g gdg
HOME | profile | detached | developments | commercial | portfolio | contact
Last Updated : Tue, 17 August, 2010 10:59 AM
Case Study 1 : Culloville, Newry
"La vie est un sommeil, l'amour en est le rêve"
(life is a sleep in which love is the dream) wrote Alfred de Musset.
For Newry-born James King and his family, their home, 'Le Rêve',
at Culloville near Newry in County Down, has been a real labour of love
la reve
A stonemason by trade, James and his family returned to Northern Ireland in 2003 after sixteen years based just outside Philadelphia. The experience provided the inspiration for their self build, as James explained. 'Most of my work involved what are termed 'high-end&' houses, outside Philadelphia, in the French Country or New England style and it really appealed to me. Between 1996-98 I worked with Cookstown-based architect, Don Sonner, who was also in the USA at the time and together we researched the background to these, with the intention of developing the concept here at some point.'
'Preparing the plans only took a couple of months, mainly because we had spent so much time on it in the States! We even had all the measurements for the rooms, so it was quite straightforward for Don to put it all down on paper.
pic2   gg
Gaining planning approval took longer, at least six months, because there was a lot of discussion about the entrance and visibility splays but eventually we got it passed. The house is essentially two-storey, although there is also a basement, which might seem unusual to do when there wasn't any pressure on space. However, the site is a sloping one so it was a choice between a large amount of infill, or small excavation to create a basement, which made more sense and gave us a three- sided space of 25sqM underneath the kitchen. It was built from 450mm solid block walls with 50mm high-density foil backed insulation against the outside wall, which was then backfilled between it and the soil. A 150mm perforated drainage pipe was placed at the bottom of the wall on top of the foundation. This really useful area now houses the entire heating and plumbing system, buffer tanks for the geothermal unit, water storage tank for the pressurised plumbing system, gas boiler for hot water, and all the associated time clocks, manifolds etc., as well as patio furniture and anything else that hasn't got a home! It's a lovely warm area as a result of all the heating pipes, warmth that travels up through the kitchen to the rest of the house.'

gg   gg

The walls of the house reflect the French Country / New England style that the King's so much admired. Including the stone cladding, they are 550mm wide, giving deep reveals to the uPVC windows, chosen for their ease of maintenance. Stone, although an attractive material in itself, requires care in the choosing and using, which is where this house demonstrates the attention to detail that is the hallmark of a true self build. James’s experience in the USA of working in many different stone quarries taught him about the varying colours, textures and grains that there are, and he returned with a clear vision of the blends and colours he was looking for. Each was chosen for a very personal reason. There is stone from Caroline’s home County, Down, sandstone from Donegal (family holidays), imported granite for the windowsills and surrounds from China and the chimney pots are made from old Belfast Brick. Still keeping it local, the timber came from Crossmaglen and the rosemary clay tiles on the roof from Castleblayney and Dundalk.


No build is without its difficult times, and for the King's these seemed to centre on the tiles, both external and internal. As you can see, the roof has a lot of different shapes which are quite awkward to fit tiles onto resulting in more breakages than usual, something we hadn't allowed for sufficiently. There were some anxious faces as we unwrapped the extra ordered because with a fi red tile like this, each batch is different and you can have problems matching the new ones with the originals, so you really should make extra allowance for breakages when the roof shape is complicated.

The full height windows give fantastic view
over the Slieve Gullion mountains in County Armagh,
a wonderful space for sitting in the early evening.

Our second anxious moment actually lasted for rather longer, weeks in fact. We'd ordered Spanish tiles for the floors downstairs but the supplier let us down, and we were facing the prospect of a long delay on the interior as conventional wisdom is that you don’t fit skirtings and doors until you know the finished floor is level. I decided that we'd throw out the rule book and do things in reverse! By the time the tiles arrived all we had to do was lay them, the floor was completed in good time and it all fitted in very well.'

gg   gg
The focal point of this house is a stunning four sided fireplace in the hallway
which can be seen from four different rooms,
providing a central point to the open plan design

'Open-plan is very much a feature of the house. The kitchen, dining and breakfast rooms are all open-plan and stepped up, and lead into the family room. The kitchen is very traditional, with Tudor wood hand-painted cabinets under a Spanish style rough textured plaster cathedral ceiling.' The New England style is very much in evidence with the amount of hand painting throughout the house on the solid mahogany doors, handrails and blocked effect pattern on the walls.

The US influence continues upstairs through the three bedrooms, master en suite and sun room which leads off it.

gg   gg

With Le Rêve nearing completion, James has now turned his attention to the gardens which will, of course, have several stone features, to match the house. No doubt he will apply the same attention to planning and have a similar hands on approach, both of which are another feature of this project. 'I really feel that the reason why it went so smoothly was because I devoted so much of my time to it personally. With hindsight, I perhaps sacrificed my contracting business a little, but it was definitely worth it. Being involved in all of the details meant that, if the odd little issue did crop up, I was on hand to sort it out quickly.

gg   gg

I would suggest that anyone starting out does their homework thoroughly. Although this entire project has only taken around four years in total, you have to take into account all the pre-planning that happened whilst we were in the States. Before we even began to do so much as sketch the design, I had files filled with information on just about everything we would need. I also attended several SelfBuild shows. To take one example, we investigated no fewer than five roofing companies before choosing.

It's a lot of work, but the reward is being able to live in the house that was, for so long, the number one item on our 'wish list'

Site size: 3 acres Cost: £300,000 House size:5,500sqft Build cost:£450-500,000 Current value: £1.25-1.5million

The original article from self-build Magazine is available from the Self Build website here and a as a downloadable pdf
Tel. 028 8676 9654 Copyright © Don Sonner Architectural Services 2018. All rights reserved.