Jon and Becky White's ambitious project wasn't just a house build, it was about rebuilding their lives
Ex-marine Jon White and wife Becky put their all into building an accessible home in Devon, which featured on Grand Designs in 2013.
For many people grand designers, constructing a new home is about fulfilling a self-build ambition. For ex-Royal Marine Captain Jonathan White and his wife Becky, it was an absolute necessity. Their ambitious project in Devon wasn’t just a case of constructing a house from scratch – it was at the heart of building their lives back up again.
Jonathan lost his right arm and both of his legs when he stepped on a landmine one morning while on duty in Afghanistan in June 2010. For him, building an accessible home in Devon was his way of coping – ‘something to focus on, a reason to get out of bed in the morning,’ he says. Never had a project been so crucial to one man’s future.
Talking to Jon, however, he probably wouldn’t want to dwell on this. He is inspiringly proactive. As soon as he woke up in a hospital in Birmingham three days after the attack, he immediately proposed to Becky. Just three months later they were looking for a new house, and they now have a one-year-old son, George.
Between them they owned houses in Exeter and Taunton – neither suitable for Jonathan – so they pooled the funds from selling both and put them towards finding a new home. The idea was to modify an existing property to suit Jonathan’s needs, but after an exhaustive search, it became apparent it wasn’t going to be that simple.
All this time they were staying in the married quarters of military accommodation in Devon. ‘It wasn’t particularly attractive and two of the four bedrooms were piled high with furniture from both of our old houses,’ says Jonathan. ‘It was always going to be a temporary solution so we didn’t hang up pictures – we just wanted somewhere homely to settle down.’
Buying a plot
It was through the Royal Marine charity The C Group, which put the couple in touch with a land agent, that they bought a plot in December 2010 for £220,000.
‘There was planning permission already in place for a relatively nice five-bedroom house, so we were initially going to tweak the plans, but after a while our architect said it wasn’t going to work, so we decided to start over,’ says Jon. ‘It was pretty daunting,’ adds Becky. ‘We just didn’t know where to begin, but there was huge excitement and expectation, too.’
The focus was to build a home that would last them a lifetime, with Jon project managing, despite never having done anything like it before. ‘I wanted it to be comfortable and spacious – somewhere we could raise a family and still have space for our friends and other family members to come and stay,’ says Becky.