Ask The Expert: Welsh Oak Frame

Paul Edmunds, Director of Welsh Oak Frame, talks about some of the challenges and highlights of working with oak frame structures

Have you noticed any changes in oak frame trends in terms of what homeowners are looking for in 2015?

I can’t say that there is a specific type of trend at the moment as there is a mixed clientele out there. We have requests for such a wide range of structures, from post and beam, which is very popular, to more traditional cottage-style structures. Oak frame offers such scope for variety in the type of structures that you can put together. Some people want a contemporary feel whereas others want traditional barn-style structures. It’s a bit of a mixed bag.

Are there any particularly popular locations that clients have chosen when it comes to building their oak frame home?

A lot of our clients choose rural locations. The aspirations are for an individual plot with a few acres of grounds. Location is very important and a lot of our customers spend a great deal of time finding the perfect plot.

What is the most interesting project you have worked on?

I think it has to be the build of my own oak-frame home, which I very much enjoyed working on. I built my first house – a traditional brick and block house – when I was 22 years old and we lived there for around 30 years. And now I have recently built another house, this time from oak frame. It’s a barn-style structure; an extension to what was a very old farm cottage. I’ve increased the space from 1,000 sq ft to 4,000 sq ft so it’s quite a large structure and is extensively oak-framed. It has lots of vaulted roof areas and glazing within the oak frame, which is very popular with a lot of our customers. I’ve used weatherboarding, masonry and Welsh slate on the roof. I’m delighted with the result.

What is the smallest project you have ever worked on? 

We have built a number of small garden room structures, which are very popular. A lot of people are replacing their PVC conservatories with an oak-frame structure. We once completed an entire garden room in 24 hours. The beauty of oak framing is that it’s like a jigsaw and so is very quick to put together.

What has been your most challenging project and why?

Gaining access to the back of houses can sometimes be problematic, however we have the right equipment to get round these obstacles. We have designed some very interesting structures on difficult sites, which can be quite challenging. In 2013 we won Build It magazine’s best design for the use of oak frame for a structure that was built on a very difficult, sloping site. We enjoy a challenge!

What’s the most common reason why planning applications fail in your experience and how can you help at Welsh Oak Frame?

I think a lot of people find that the planning authorities won’t allow them to extend by the amount they had hoped. We always work with the client to come up with a solution that they are happy with though. When it comes to new builds, sometimes oak frame isn’t in keeping with the local area, but we are able to get round this by having the oak frame on show internally but cladding the exterior with whatever materials are required by the planning authorities. We can be very flexible and very creative in coming up with solutions to fit our customers’ needs.

Case Study: Welsh Oak Frame

Rian Property Development enlist the help of mid Wales-based oak frame design and build company Welsh Oak Frame to help create a five-bedroomed cottage in Godalming, Surrey

Developing a plot with very specialist requirements often takes specific skills and knowledge, which is why Rian Property Development decided to enlist the help of mid Wales-based oak frame design and build company Welsh Oak Frame to help create a beautiful, five-bedroomed cottage in Godalming, Surrey.

Rian Property Developments purchased the land in October 2010 for £800,000 and immediately started considering options in terms of companies they could work with. “The site was adjacent to two important listed timber frame buildings and on the edge of the settlement area,” explains Richard Griggs of Rian Property Development. “So planning regulations specified that any new building had to fit into the ‘farmyard setting’ around it.”

After researching and talking to planning officers, the company decided an oak frame home would be the best possible option for the property they wanted to develop on this site – as it would blend in well with the surrounding buildings.

We selected Welsh Oak Frame from other similar companies due to their hands-on design approach and their understanding of our requirements,” explains Richard. “We contacted them after we had purchased the land and they drew up outline plans for the planning process. We decided to use a local architect who knew the area to adapt the design and discuss the project with the planners, and after a fairly lengthy planning process, the project itself started on-site in May 2011.”

Although the company decided to work with a local architect to finalise the design and to liaise with the planning officer, many oak frame companies, including Welsh Oak Frame, offer a full design and build service, which will guide you through the planning process and help you out every step of the way. This can work well for some property developers, as the company will understand every aspect of building a home with an oak frame and will know how to get the most out of the material. But most oak frame companies are also happy to work in a team, if you’ve already chosen to use a separate architect that you may already enjoy working with.

In terms of this particular project, the planning department specified there had to be a varied mix of external finishes to fit in with the building style in the surrounding settlement area. The exterior of an oak frame house doesn’t always have to show the oak on the outside, it can also be clad with brickwork, or you can choose tiling, rendering, masonry or weatherboarding for the exterior, which will all work well with the ambiance of the oak frame inside.

Many specialist oak frame companies offer the option of a bespoke home that’s designed and built to your specifications, but they also usually have more general designs that can work on different site orientations and will keep costs lower – as you won’t have the architectural costs associated with building a bespoke home.

Rian Property Development opted for a fusion of two of Welsh Oak Frame’s more standard designs and then made a few personalised adjustments to this. “From a property developer point of view, the most cost-effective way to work with oak frame is to choose a standard design but perhaps with small tweaks to suit your project,” advises Richard.

The home itself, Ashstead Cottage, is 320 square metres in size. Downstairs it features an entrance hall and porch, a large open plan kitchen/dining/sitting area, a separate lounge, a small TV room and a study. Upstairs leads to five bedrooms (three of which are en suite) and a bathroom. The garage is attached, which is unusual for this style of house, but because of the scale of the plot this was the best option.

The interior of the home has a spacious feel and shows off the beautiful oak frame. It was created with a ‘post and beam’ structure and the open-plan main living area is an attractive vaulted area that gives real ‘wow-factor’. Understandably, the company found it easy to sell the finished home for a cool £1.65 million.

“We sold the property some four months before completion,” says Richard. A major benefit of oak frame construction to a developer is the ability to produce a stunning one-off design with a price premium.”

Another perk of building with an oak frame is that it’s very quick to erect. Building with an oak frame is basically like putting together a ‘jigsaw’ and the building’s ‘watertight shell’ is established faster and more efficiently – in one complete process. There is less hassle – as you don’t have to tip sand or store bricks and blocks on site.

For Rian Property Developments, Ashstead Cottage was a good investment. “With oak frame construction, the final product is always worthwhile,” concludes Richard. “And we would definitely use this form of construction again when the right opportunity arises.”

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