.

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