The Timber Frame
A 3D sketch of a contemporary house
Decking | Fireplace | Views


Build Start


Total Floor Area

On a hillside North West of the town of Newhaven in East Sussex, Tim Cox and Julia Brock purchased an old dilapidated property and were granted planning permission to knock it down and erect a new 3-bedroom building within the existing envelope.

Site Value


Total Spend

Developed Value

Cost Per m2

Construction Type


Construction Type

Standard foundations were laid which had to be dug deeper than was originally budgeted for due to roots in the ground. This increased time and money spent at this stage of the build.

A ring beam was then laid around the perimeter so that the timber frame could be affixed.

The frame had been predominantly manufactured within a workshop as a set of flat pack pre-fabricated panels where they are then erected onsite in a matter of a few days. It includes all of the door and window openings so any changes to the design part way through the build would have been much more difficult.

While kit houses are from a catalogue it is possible to work with the manufacturers and develop a more bespoke option. At the time of the build in 1999 one third of all self-builds were kit houses.

They may be popular, but they don’t particularly stand out as incredible architecture or engineering. The complexity of the build is taken into a controlled workshop reducing the time it takes to erect the main skeleton of the building while on site in unknown conditions. It certainly seems to be a low risk and cost option.


I liked the cedar cladding but thought its use was overabundant. The reclaimed brickwork muted it a bit but not enough in my opinion. I think there should be a 50:50 split to contrast it against a different material.
The concrete roof tiles were too industrial and chunky, a flat tile like slate would have looked better but probably increased the cost significantly too. The self builders were open in the fact that they didn’t sample the materials together. This lack of planning along with the time and financial restriction they placed upon themselves compromised a bit of the build and they appeared a bit

Source of funds

The self-builders both came from a place of having property of their own which allowed them to release equity from a house sale and still live in another property. I imagine that having children would have limited their ability of living on site to release equity from both houses at the beginning of the build.

The rest appears to have been sourced by using a self-build mortgage.

Site Acquisition

The site was brownfield and had an existing dwelling. It needed to be demolished and cleared away which added expense to the build but significantly increased the chance of the planning permission being approved.
A process known as Bungalow Gobbling allows people to place modern architecture in the most amazing settings while at the same time removing unsightly properties with limited economic life remaining.

Knowledge Acquisition

Paid for an experienced Architect and Project Manager as they didn’t have prior experience in building property. This seemed to be a good idea at first and the bulk of the build progressed using this approach but they cut ties with them during the first-fix stage due to having to source local trades people themselves.

A lot of the work appeared to come from a can-do attitude of the self-builders and external trades. The time constraint of wanting to get in for the home birth would have been a key motivator and it carried them a good distance.

What went right?

  • They had a back up plan for housing in case the property wasn’t built in time for the birth of child number 5.
  • The timber frame went up in only three days.
  • The first stage of the process with planning and design seemed to go quite well. They sent sketches and the architect interpreted and formalised the design.
  • The build was completed and they were happy with the end result.

What went wrong?

  • They found roots while digging trenches for the foundations
    • Deeper foundations required, 200 tonnes of earth removed
  • The septic tank was unusable and to replace it is £4,000 which is the fund for their decking.
  • The windows didn’t fit and needed to be hand planed to suit
  • Life got in the way of their plans, the pregnancy had some complications.
  • Brick pallet was dropped which scrapped a load of bricks.
  • Contractors are too far away and struggle to source workmen.
  • Not happy with the end arrangement of materials
  • Compromised on using UPVC Windows when they wanted Oak Framed due to time constraints which they didn’t end up really needing to work to because they didn’t have a home birth in the property
  • Tiredness causes clumsiness which can create more work
  • It felt that at times the project didn’t move forwards at all
  • Questioning mid-build about the design layout of windows
  • Once born, their new-born made things harder for Jules to a scale of 20 times slower

Lessons Learned

– Get a thorough ground survey done. It may cost more upfront but it could save you money during the build if things like tree roots are found that delay the start of build. #LL/Finding_Land
– Investigate if there are tree roots in the ground before groundworks begin, or have a contingency for boarding.
– Make sure you get the materials you plan to use as samples to determine how they work together #LL/Design
– Don’t be woolly with the detail. Getting the detail right in the earlier stages can help prevent last minute decision making. #LL/Design
– Reduce the time restrictions to reduce the stress of making decision #LL/Planning
– Remote workers increase the risk, use local firms for design as well as build. #LL/Project_Management
– Ensure the utilities, including septic tank condition are useable before purchasing the land/property #LL/Finding_Land
– Get the windows manufacturer to measure for the windows or have the architect/project planner take the liability for communication. Or be extremely clear and accurate with the measurements communicated to the window manufacturers. #LL/Design #LL/Project_Management
– The outside of the house during work is a muddy bog and planned pathways could be useful (they used old railway sleepers and shingle) #LL/Project_Management
– Festivals use corrugated aluminium sheets
– Near the coast and high up the weather is harsher so leathery plants are preferred #LL/Design
– Use local materials and plants helps set the property into the surrounding area. Possibly helps with planning too. #LL/Design
– Don’t build a house with a new-born baby #LL/Planning
– Be “pathologically” optimistic as there will be times when the project doesn’t seem to move forwards at all. #LL/Project_Management
– If you are interested in Self Build then most people start at a Self Build exhibition. #LL/Design
– Reduce time constraints on the project so that overwork is avoided
– Prevents silly errors that can be time consuming to correct. #LL/Project_Management
– Kevin’s leather trousers in the first scene should stay in the 90’s or on motorcyclists.


This is a non-commercial review carried out for the purposes of study in developing an understanding of the requirements of self-build in the UK.

The views and opinions expressed are my own and is not affiliated in any way with Grand Designs.  All information on this page has been gathered from publicly available sources.

The plot/site information was located using Land Registry Data which contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

The lessons learned are derived from my interpretations and observations of a publicly disseminated television episode and are in no way meant to be a substitute to the original.