A multigenerational longhouse in Derbyshire
Building a home for three generations in a remote location proved a tall order
When Mike and Sarah’s two daughters flew the nest, the couple set in motion a plan to swap the city of Derby for a remote part of the Derbyshire Dales.
They had acquired a remote smallholding in the area and discovered a passion for rearing sheep and beekeeping. Why not give The Good Life a go, the couple thought. But the 18.5-acre smallholding had no residential buildings, and some 26 previous planning applications to build a home there had been turned down.
Unphased, the couple decided to submit a plan for an ambitious 21st century interpretation of a traditional longhouse – a style of agricultural building dating back thousands of years designed to accommodate large families and provide shelter for livestock.
The home would need to be large enough to accommodate a multigenerational family – Mike’s octogenarian parents, Jean and Robin, and Sarah’s mum Sylvia, also in her 80s, as well as room for their two daughters Francesca and Isabella to visit, or even live.
But with tight planning controls protecting the countryside, building a home in a remote, picturesque location is not easy. The only route is via Paragraph 80, a planning policy that ensures homes built in sensitive areas of open countryside are of exceptional quality.
Formerly known as Paragraph 79, and before that Paragraph 55, it’s a progressive part of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) that sets the bar high for architects, demanding innovative designs and high levels of energy efficiency. Many of these Paragraph 80 houses have featured on Grand Designs.
Following two years of hard work, their application was successful. Sarah, a former pharmacist, had already taken on the role of full-time shepherdess, but Mike, the managing director of a medical tech company, was still working full time when they embarked on building the Derbyshire longhouse, so the couple took the sensible step of taking on a main contractor to project manage the build.
Designing the Derbyshire longhouse
Jillian Mitchell of Lomas and Mitchell Architects designed the house with an angular, multi-pitched roof to reflect the undulating hills of the surrounding landscape. The multigenerational home would offer 500sqm of living space, requiring 30 tonnes of steel for the main structure. Slotted into the steel frame would be some 180 structural insulated panels (SIPs).
The exterior walls would then be clad in corrugated steel with copper detailing around box windows and the entrance porch. Huge swathes of triple glazing would open the living spaces to the views over the Dales while keeping the house warm, and a standing seam aluminium roof, reminiscent of agricultural buildings, completes the design.
— granddesigns (@granddesigns) September 28, 2022
The internal layout of the Derbyshire longhouse is predominantly linear, with an open-plan kitchen, diner and living space forming the core of the home, crowned by a double-height dining room with bespoke chandelier. At one end of the house is a snug, and at the other is an accessible bedroom and en suite bathroom for Mike’s parents, as well as a bothy to store wool fleeces and beekeeping equipment, plus a double garage.
Upstairs is Mike and Sarah’s bedroom, a family bathroom and two further bedrooms for Francesca and Isabella, plus an office. Across the porch, perpendicular to the rest of the build, are independent living quarters with huge double-aspect windows for Sarah’s mum.
One of the three original barns remains intact to house the livestock, and an orchard, landscaped gardens and beds to grow fruit and vegetables would complete the build.
Budgets and schedules
The land cost £250,000 and the budget for the build was around £945,000, totalling £1.2million. While far from cheap, the Derbyshire longhouse was designed to house three generations of the same family, negating potential residential or nursing home fees, and allowing Mike and Sarah’s daughters save for their own homes.
The build, which started in November 2020, was originally forecast to take around 12 months. By February 2021, the contractors had stripped down two of the barns to their steel frames, which would be recycled. By the end of March, the site had been cleared and dug out for the first concrete pour.
A complex, multi-pitched roof
Then came the first snag. The steel fabricators, grappling with the complexity of the multi-pitched roof, calculated that they would need 45 tonnes of steel, rather than the 30 tonnes already costed. Not only did that add an extra £55,000 to the budget, it also caused delays as more steel had to be ordered and prepared.
In July 2021, six months into their 12 month timeline, the steels were finally delivered. The frame then took three weeks to assemble. Next, the SIPs – prefabricated and cut to size in a factory in Yorkshire – were installed. Cutting and fitting the rectangular panels for the walls was simple enough, but the angular roof panels had to be cut by hand, and when they arrived on site, some wouldn’t fit and had to be trimmed, setting the build schedule back even further.
The triple glazing was fitted before the end of the year, which should have been a cause for celebration. But sadly, Mike’s father Robin passed away, adding to the sense of urgency to get the multigenerational home finished.
The family had hoped to move in by December 2021, but the roof installation wouldn’t begin until February 2022. A standing seam aluminium roof – where vertical seams connect one panel to the next – is a traditional roofing method that has to be hand finished, and the process is estimated to take around nine weeks.
Finally, in August, nearly eight months behind schedule, the family starts to move in. Mike and Sarah’s daughter Francesca, having tried living in London but feeling the pull of family, plans to join them a few weeks later.
There’s still work to be done on the house, including fitting the first-floor walkway and timber fins, which will provide solar shading to keep the energy-efficient home cool in summer, as well as the external landscaping and a few finishing touches to the interior.
The final build cost, including the elements yet to be finished, is around £1.2million: ‘We’ve never spent anywhere near this on a house before,’ said Mike. ‘But this is the heart. This is where the family is based and they can always come here.’
‘It’s been nerve-wracking,’ adds Sarah. ‘We’ve had sleepless nights over it. But what price is the peace of mind we get from having our parents with us? We’ve spent a lot of time worrying about them.’
‘The majority of people build for now,’ said Kevin McCloud, at the end of the Grand Designs Derbyshire longhouse episode, ‘but that’s stupid building. This is intelligent building. Their lives have changed and the building has been there, quietly waiting for them.
‘In light of the last few years,’ adds Kevin, ‘there is no better time than now to be building a house that brings people together. Several generations under one roof to share their resources. There’s no better time to build a house that connects you to the land and helps you grow your own food.
‘And there is no better time to build a house that is so low energy it costs almost nothing to run. These values are time honoured, and they are all here in this very 21st century building.’