Me And My Home: A form of pod life

It's an unusual man who thinks 'Space-Age features and Japanese gardens' when he sees a Devon bakery. Cheryl Markosky meets him
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Ben Huggins, 31, and his wife Hannah, 28, run the Huggins Design Partnership, which has produced, among other things, the recycled plastic People's Chair and thatched petrol stations in Africa. They live in a cottage in Shobrooke, Devon, where Ben has built a micropod in the garden

Ben Huggins, 31, and his wife Hannah, 28, run the Huggins Design Partnership, which has produced, among other things, the recycled plastic People's Chair and thatched petrol stations in Africa. They live in a cottage in Shobrooke, Devon, where Ben has built a micropod in the garden

After being gazumped first time round, we finally bought our two-bedroom cottage, a former bakery, in March 2001 for £62,000. It was fate really, because we were about to buy a flat in a Georgian townhouse that cost slightly more but it was pulled off the market. It is hard to imagine that a family of 12 once lived in the cottage. Upstairs was all one room, just divided by a curtain.

We ripped just about everything out, only keeping good original features. The bathroom and kitchen downstairs were both terribly grotty, so we cleared them, also losing the Baby Belling. If we were into "proper" property development, we would have moved out, but instead slept on a mattress upstairs. When you are doing the work in your spare time, it takes a bit longer to do the place up. All up, the restoration took us 18 months to carry out.

I specialise in construction design and problem-solving, having trained at Makepeace College in Dorset. Sadly, it closed down three years ago because of a lack of funding, which seems ironic now that they are crying out for skilled craftsmen. Some people lack the imagination to see a finished product, but for me, this is the fun part of any venture.

We visit lots of reclamation places and bought slate from a yard not far from here to lay in the hallway. I built the oak kitchen and lifted up the beams, because the ceilings were too low. We have two reclaimed Eames stacking chairs in the kitchen that I found when doing up the interior of a yacht in Southampton.

The trick with doing up an old place is to introduce mod-cons in a sensitive way. We have kept the old oak-framed window in the kitchen, for instance, but have put in a modern Baumatic oven. Naturally our designs are more contemporary, so there has to be an element of compromise.

I took out the door that led from the hall to the living room and put in a new hearth. We have an unusually big fireplace and the biggest chimney in the village. I constructed a new oak open-staircase. The carpet was literally holding up the old one. The cottage is fairly small, so opening up the void areas gives it a feeling of light. There is a sleeping platform tucked up in the eaves that my nephews love when they come to stay.

I believe you need to keep things simple. I kept the old doors and made Devon latches for them. It has been a real advantage being able to build things ourselves. Otherwise, the costs would have been totally prohibitive. But, as Hannah says, I do like to get my hands dirty.

We chose green Farrow and Ball and Crown sail-white eggshell colours - a bit corny perhaps, but the shades work well with the stone and wood. The bathroom has a simple slate floor with oak surrounds. What you hide dictates the shapes of the rooms - going round the boiler with wood gives it interesting angles.

There are still opportunities to add on to the cottage. I was keen to extend the kitchen and re-thatch out over the pantiled area, but didn't quite get round to it. It shouldn't be too hard for someone to do. You could also expand upstairs in the attic area, but it would mean cutting out the crossbeam and lowering the ceilings.

We use the contemporary micro-pod I built in the garden as an office and a spare room. It is a great place to entertain in the summer and to put people up - the white ottoman pulls out into a double bed. I have framed the great views of the hills through the window. The pod has a soft wood frame, pre-patinated copper roof and is clad in green oak and rendered inside. The sound system is a CD stereo from a car and I have used boat cables to hold up the desk. The roller ball mechanism on the door comes from a surfing shop.

We have come up with a Japanese-style canal, a kind of East-meets-West moat, with sturgeon and pondweed in front of the decking at the front of the pod. At first the neighbours wondered what on earth the whole thing was, but seem quite to like it. I have run the internet, phone-lines, water and electricity into the pod. It was quite a challenge building something in this setting, but the use of natural materials really helps.

This is a great area. We are only seven miles from the centre of Exeter and two miles from Crediton. If you are feeling up to it, you can walk over the fields to the Beer Engine, voted by Camra as the best local pub of the year. They brew on the premises and serve good simple food.

We are moving out to help fund a big barn conversion over the hill in Stockley Pomeroy that will be turned into a huge five-bedroom house with contemporary interiors. We thought it was time to cash in and buy something where we could add value.

The cottage and pod in Shobrooke Village are for sale at £190,000 through Wilkinson Grant & Co (01392 427500)

Comments