Tracy and Steve Fox, who appeared on Grand Designs in 2014, transformed a run-down yard in south-east London, creating an innovative home that Kevin McCloud described as ‘part agricultural barn, part industrial shed’.
Image: The house is clad in Rodeca, a translucent polycarbonate material that allows light to flood the interior while also providing privacy Photo: Matt Chisnall
For Tracy and Steve Fox, their ideal home was inspired by Brutalism, with hard, flat outlines and pared-back raw materials.
Tracy and Steve decided to self-build in 2012. Having worked on a lot of radical renovations in the past, the couple felt the timing was right for a new project with more space to build a workshop and studio.
The plot on which they would build was found purely by chance after Tracy struck up a conversation with a local developer who owned the freehold to a yard adjacent to a development projec
Watch the episode: South east London, 2014
Image: Exposed blockwork in the living space helps to create the raw and unrefined look Tracy desired. Photo: Matt Chisnall
With the land in place, Tracy and Steve started looking for an architectural designer who could put their ideas on paper, and got in touch with Jonathan Tuckey Design. ‘We liked the materials that the company had used in previous projects and admired their type of architecture,’ says Tracy. The couple then set about discussing their brief with the firm. ‘Our previous house was like a glass white box, so we didn’t want it to be similar to that,’ says Tracy.
‘Fundamentally, it’s called The Yard, and we wanted that to be reflected in the architecture.’ Some key priorities were a music room for their children and a his-and-hers studio workspace, both filled with lots of natural daylight. Steve is an artist, while Tracy needed somewhere with lots of room where she could renovate and reupholster furniture.
Image: Tracy has used MDF in several places, including on the wall behind the dining table. Photo: Matt Chisnal
Unfortunately, gaining planning permission turned out to be more arduous than the couple expected. ‘The process took about six months,’ says Tracy. ‘Our architect organised pre-planning talks with the local council before our final application was submitted, but they didn’t understand our concept. They thought it looked like a big shed – which was exactly what we wanted it to be.’
Fortunately, though, after taking the planners’ comments on board and slightly breaking up the harsh outline of the house, consent was granted and they were able to put the project out to tender. With an initial build budget of £300,000, Tracy and Steve knew that they were being optimistic, but when two tenders came in far exceeding that amount – with the highest at over £1 million – they realised they had to re-evaluate. Finally, they found a young construction company who were keen to take on the work at a rate more realistic to their budget.
Managing the build
To cut costs further, the couple had to let go of Jonathan Tuckey Design and take on the project management side of things themselves, including sourcing the materials. Tracy did have to go away on a prop-buying job towards the end of the build, but decisions were always run past her, and by that stage she trusted Produk to continue without her daily support.
It wasn’t all plain sailing, however. To begin with, the foundations needed to be deeper than originally planned in order to cope with the weight and strength of the double-height living space, which further added to the total cost. What’s more, after the main structure was up, some of the new materials – such as the translucent polycarbonate cladding and the corrugated fibre cement roofing – still needed to be signed off by the planners before the build could continue.
Image: Tracy and Steve chose a striking black kitchen island and cooker hood, then kept the walls bare to avoid the space. Photo: Matt Chisnal
The project was also delayed by mismanaged cash flow, and by August 2014, the couple had spent vast amounts on rented accommodation, and decided to set up a tent in their new home, while their children moved in with sister Betty.
Read more: How to project manage your own self build
Finally completed in September 2014, the choice of materials is key to the build’s success. Exposed blockwork walls provide an industrial feel, while the grey corrugated fibre cement roofing and translucent cladding lend a more agricultural flavour. When lit up at night, this cladding creates a beautiful Chinese-lantern effect. A polished blackplaster wall in the living room – designed and applied by a friend – looks great beside the poured-concrete flooring on the ground level, as well as the black MDF used to build the staircase and clad one of the double-height internal walls.
A type of MDF called Medite Tricoya has been used to clad the en-suite bathroom and wet room – a material that meets the couple’s desire for pared-back, uncompromising architecture. ‘It was Kevin McCloud who introduced us to it,’ says Tracy. ‘It’s soaked in a vinegar solution, then baked at a very high temperature to increase its strength and waterproof it.
Image: Graffiti covers the walls in son Alfy’s room, and the first level’s chipboard flooring adds warmth and character to the industrial-style property.. Photo: Matt Chisnal
Exploring the layout
As you enter, you walk into the open-plan, double-height living area. Here you find the kitchen and dining room, with a mezzanine walkway overhead. The right wing of the ground floor contains the master bedroom and en suite, plus a garage. Overhead on the first floor are two bedrooms and the family bathroom. On the left wing you’ll find Steve’s studio and a laundry area and wet room, with Tracy’s workshop above. Both studios have floor-to-ceiling glazing that floods the spaces with natural light and can also be opened up to the outdoors. The music room sits next to the first-floor studio. Tracy and Steve’s artistic tastes are evident throughout the property.
After 17 months of hard work, the family has finally moved in and is enjoying its new home. Asked whether they would self-build again, Tracy says she would. ‘We’d be stupid not to because we’ve learned so much, but it would have to be for the right reasons. I always tell Steve that the next project will be by the water.’