A futuristic family farmhouse

Paul and Maria Richardson constructed a home that combines the best of both worlds – integrating a traditional working farmhouse with the practicalities and technologies of modern living.

Nestled in the heart of the rolling Cambridgeshire countryside lies a traditional looking farmhouse – with a difference. This stunning, newly constructed home is built to Passivhaus standards and delivers a unique living experience for its owners and their family.

Unusually, the family farm did not have an existing dwelling but Paul and Maria Richardson had always outlined the perfect spot for a home, overlooking a protected nature reserve, yet adjacent to the farm buildings so they could remain close to the family business. Finally, it was time for them to embark on a labour of love to design and build a traditional farmhouse to blend in with its surroundings, with a high spec finish and gadgetry more akin to a James Bond hideaway.

Passivhaus design
The design process was a detailed affair working closely with their architect, Tim Christy, who empathised with their focus for the build, and their desire for a practical yet high-specification home suitable for their family needs.

Paul Richardson said:

“We always wished our new home to be a modern take on a traditional working family farmhouse, allowing two sets of family to enjoy the home yet maintain their own privacy. Additionally it had to be high quality, low maintenance, with high energy efficiency, yet take the opportunities modern architecture, design and materials offer in creating an exceptional living space.”

Various methods of construction were considered; traditional timber frame, Sips paneland Integrated Concrete Formwork (ICF) with pros and cons discussed for each method. After much research it was decided to use a bespoke system by Beattie Passive; a unique and innovative building method using a timber frame structure, the first building system to achieve Passivhaus certification in the UK.

This special timber frame construction allows a continuous layer of insulation to pass from floor to wall and wall to roof, providing a complete thermal jacket to the entire building enclosure, eliminating the effects of cold bridging. This unique build system uses simple ‘off-the-shelf’ products, providing an economical and quick method of construction and doesn’t rely on specialist craftsmen.

The unusual combined timber and concrete suspended floor construction with ground beams on concrete pads proved to be particularly suitable for the highly shrinkable clay conditions that existed on the site.

Great attention was given to the detail of airtight construction and final test results achieved less than 0.5 m3/(h.m2) at 50Pa. in addition, thermal image cameras were used to test the whole structure before being finally sealed.

Paul said:

“We even have a double cat-flap system using the external side door and interior hallway door to ensure no air can escape!”

With such high levels of airtightness, a whole house Mechanical Ventilation Heat Recovery unit was installed, drawing fresh air in via a 60m long below ground 450mm diameter ‘earth tube’ which pre-heats the air in cold months, and provides cooling in hot summer temperatures. The unit runs on minimal electricity, largely generated by the associated solar PV array installed on the adjacent farm-buildingroof. Domestic hot water is heated by two individual air source heat pump electric cylinders run during the day whilst the sun is out and stored for night-time use. There are even three wood burners installed, more for aesthetics than as a heating source, with air tightness maintained due to the air flow channelled via a separate underfloor pipe.

Clayboard was used instead of plasterboard for ceilings, having the ability to absorb heat during the day and release it at night. Thermal mass is also created by the internal fair-faced brick walls of the large solar space and large areas of stone flooring, absorbing and moderating heat and helping cooling in the summer.

The farmhouse is orientated to generally face south and west with the main fenestration able to gain maximum amount of sunlight. The largest windows are shaded with zinc-clad canopies at ground floor and with extra large eaves at first floor level. This provides protection from the high summer sun, but allows lowlevel winter sun to penetrate deep into the house plan. There are large areas of glazing to provide good views out and create naturally light interiors, and all windows are aluminium clad high-performance timber frame and triple glazed.

The owners have also noticed a significant difference in the internal air quality. Maria smiles as she highlights there is almost no dust:

“Despite having animals and five members of the family living here, the MVHR system has given us a virtually dust-free home. An utter joy when it comes to the task of cleaning!”

One team
Taking on such an extensive build was not for the faint hearted yet it was made considerably easier with the unwavering support of the entire network of contractors. Paul commented:

“We doubt that many projects have been so collaborative in their nature. As clients we could not possibly have designed the living space we knew we wanted but our architect Tim, succeeded in incorporating our better ideas, injecting his own creative suggestions and strategically removing our less practical proposals. When we chose the Beattie Passive design, the original drawings had to be slightly re-drafted and the Beattie team joined us wholeheartedly. Even during the build process the spirit of collaboration extended to all the specialist trades. We are contented clients who shall be lifelong friends of their architect and builder.”

Gracious gardens
With a large, sweeping patio area accessed via the expansive kitchen dining area, the views over the garden are enchanting. The area adjacent to the patio has been transformed from a bare patch of earth, to an enviable vegetable garden with herbs and produce close at hand for culinary entertaining. Shelter from a westerly wind is provided by the picturesque treeline yet Maria’s pride and joy is her new greenhouse, built on the footings of an old farm structure.

She says:

“I spend almost every day in here, planting, repotting, watering and planning what to grow next. And when it gets too hot, I just head for the house knowing that without exception, it will be the perfect temperature.”

High-spec interior
The interior of the farmhouse has been lovingly designed and is finished with exceptional attention to detail and exquisite choices of fixtures and fittings throughout. From the bespoke granite washstand in the guest cloakroom through to the hand fitted oak kitchen, the results are truly spectacular.

Paul says:

“The joy of designing your own home is creating the perfect space which will work for your lifestyle, whilst integrating every conceivable dream gadget. We love everything from the downstairs wet room for washing muddy boots and dogs, to changing music channels from anywhere in the house with just a touch of a button.”

Lighting was a key factor in maintaining the focus on energy efficiency, with both technical and decorative lighting utilising 100 per cent low energy lamps using LED colour changing technology, together with some low energy compact fluorescent fittings. All light fittings are dimmable, allowing for the creation of stunning night-time effects.

Hi-tech hub
With the focus around a farmhouse for the future, technology was an integral part of the design stage. “We love music and film, so this was the perfect opportunity to incorporate the latest in audio and visual technology throughout the house,” commented Maria who is in charge of the ‘hi-tech hub’ conveniently tucked away in the attic.

Working with a technical supplier to realise their vision of a smart, connected home, they now enjoy multi-room AV integration, lighting, blind automation and Networking, with music in every room, mood lighting and even a hidden ‘stealth’ cinema in the drawing room. All controllable from one device for the ultimate blend of convenience and luxury.

Even the heat generated from the technology is utilised with a duct installed in the attic room so that the warm air that spills out mixes with the general re-circulating MVHR system, allowing the heat to transfer to other parts of the house.

There is no doubt that Paul and Maria have maximised the enhanced living environment provided by their super-insulated home. From Egyptian stone floors and Italian chandeliers, to remote control blinds and mood lighting, every inch of this extraordinary home dovetails beautifully.


  • Architect: Tim Christy
  • Timber Frame Build: Beattie Passive
  • Bathrooms: C P Hart
  • Kitchen: Mark Wilkinson Furniture
  • Paint Finishes: Faux Creation
  • Fireplaces: Anglia Fireplaces & Design Ltd
  • Electrical: Avocet Electrical Technology
  • Audio/Vision Technology: Martins Hifi
  • Blinds: Niche Blinds
  • Staircases: David Smith Staircases
  • Lighting: Lighting Sensations
  • Windows: Redfen Windows
  • MVRH System: Total Home Environment
  • Specialist Stone and Porcelain Tilers: James Blackaller & Ronnie Phillips