Tuesday 5 April 2011

The Artisan House - NEC 2011

Here are the photos of the completed Artisan House that we built at the NEC in 5 days. I thought you might like to see it.
The concept is pretty simple - a contemporary cottage that uses prefabricated 'cassette' panels to wrap around the internal green oak frame, insulated with recycled glass and incorporating a home office/studio for 21st Century Artisan's. We clad ours in kiln dried oak with a brick plinth laid with lime mortar.
The underlying aim was to make it highly thermal, natural, pragmatic and affordable so we up scaled the insulation, made it as airtight as possible, eradicated any thermal bridges, avoided any petrochemicals, toxic, or overly processed materials and used timber (all FSC certified), lime, clay and other natural materials that could be reused and were not environmentally harmful. The cost of a three bed (1400 sq ft) home (as pictured) is £112,000 fully built - but if you add in kitchens, bathrooms, decoration etc and all the renewable technology we used I think the COMPLETE house cost (ie ready to move in) would be about £160,000. That is pretty amazing for a home that meets CfSH level 4 and 5 I think.

We would love to hear your thoughts - things you like, things you are not sure about, what other features would you like to see in the expanding portfolio etc etc?

Anyhoo - here are some pics. I haven't added the photo of me being interviewed by Croatian TV - think Borat but with a lady (who asked me if the people lived in our houses with sheep and cows inside too). But maybe if you leave me enough comments I will post that picture too (don't get excited - its not that funny).

front  - the solar panels provide domestic hot water and the air source heat pump fires the underfloor heating

The oak pergola (or is it a verandah?) was a big success as it gave depth to the back elevation and was beautifully made. You can just see the PV panels in the middle - for electricity.

The projecting gable enabled us to have a family bathroom with space for a bath and a shower. The ensuite bathroom was huge so could be divided into dressing room/ bathroom. The jetty over the front door provides visitors with shelter and also adds projection and interest to the design.

The interior is light and simple - with just enough oak to give you the 'border oak' essence - without dictating the room.

Kitchen by DeVol - lights by Screwfix!

The woodburner was optioned as a back up heat source for our EPC /CfSH rating. We can get the house to level four (depending on plot specifics) or 5 (by using triple glazing and a few more renewables) but the basic fabric of the standard house is rated exceptionally well.

Painted windows in muted heritage shades, galvanised guttering, beautiful bricks, lime mortar and a rustic/modern edge are becoming some of Border Oak's trademark features.

And so I hope you like it - even if its not your cup of Earl Grey I hope it illustrates our craftsmanship and workmanship, and our commitment to building the finest sustainable homes for all sorts of people. Exciting times!

ps don't forget our Open House Day - April 22nd 10 am- 3pm.


  1. Fabulous pictures...thank you for posting them.

    I was so gutted that I couldn't make it to the NEC (family illness prevented me going, and also means that I will not be able to get to your open day), and I am even more heart broken now that I have seen these pictures - they just make me ache with longing. How great is that oak cladding, I just want to stroke it!

    What is happening to the show house now? Is it going up as a show house somewhere more permanent?

    Is the floor plan of the show house similar to that of the "basic" Pearmain? If not, can we see the floorplan please? Pretty please? I love floorplans, seeing how a house works/flows.

    Would love to see more pictures if you have any.

    Every post from you makes me more determined to find a plot!

    Keep up the good work,


  2. Hi Merry,

    A very interesting post, thank you!
    I'd be keen to find out in what way you scaled up the insulation?
    I thought the U value of SIPS are very low as it is.

    Kind regards,


  3. Yes, you are right. The U- value of SIPs is already low - around 0.19/0.18 depending on what you face the building in externally and internally. For the Artisan House we made very deep cassettes (a type of interlocking softwood frame) and this void was filled with Earth wool insulation, and then we added an insulated plaster/drylining board internally as well. We also used the same cassette panels for the floors and roof. You could also upgrade standard SIPs panels this way too but we were trying to simplify the layering effect so that we could maximise the benefits of prefabrication. The other benefits of the Artisan range is that is less expensive than SIPs and doesn't have a petrochemical based material. That is not to say that we won't be using SIPs' - they are a fantastic construction material - but there's always room for an innovative new product I think? It gives the purchaser/home building another option which has to be good?! Thanks for the question.
    send me your email and I will send you the floor plans (the are similar to Pearmain) - other Artisan designs are on the drawing board! So sorry about the family illness - I will post photos of the open day just for you (and floor plans of course!)

  4. that's great; thanks very much for the info Merry!

  5. sorry; one more question!
    Is the cassette/SIP an either/and, in other words could they be used together?
    Would there even be any point on having both, if the points gained in reducing U values are going to be in the region of 0.xx?
    Been reading about the Passivhaus standard recently so just interested in achieving as well insulated building envelope as possible.

    Thanks again.

