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November 2, 2012 6:46 pm
According to Winston Churchill, “We shape our dwellings, and afterwards our dwellings shape us.”
He should know. His remarkable talents included bricklaying, although he never revealed how the walls he built at his home, Chartwell, in Kent, shaped him. Churchill took to construction in order to let off steam from his day job as the UK’s wartime prime minister.
The following people took a less esoteric approach to building and construction: they transformed their dreams into real estate, from South Carolina to Indonesia.
The wilderness getaway
Client Daniel Seyd
Architect Insite Design
Contractor Daniel Seyd
Location Chewton, Victoria, Australia
Total build cost A$250,000 plus a A$50,000 land purchase
Build time One year
Daniel Seyd’s experience of self-build was more hands-on than most. Seyd, an interior designer from Melbourne in Australia, designed his own home and did a large share of the construction work. The end result – a space-efficient one-bedroom holiday getaway – is cosy and intimate. Seyd acquired three-quarters of an acre of former bushland on the outskirts of the gold-rush town of Chewton, Victoria, from a local landowner. The property was intended as a winter retreat.
“Winters are warmer and sunnier than Melbourne – really beautiful, cold, sunny and clear,” Seyd enthuses.
The house is designed to bring the outdoors in: “I liked the idea of a thin house, one room wide, so you get views where you can look through the building and see the landscape on the other side,” he explains. The different-sized windows, from wide-angle to small portholes, present a variety of perspectives on the bush, from epic to small scale. “Often in Australia the views are giant, so this is quite nice because it has an intimate feel, a small view,” says Seyd. “Sometimes the kangaroos come almost up to the building and don’t even realise you’re watching them.”
He took on the construction work to keep costs down, but he also wanted to try out some ideas that had been rejected by clients of his firm, Insite Design. The long sliding exterior screens were one such innovation. They shade the house from summer sun but can be pushed aside to maximise warm light in winter.
The experience of taking on many of the mundane construction jobs has given Seyd more empathy with his builder colleagues, he adds. “It was great training for what I do at work: I now have a much deeper understanding of materials, fixings, specifications and other technicalities.”
. . .
The southern homestead
Client Kirk Henckels and Fernanda Kellogg
Architect Cam Scott and Joe Smith
Contractor Larlee Construction
Location Aiken, South Carolina, US
Total build cost $260 per sq ft, for 3,800 sq ft
Build time One year
Kirk Henckels was an accidental homebuilder. He and his wife Fernanda Kellogg, who is chair of the Tiffany & Co Foundation, purchased a dilapidated 28-acre farm in the historic town of Aiken, South Carolina. But it was in worse condition than they expected. It had to be demolished – and so they began again, with a blank slate.
“We fell in love with the land,” says Henckels, executive vice-president and director of real estate agency Stribling Private Brokerage, and a Manhattan resident. “It already had a courtyard of 14 stable stalls and a shell of a house. We ended up starting from scratch, whether we wanted to or not.”
Undeterred, he made the most of the opportunity: “I had a design in my mind and this was an opportunity to achieve it.” At the centre of his vision was a soaring drawing room with a high balcony, off which lay the bedrooms. It’s “a very social place”, Henckels says. “A great entertaining space.”
The couple also have a summer home in the Hudson Valley, upstate New York, and so the South Carolina property will be a sunny retreat from the northern winter chill. Aiken, a town of 29,500 people, is dominated by equestrian sports: “Instead of everyone having a dog in the yard, people here have a horse,” says Henckels. There are 43 polo fields and three racetracks, as well as eventing, polo, dressage and steeplechases.
In keeping with this horse-loving history, Henckels and Kellogg prioritised the stables. They kept the original 14 stalls and added seven more. The stables’ position flanking the main frontage meant that the interior style had to be rustic. New York interior designer Brockschmidt & Coleman has been commissioned to add the finishing touches.
The newly completed house has three bedrooms and four bathrooms, with an additional two-bedroom guest house and an apartment nicknamed the “stud box”. It also has a pool and 14 paddocks.
