Home Improvements

by Hannah Fenton

November 22, 2017

Peter Womersley Modernist house, Valley Spring

Built in the Sixties and nestled in a wooden dell, Valley Spring is a Modernist masterpiece with the majority of its original features intact. South…

Tracy and Steve Fox turned a run-down yard in London into an innovative industrial-style home. We ask Tracy how they’re getting on three years later

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HOMEOWNER PROFILE

Who? Tracy and Steve Fox

What? Created a contemporary new-build with a polycarbonate exterior and double-height living area

Where? South-east London

When?Series 14, 2014

What have you been up to since the show aired?

‘I’ve been spending a lot of time doing the garden, as it’s a courtyard house and the outside space is integral to the building. We’ve got an overhang on the inside perimeter, and I sowed the whole area underneath with wildflower seeds. There are no gutters, so when it rains the water cascades down like a Japanese water feature.’

Have you made any alterations to the house?

‘We were in a rush to get the kitchen cabinet doors finished and in the end they weren’t to our standard, so that didn’t work out. The problem with a minimal house is that you can’t disguise something if it isn’t right, so we had our carpenter friend make new cabinet doors out of black MDF. It was worth getting someone in to take their time and get it right.’

Apart from the kitchen, did it all work to plan?

‘Yes, I think because we instructed the architect to design a really low-tech build it works perfectly. It’s a basic house that has been made extremely well. For example, instead of having a heat recovery system, we utilised the property’s crosswinds. We had mechanical vents put in all around the back perimeter, and tilt-turn windows so that when we open our courtyard windows and doors, they pull cold air in from the back of the house, which is in the shade.’

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What’s your favourite thing about your home?

‘The feeling of utter secrecy each time you see it. People still knock on the big gate and wonder what it is, or they catch us with the gate open and want to have a look. They’re left speechless when they walk in and see the amazing facade of the house, because it’s hidden behind a row of shops.’

You’ve carried out other projects before, but what do you think you discovered from this one?

‘We’d previously added an extra floor to a house and redone the roof so we – foolishly as it turns out – thought we could handle a new-build, but it was a shock because of the legal rigmarole. Also, the expense of having to excavate surprised us – I think we’d spent half our money before we’d even come out of the ground. You need to have some contingency for that kind of work, and we didn’t.’

Would you consider another build?

‘I would definitely do it again, because I feel like I learned an entirely new language and it’s a shame not to use it. Steve refuses to talk about it at the moment, but I’m pretty keen. It is a gorgeous space and our kids love living here so it would be hard to leave, but at the same time I want a new adventure. There was a lot of heartache and stress, but it’s like childbirth: unless I’m actually talking about it, I’ve forgotten all that pain. Doing it again wouldn’t be a stroll in the park, but we’d be able to think it through a bit more.’

Finally, do you have any tips for other self-builders?

‘Do your research thoroughly, then double the money you think it’s going to cost. And it seems ridiculous, but it’s also the luck of the draw who will be assigned to you from the planning department. Our planning officer just didn’t understand the house at all and thought it looked like a shed. However, he moved to a different section in the council, and the next person we got loved it.’

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Words: Megan Burn, photography: Matt Chisnall

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