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As featured in Real Homes Magazine

Matt Watton and Anita Raben’s knocked down a run-down cottage to build a contemporary single-storey home that has been designed to make the most of its stunning surroundings. 

‘The house was falling down, and the garden was completely overgrown and full of oak trees.’ 

Fact File

The main focus of the new single-storey house is a glazed open-plan kitchen/dining/ living space with folding-sliding doors that completely open up the corner of the building.

The owners: Matt Watton, a fitness manager at a tennis club, and his partner Anita Raben, a public relations consultant who also teaches Zumba, live here with Anita’s sons, Zachary, five, and Sebastian, three. 
The property: A detached, three-bedroom new-build house. 
The location: Ottershaw, Surrey
What they spent: Matt bought the original property for £169,000 in 2009 and spent £350,000 building a replacement house, which has recently been valued at around £875,000.

Back in 2009, Matt Watton spotted a secluded half-acre plot of land that was advertised for sale together with a 200-year-old, single-storey cottage. The property had been renovated in the 1940s by adding a flat-roofed extension but was virtually derelict when he went to view it.

‘The house was falling down, and the garden was completely overgrown and full of oak trees,’ he says. ‘I showed it to Rachel, my partner at the time, and we both fell in love with the idea of living in such a private rural location – but we only had four days to act before it went to sealed bids.’ 

The short deadline meant that Matt and Rachel had no idea whether they would get planning permission to replace the derelict property with a new house. Their offer of £169,000 was not the highest bid, but the elderly owner sold the cottage to them because they planned to keep the large oak tree that stands prominently on the site. 

‘The vendor had grown up here and enjoyed climbing the tree as a child, so he hated the idea of it being cut down,’ Matt says. ‘We explained that we also loved the tree and wanted to keep it, without even knowing that this was a condition of sale.’ 

With their offer accepted, Matt and Rachel looked into renovating the cottage, which has no near neighbours and stands on Green Belt land. As it was in such poor condition it was going to be very difficult to create the modern space that they wanted, so they decided building a new house would be better option, and asked architect friends for informal advice before sketching out ideas. 

‘We searched online for local architects and eventually met with five of them,’ Matt explains. ‘One of them, James Spiteri, is a similar age to me and we hit it off immediately. He understood what we wanted instantly and we changed very little from his original design, which took into account the proximity of the oak tree. 

The main focus of the new single-storey house is a glazed open-plan kitchen/dining/ living space with folding-sliding doors that completely open up the corner of the building closest to the oak tree. A glazed link entrance hall connects this to the bedroom block, where the master bedroom includes an unusual, fully glazed shower. Materials used for the interior, such as the timber flooring, are replicated outside to enhance the indoor-outdoor feel. 

In contrast to the extensively glazed rear of the house, with glass sliding doors and flush thresholds that connect the house to the garden seamlessly and make the most of the uninterrupted views over farmland, the front of the property has been designed to appear more cottage-like, with smaller windows facing onto a busy road. ‘It was never about building the biggest house we could on the plot, but about fitting in with the surroundings,’ explains Matt. 

Green Belt policy restrictions meant the size of the new house was limited, but although the planning process was drawn out, with delays when planning meetings were cancelled due to bad weather, it also proved relatively straightforward, and the planners encouraged the idea of a modern design. ‘We didn’t push any boundaries as we wanted consent to come through quickly, so we stayed within the Green Belt planning guidelines,’ recalls Matt. ‘In the end, it took eight months to receive planning approval.’ 

Matt and Rachel funded the build privately, living in a caravan on site during the project, which they found extremely testing. Pipes burst during the cold winter and Matt contracted a chest infection that lasted for 18 months. Part way through the project, the couple took the difficult decision to split up. 

‘At one stage we planned to finish the work on the house and then sell it on, because neither of us wanted to live here alone, which was really disappointing after all our hard work. ‘I’d been friends with Anita for 15 years, and when we eventually got together as a couple it rekindled my passion for the house,’ he says. ‘Knowing that Anita and her boys would be moving in here spurred me on to finish the project, and Anita was able to get involved and make her own design suggestions.’ 

Anita is Danish, and the interior design of the finished house has a Scandinavian feel, with simple white walls and wooden or tiled floors. The two guest bedrooms have become rooms for Anita’s sons Zachary and Sebastian, and the house easily adapted to being a family home. ‘I wouldn’t have designed it any differently,’ says Matt. ‘It works really well for young children as they have plenty of space to run around and ride their bikes, with a large decking area.’ 

The highly insulated structure means that noise from the road is virtually eradicated and the house remains warm even though the glazed ‘open’ side faces north. Despite featuring so much glass, the building is energy-efficient and extremely airtight. For this reason, a ventilation and heat recovery system has been installed, which means that the interior retains a constant comfortable temperature. 

Living in a house largely made of glass can occasionally create privacy issues, however. ‘Our walk-in shower has glass walls on to the garden, so we do have to make sure that visitors aren’t outside when we’re using it, but it’s fantastic to feel as though you’re showering outdoors, and the children love it,’ explains Matt. ‘It felt brave including so much glass in the design of the house, but it’s definitely paid off because we get an amazing amount of light and can fully enjoy living in such a great setting surrounded by wildlife.’

Real Homes Author: Debbie Jeffery, Photographer: Nigel Rigden, Issue: July 2013. Used by kind permission. Copyright © 2013 Real Homes.Read the full article at: Realhomes Magazine

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