National Self Build & Renovation Centre Logo close Menu
Book Free Now

Martin & Jane Smethurst

Martin and Jane self built in Milton, a strong conservation area with many surrounding Grade 1 & 2 listed buildings which provided challenges in gaining planning consent.

Could you tell us any interesting facts or remarkable features about your project?

  • Milton is a conservation area – some challenges getting planning consent – Chicle Barn is in a Courtyard of other converted farm building – so had to be sympathetic with the surrounding – one side looks like a traditional barn – and the secluded rear side is contemporary with a ribbon of glass.
  • Radon area – lots of work to manage the Radon – additional membranes and 11 pipes running under the patio.
  • Corner glass – the large glass at the back forms a corner of glass 16m of glass wrapping around the first floor.
  • Beautiful free standing steel, oak and glass staircase and walk way.
  • Removed over 750 tonnes of earth.
  • Made from beautiful Ironstone from the only remaining Ironstone quarry in the UK based locally at Duns Tew.
  • 6m tall atrium and entrance.

Martin & Jane's Experience at the National Self Build & Renovation Centre

How many times have you visited The National Self Build and Renovation Centre before?

At least 3 times.

What would you say is the most helpful feature or resource at the NSBRC?

The helpful advice and presentations from the experts at events, as well as the website and the suppliers.

Did you use any exhibitors at the NSBRC? If so, who?

Yes: Nu-Heat UFH, The Rooflight Company and Corom Kitchens.

What did you enjoy most about your visit to the NSBRC?

Having everything in one place. It's great to see the life-sized houses, the guided tours were invaluable and having all the experts and great suppliers in one place was helpful.

Would you recommend the NSBRC to a friend, and if so, what aspects of the Centre would you recommend and why?

If you’re self-building a house or undertaking a big renovation – you have to visit the NSBRC!! I highly recommend the Centre for ideas, getting questions answered and for a good day out!!

Martin & Jane's Self Build Experience

What first inspired you to undertake project – what did you hope to achieve?

I always had a dream to build my own home – I have watched every ‘Grand Design’, ‘Building the Dream’ and every other house building show! I wanted to build the perfect house for my family. I had a very strong vision of what it would be like and I had an architect (a friend) who translated my ideas and vision into a plan.


What was the cost & size of the land?

I owned the land already – it was part of my garden from my former house.


How did you find the land - do you have any tips for others currently searching for a plot?

I looked down the end of my garden - and there it was!!


Did you have any issues getting your planning permission granted or with building control? If so – why was this?

Yes – Milton is a strong Conservation area with many surrounding Grade 1 and 2 listed buildings – first application was rejected – but I persevered with a Planning consulting who helped get the right decision.


Why did you choose your method of construction?

It was mainly determined by the planning and conservation constraints. We had to have Ironstone exterior and a slate roof – with all the steel to accommodate the ribbon of glass – a block interior was the only choice.


Did you use a project manager, or did you choose to self project manage?

I had a part time Project Manager who was a close friend – who was amazing and helped me with all the technical stuff. I procured every single component of the build myself and found all the different trades myself.


What was your budget and were you able to stick to it?

The budget was around £350k and no I didn’t stick with it – came in around £550k.


If you didn’t stick to your budget, what was the main reason for the overspend?

  • the budget we started with was too low.
  • additional costs £13k for changes to connecting to mainstream sewer.
  • spent way more on landscaping - £30k.
  • materials went up during the build due to Covid.
  • made conscious decision to up spec along the way – based on building my dream house once!!

What is the value of the property now?



Did you reclaim the VAT, and if so, how much were you able to reclaim?

I am in the process of reclaiming the VAT – my claim is around £30k.


What aspects of the process did you find stressful – and do you have any tips on how to avoid the pitfalls you encountered?

You start off with a massive amount of money (£350k) and any problems seem small at the time and insignificant – but every change, every mistake adds up and by the time you finish the project money becomes very tight. My advice is get 3 quotes for everything: shop around, barter, ask for more discount. You will amazed how everyone finds money off if you ask!! Also, run a spreadsheet that tracks every penny you plan to spend and actually spend.


What did you find most enjoyable about working on your project?

Loved pretty much all of it – every week there was another milestone – every stage was exciting and progress. It's one of the best things I have ever done in my life. I also surrounded myself with brilliant trades people who were meticulous about their quality and workmanship. In return I paid them within an hour of them giving me an invoice and made sure I looked after them – and worked with them to find solutions when you hit a problem. After a while the tradesman would say “Martin we have an opportunity to solve a problem over here - can we talk”!!


What is one of your favourite features about your project?

I love the ground floor – one big space and connected to my garden – light floods in on even the dullest of days.


How did you tailor your home to suit your lifestyle?

I wrote down everything I didn’t like about previous houses I had and set about building in everything I wanted.


Is there a possibility you would ever undertake another project in the future?

Today, no – but ask me again in a few years when my wife is not listening!


If so, is there anything you would do differently?

Nothing, really.


What would your top tip be for other NSBRC Visitors about to embark on their first self build or home improvement journey?

Take your time, plan meticulously, be ready and flexible for challenges – and visit the NSBRC regularly and take a list of questions you have – there is always someone there to help.