Henckels couldn’t be on site for most of the build, so he was meticulous about finding a contractor he could trust. “You either love this process or you don’t, and if you don’t, then you really need a good contractor whom you can trust to complete it without you.”
His other tip for prospective homebuilders relates to costs: plan to overspend. “One can always assume you’re going to go 50 per cent over budget,” he sighs. Would he and Kellogg undertake a similar project again? With three homes and many horses on their hands, Henckels doesn’t think so. “We’re devoting our lives to maintenance now,” he jokes.
. . .
The tropical paradise
Client Chris and Shigeko Gentry
Architect Cheong Yew Kuan, Area Designs
Contractor Local craftsmen and labourers
Location Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
Total build cost Undisclosed
Build time 18 months
Chris Gentry’s self-build journey began with an unusual purchase: he paid $38,000 for 1,800 vintage telegraph poles that were en route to the scrapyard. The poles, used throughout the house, have become the stars of the show: the property, called Villa Gosho, is testament to his passion for the rich, warm shades of Indonesian wood.
Gentry, founder of education and training company Asiaworks, had been living in southeast Asia for a decade when he decided to create his own home. His move from Hong Kong to the rice paddies of Indonesia was motivated by an urge to give his two young sons – then aged three and six – a more natural environment in which to grow up.
He attributes his love of wood to his childhood growing up near California’s Sequoia National Park, home to some of the largest trees on earth. “But it wasn’t until I came to Bali that I started to really use it and work with it,” he says.
Along with his wife Shigeko, Gentry chose an unpopular plot of land on a breezy ridge – “the ridges had the worst soil, but they had the most beautiful views,” he explains. The site was previously a field of alang-alang grass and coconuts, and about 60 coconut trees remain on the grounds of the two-acre property.
The building process was difficult. Cranes were unavailable, so materials were carried up the hill by hand. Transporting a large ornamental stone ball uphill to sit in the centre of the swimming pool took 100 men two weeks. Many of the workers were local villagers who remain friends with the family, and some are now employed as domestic staff.
Gentry’s thorough approach saw him living on the property before any construction work began – “to get a real feel for the land” – and expert local craftsmen were brought in to make the most of Villa Gosho’s wooden features. All the wood was reclaimed – he speaks of sourcing timber from old docks and boats – and many of the interior walls are made from local handmade adobe mud-brick.
He didn’t commit to a detailed design at the start of the project, instead aiming to create a building that harmonised with the landscape. “I don’t think you should have an exact idea before you start; have a general idea and let it move as you go along,” he says. “That’s how you build something special.”
Although the main building was completed two years ago, Gentry has added a guesthouse and then began another property next door. “Now I’m bitten by the bug,” he admits. And he is evangelical about reclaiming Indonesia’s woods. “If people knew what amazing materials are available over here, they would load up a container and build with them back home. I would say come to Indonesia if you really want to build something significant.”
. . .
The convivial home
Client Frank Kubik
Architect Marra + Yeh
Contractor Firstcon Sdn Bhd
Location Jelapang, Ipoh, Malaysia
Total build cost M$1.5m ($491,000) plus M$200,000 ($65,500) land purchase
Build time Two years
Frank Kubik decided to self-build when he went in search of a more spacious house. The German-born engineer, based in Jelapang, Malaysia, was living in an apartment at the time. He wanted more space in which to study, as well as a social area in which his fellow church members could gather. His three-bedroom, 5,000 sq ft home was completed in 2008.
The project began smoothly as Kubik secured a plot of land within a country club, and found a local-born, Australia-resident architect by word-of-mouth. Living near the building site meant he and his wife Mary could keep an eye on progress: “During morning walks we could pass by very often, which is good – as we could ask questions when things were done in a way we didn’t understand – but also bad, as watching the progress daily can be a rather demotivating activity.”
His main concerns were sticking to the budget and finding local people with the right technical skills to install high-tech features. These include an evaporative cooler – a low-energy alternative to air conditioning in which warm dry air is passed over water, cooling the air by evaporating the water.
Architect Carol Marra says her aim was “the combination of traditions with technology”. The resulting style is modern, with a fusion of local materials including marble, timber and bricks, combined with Australian roofing and Chinese bamboo flooring.
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