  6. Hi, there's not really any extra benefit in using two structural systems together to be honest. You could use a layer of earthwool inside the SIP's I suppose but it would require very deep battens which would cause you other issue elsewhere (ie window details, eaves depth etc). I think I would opt for maybe two layers of insulated drylining boards on either system perhaps and then focus on 'over insulating' the internal walls, floors (dry screed?) and roof. Solar design as well would help (ie minimal n facing fenestration if any) Obviously triple glazing, MHRV etc is necessary for PassiveHaus, along with lots of other obligations (many of which over rule design, affordability and the 'driving' of the house) so I guess it is personal objective that directs how much of the true PH line you follow. I myself would take the most applicable and most acheiveable parts of passive house design, in combination with some of the upper targets for the CfSH, add a pinch of common sense with a big dollop of vernacular design and stir in the most natural of sustainable materials to get my perfect home. I haven't yet seen a good looking 'PassiveHaus' yet (or an affordable one?) so it would be interesting to hear if you had come across one in your research.
    best wishes

  7. Hi Merry,

    Thanks for the explanation and elaborating on the additional dry lining boards etc; that is very helpful.

    I know what you mean about PHs; always quite utilitarian looking aren't they?
    I think what we want to take from the standard is just about doing as much as possible in terms of insulation and building efficiency, as this will help ensure low output systems like ground source heat pumps work as effectively as they can.

    Thanks again,


  8. Hi Merry, Just wanted to say thank you for inviting us into your home yesterday, it is truly beautiful!

    Can I be cheeky and ask where you got your Chesterfield sofa from that is in your kitchen/dining/family room?

    Many thanks Ellen x

  9. We are searching for a building plot in Northamptonshire/ Lincolnshire border. We would love to know more about your houses. I am really interested in the Open Days (that I've just missed!). Do I just check on your blog for when they are coming up?
    Your houses are beautiful!


  10. Hi everyone!
    Ellen, it was lovely to see you and to show you our home - thank you for coming I hope it was what you expected! I had the sofa made locally, the man is called Thomas Croft (I think his website is something like sofasontheweb.com) He is about 15 minutes from Pembridge. But since we had it made I see that Chesterfields pop up everywhere so you may find one in a more usual place. Thanks again for coming.
    Laura - yes I will post about the open days but also the Border oak website will say and hopefully our new website will be even more efficient - if I ever get it ready! We don't have another planned just yet but probably early autumn if I can find a willing victim aka Border Oak home owner!

  11. The open day was fantastic & very inspiring - thank you so much. We had a great day. We are looking at a plot in west sussex (8 acres, but planning for just a one bed dwelling for £450k! Crazy). We want to see how much flexibility there is with the current planning and have been advised to submit our ideas/designs in writing to the local planners for their review/comment. Hannah has already sent lots of great images & plans of both the Pearmain & Artisan designs. I think the planners are more likely to go with the Artisan design. Do you have any advice for us when dealing with planners at this very early stage? Thanks very much, Fran.

  12. Fran,
    Thank you for your lovely comments - I will pass them on to everyone.
    With regard to planning advice - I think if you can stress the sustainability angle of what you are proposing and also the fact that you trying to build a home rather than take advantage then it helps 'colour' the application (rather than a faceless developer for example). I know that when Ben and I applied for planning it made a big difference when we went and met people ourselves and it took away lots of their concerns.

    Obviously the 1 bed issue might be difficult to get around (try to find out why it is only one bed - it is unlikely that the seller asked for one bed so presumably there is a point of contention with the planning office). Maybe suggest a still modest two bed cottage with a working studio/office has more longevity and adaptability (important factors of the Code for SH). We have built one bed cottages with mezzanines/vaulted spaces and even oak framed 'caravans' to get around similar conditions so if it is the dream plot it is worth chasing - I am sure between us we can work on something creative!
    The Artisan is really lovely and I have drawn a quick sketch for a two bed version which I will try to get drawn up in the next week or so. We can't believe how popular the concept has been but I think it has true potential. I have also designed a 4 bed version that I would like to build for us but have the same problem finding a plot. But I think if I can get around that and show how exciting the innovative panels are then hopefully more 'ordinary' families can build their own home. Let me know what the planners say or if you need anything to help. We have also just got FSC/PEFC accreditation and I think we are the only house builder, only oak frame company and only self build package to have that so we are really focusing on the eco/responsible sourcing angle to illustrate the virtues to planners etc. Might help 'colour' the application further?? thanks again Fran - good luck! mx

  13. Thank you so much for all your advice Merry. Our letter, plans & images were hand delivered to the planners yesterday so fingers crossed we'll hear back in the next few weeks and will be able to have a face to face meeting with them (I'll let you know). We really tried to stress the fact that our vision is to build a modest, sustainable & ecological family home sympathic to the surrounding area. In the meantime, we'd be very interested in seeing the four bed Artisan design you mentioned - are you able to send this to me? Thanks again for your support Merry.

  14. Hi Merry. I love your blog and Border Oak. Will this house be at the NEC again this year? Thanks. Jo.

  15. Hi....Most impressed with your Artisan house, do you have other designs to share with us yet. Thanks Alan

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  17. Hi there, What a wonderful project! Are the Artisan homes still a boarder oak design? I can't see any mention of them on their web site. Would love to know more about some of the construction details / spec. Thanks

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