Brick By Brick: 'It feels very contemporary'

Pam and Ray Gardiner's high-tech home proves that not all grandparents are old-fashioned. By Jason Orme
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The Independent Online

Unlike most retired couples, we decided to 'upsize'," says Pam Gardiner, who, along with husband Ray, has built a luxurious five- bedroom home on a glorious sloping site with spectacular views over the River Dee to the mountains of North Wales. "We had a large house anyway, but we wanted an even larger one to occupy our growing army of grandchildren," she says.

Unlike most retired couples, we decided to 'upsize'," says Pam Gardiner, who, along with husband Ray, has built a luxurious five- bedroom home on a glorious sloping site with spectacular views over the River Dee to the mountains of North Wales. "We had a large house anyway, but we wanted an even larger one to occupy our growing army of grandchildren," she says.

The Gardiners had self-built their existing home in the Sixties on a charming two-acre site. The new house was to be set below their old home - on the site of their tennis court and paddock. However, as it was adjoining a "Site of Special Scientific Interest" and was close to the centre of a charming village on the Wirral, gaining planning approval was problematic.

"It took almost two years," explains Pam. "English Nature strongly objected to any development but, eventually, they withdrew and we were in a position to proceed."

It was clear that any new home should make the most of the spectacular views and the Gardiners set about finding an architect. "Someone at the golf club recommended a local designer who was particularly good at getting planning permission," says Pam. "We decided to employ him for the drawings and the results are exactly what we hoped for."

The Gardiners were keen to avoid design traits often associated with retired couples - in particular the small, dark cottage crammed full of artefacts. "We have travelled a lot and while we wanted the exterior of the house to be fairly in keeping with its surroundings; it also needed to benefit from up-to-date, easy and comfortable living refinements, such as underfloor heating, sound systems, electronic entrance and security controls, modern lighting arrangements and contemporary bathrooms and kitchen," says Pam. "It really needed to be the best of both worlds."

"The housing market has been subject to a lot of change in the last 30 years and we wanted to make sure that we researched up-to-the-minute products and design ideas thoroughly." Living next to the site for the two-year build programme proved the most difficult aspect. "We employed a local builder to oversee the project," says Pam. "We often felt that we simply never escaped living on a building site. This feeling wasn't helped by the fact that the builder's estimates, both in terms of cost and time, were ambitious, to put it mildly. In the end we decided we couldn't stand any more of being around and left them to it and went to Spain for the summer. Thankfully, we returned ready to move in to the new home."

Despite the trauma, the Gardiners are very attached to their new home, which truly is a mix of old and new. "We have used many traditional building materials, such as brick, sandstone and slate but also oak fixtures; yet many parts of the home feel very contemporary," says Pam.

The sloping site dictated deep foundations but was also a real inspiration in terms of the layout, which is divided into five "modules" over three main storeys, all linked by a charming central curved oak staircase, made by a local joiner. The top floor is a "private comfort zone" for relaxing; the ground floor houses the main living spaces including the kitchen, while the family rooms, complete with space for grandchildren (each has already bagged their favourite room) are situated on a lower level. All living rooms are designed to make the most of the views to the south-west.

The centrepiece is a spectacular triple-height atrium that draws light into the south of the building and acts as a passive solar heating store. The large window compensates for the relative lack of light on the secluded north side, which has very few windows to minimise heat loss. The underfloor heating system provides all the heating requirements, which makes the attractive Danish multi-fuel stove in the lounge more decorative than functional.

The stove is just one of the many elegant fittings that Pam sourced - her collection of home interest magazines is testament to the amount of research she put in for the finishing touches.

"I'm delighted with the way things have turned out. Despite the heartache with the builders, we have achieved the home of our dreams," she says. "Things have moved on so much in 35 years, but I think keeping ourselves up-to-date with modern designs and products has been the secret to our success."

A full version of this article appears in the latest issue of Homebuilding & Renovating magazine, priced £3.50. A special trial subscription of four issues for readers of The Independent costs £10. Call 01527 834 435 Monday to Friday, 9am-5.30pm or visit www.homebuilding.co.uk/offers/indep for details

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