A family affair

Many parents would feel sceptical about letting their child design their future home. But for one couple in Liverpool, handing over the reins to their daughter turned out to be the best decision they made


Eddie and Colette Howard had lived in a 1930s semi in Mossley Hill, a leafy suburb of Liverpool, for almost 30 years. The couple wanted to downsize, and when daughter Jess, an architect in London, suggested they do a self-build, they jumped at the chance.

“With us both being in our 60s the idea of building a cheaper, eco-friendly house where everything would be new, really appealed,” says Colette, who runs a hair salon in the city.   

Location was important – the couple didn’t want to move too far away from Mossley Hill and wanted somewhere with plenty of green space.

One morning in November 2014, when Eddie was driving past Liverpool’s historic, Grade I listed Sefton Park, he noticed a ‘For Sale’ sign in the back garden of one of the Victorian mansion houses. “It was a small piece of land just on the periphery of the park, which is absolutely beautiful,” he says.

He took Colette to see it and they made an offer that day, which was accepted. The 253 m2 plot was derelict and empty apart from a garage which was falling down. There were also two large sycamore trees on the land.

Colette and Eddie were keen to build a house that was in keeping with the area, and so Jess began working on the design for a two-storey Victorian style house. The couple moved into a rented house and put most of their furniture in storage.

The planning application was submitted in 2016, however, the design was rejected due to height restrictions.

The planners suggested the couple build a one and a half storey coach house instead.

Colette wasn’t keen on the idea, but Jess came up with several solutions to make the house feel bigger such as open ceilings and increasing the height upstairs. Working full-time in London meant that Jess spent every spare hour she could on the project: “I was having Skype calls with my parents most evenings and weekends!”

Being in a conservation area meant there were strict rules around the exterior design features. The house had to have a slate roof, wooden sash windows and French doors, and a boundary wall built in the same or similar material to the adjacent mansion house.

The planners also had to approve the type of brick that the house was built with. This involved testing several different options until they found the best match. In the end the couple used Austrian company Wienerberger.

“If you’re going to be fortunate enough to build a house in a conservation area you’ve got to understand where they are coming from,” says Colette. “We didn’t put up a fight with the planners, we all got on well, with a bit of give and take.” 

After a few more submissions and a further 18 months, the planners finally agreed to the design. However the planning process had taken a lot longer than the family had anticipated. On top of the setbacks in the planning approval, Jess’s busy schedule meant that the project was becoming increasingly delayed.

Jess took a step back from the project, and her parents hired a locally based architect, Denovo Design, to help speed things up and put together the tender packages.

The family put the build out to tender to locally based contractors themselves. Jess admits they were slightly naïve when it came to budgeting for the project. As well as topographical and geographical surveys, the two sycamores had to be removed before any work could begin. This was an extra cost and added on time: “In hindsight we should have hired a quantity surveyor from the start to cost it all up for us.”

The couple chose a local builder, Absolute Developments, that had been recommended by a friend: “They were young and really forward-thinking – we took a slight gamble, but it paid off,” says Colette.

At this point Jess came back to project-manage the construction phase. As the build got underway the family decided to bring in a quantity surveyor to oversee the contract. “He was worth his weight in gold,” says Jess. “When you are heavily involved and friendly with the builders, like I was, it can be really difficult to tell them they’re doing something wrong.”

Once the builders started work, things ran relatively smoothly. However, the project hit a further delay when it came to installing utilities.

As well taking a long time to apply for, the installation required several road closures which the family hadn’t factored into their programme. “I massively underestimated the amount of time it would take. We didn’t realise it would be such a tricky job,” says Jess, whose advice for other self-builders would be to use one company for all utilities rather than separate ones for water, gas and electricity.

As well as adding time, it also added to the couple’s budget.

By now it was 2019 and Eddie and Colette had been living in rented accommodation for three years – a long way off their one-year forecast. “It was tough not being able to see the end at times. But we got through it,” says Eddie. 

The goal was to complete the house by the summer when Jess was getting married back home. With this incentive, Colette went part-time in the salon to focus on finishing the inside of the house. The kitchen, bathroom fittings and door handles were all sourced from local companies. Meanwhile Eddie, who works part time as a sports therapist, was spending his spare time hunting around reclamation grounds to find the right bricks and stones to build the boundary wall around the house. The wall is still not quite finished as the stones that go along the top have to be aged in order to abide with conservation rules.

Colette and Eddie finally moved into their new home at the end of June 2019 – one week before Jess’ wedding. On the morning of the big day Eddie and Jess’ father-in-law were still laying the lawn while painters and decorators were making final touches inside. “It was chaos getting it done in time but was worth it to get the wedding photos!” says Jess.

The finished result is a “dream come true” for the couple, who have noticed the positive impact the house has had on their lifestyle: “Everything flows – there is so much light and warmth.” This has been created by a frameless glass feature by local company GlassRooms at the back of the house which turns across the eaves. As you enter the hallway from the front door you see straight through into the garden: “It’s definitely got the wow factor,” says Colette. “It’s quite dramatic.” 

The house boasts four bedrooms, four bathrooms including an ensuite, a pantry, open plan kitchen and diner, an orangery and a snug, as well as a large utility room with WC.

Jess has incorporated Victorian architecture into the smaller features of the house, including detailing on the eaves, brick arched door heads to the front entrance and garage doors, four-pane sash windows with stone lintels and a recessed tile entrance porch with level access for modern living. The arrangement of the bricks on the outside of the house is English bond, reflecting the design of the adjacent Victorian house. “I’m lucky that Mum and Dad had faith in me and took a step back,” she says.

As you walk inside, the open, vaulted ceiling creates a real sense of height in the hallway and on the first floor, with pitched ceilings in the bedrooms and bathrooms. Each bedroom has its own walk in wardrobe and storage.

The ‘L’ shaped plot of land lends itself to the configuration of the house; all of the living space is at the back to maximise the light coming in from the south-facing garden. At the front of the house is the living room and snug.

The downstairs layout is open-plan and includes an orangery with a large, double-sided fireplace leading on to the kitchen/diner at the back of the house.

Eddie and Colette wanted to use local materials and trade wherever they could. The flooring in the kitchen and bathrooms was from a local company called Select. Three separate window manufacturers worked on the project, creating aluminium, wood and frameless windows.

With no money left at the end of the build, the couple reused most of their old furniture rather than buy new.

The house has proved a great conversation starter with the neighbours too, who walk past and compliment the house. “It’s made us feel part of the community,” says Colette.

Despite the ups and downs the house has proved a success all round: “It’s fair to say we had our moments. It was a huge ask, but Jess came through with an amazing house.”