Breathing New Life into an Oxfordshire Farmhouse
"I used to turn up with a tray of Krispy Kreme donuts, which always went down well, it kept them sweet when I needed to request a change"
Michelle Niziol is a self-employed property management expert and as such is no stranger to finding homes and self-build opportunities for her clients, often before they even reach the open market.
So when Michelle and her husband Dave, saw the outside of an old farmhouse from the end of the long garden , Michelle knew instantly that she wanted to buy it and offered the asking price without even seeing the inside.
The plot was part of Whitelands Farm, an old farm complex that was being divided and sold as different lots. Just outside Bicester and close to the M40 Michelle and Dave knew it was the perfect location for a large family home that could incorporate all the things on their wish list. “We lived nearby in a large four-bedroom detached house we had renovated 10 years ago."
"I always wanted to design and develop my own home for the financial sense development makes and the desire to design a family home to my exact specification, using my talent for design” says Michelle.
The farmhouse already had a design scheme in place but Michelle had different ideas. She sat down with the builder and architect and arranged for the existing six small rooms to be reconfigured and three walls to be removed to create a spacious open-plan kitchen/diner/living room with exposed beams complete with original meat hooks.
Another room was doubled in size to create a family room complete with bi fold doors leading onto the patio and the lawns beyond, and a derelict outbuilding was rebuilt and incorporated into the floorplan to create a playroom for their two-year-old son Zack and a downstairs toilet.
Just one room remains its original size, a study with a massive oak beam in the fireplace, original pine floorboards and reclaimed furniture to tie in with the authentic original features.
“The builder who bought the entire plot was planning on renovating the house in its current layout, plastering over all of the internal stone walls and not exposing the full vaulted ceilings and beams. I wasn’t happy about that, but luckily the builders were extremely flexible and were happy to take on all of the customisations I requested, so we agreed to buy the house on the understanding that the vaulted ceilings and beams would be exposed,” Michelle explains. “It turned out to be pretty labour intensive and expensive, but it’s all been worthwhile.”
Michelle took an active role in project management, despite Zack being just seven months old at the time. She worked closely with the builder throughout, and was on site daily towards the end of the build, which had up to 40 builders and tradespeople on site at any one time. Michelle and Dave remained living in their existing home for the duration of the build. “towards the end of the development It was essential that I was on site regularly ensuring that I was available to respond to any queries as they arose Michelle explains. “I used to turn up with a tray of Krispy Kreme donuts, which always went down well, it kept them sweet when I needed to request a change."
Work started in February 2014, and the first job was digging out the basement to make way for the cinema room. This proved very problematic, and the basement specialists hired believed it to be an impossible job, walking out halfway through the initial digout phase. Michelle recalls the moment they left: “It was an absolute nightmare, the water table is high around here and so the hole in the floor kept filling up with water. When the basement specialists left site it was suggested to us that we would have to fill it in again, but we had gone so far, it had already cost around £40,000 so I found a new contractor at very short notice. It proved very expensive, around £85,000 in total, but it was worth it because we are down there every night, and Zack loves it!”
Windows, doors and the front porch were all replaced, and the exterior of the building was repointed. The extension of the family room means a flat roof above has provided a balcony to the first floor guest bedroom, and is surrounded by railings, a good place to take in the view.
Most of the walls have been coated in plaster, but there are some exposed stone walls in a nod to the original interior of the house, which had stone walls throughout. Roof beams were sandblasted and renovated, including king post trusses in the master bedroom and top floor rooms, all of which cost Michelle and Dave £20,000, but Michelle knows it was worth the expense. “Neither of us really like the traditional Farmhouse style preferring contemporary finishes and products, but we both felt passionate about preserving the authenticity of the house’s age,” Michelle explains.
The master bedroom ,originally three bedrooms, now incorporates a spacious dressing room and generously proportioned en suite. The latter is separated from the bedroom by a central partial wall and has two sinks, a double shower, and an enclosed toilet, all tiled from floor to ceiling. In the bedroom though the existing pine floors have been stripped and finished, which has achieved the look Michelle wanted but is not well insulated acoustically, meaning sound travels very easily. The dressing room is encased in wardrobes with a central island for additional storage. “I got a cabinet maker to quote on the wardrobes, and he talked straightaway about having purpose built storage for various kinds of shoes: wedges, stilettos, flats, and I knew then that he was the man for the job!” says Michelle.
Zack’s bedroom is also well proportioned and has his own en suite bathroom, whilst a third bedroom has a jack-and-jill bathroom, which also has access onto the landing. The top floor has two further guest bedrooms, and these share a bathroom, designed to be in keeping with the family bathroom and Zack’s en suite on the floor below. “I make decisions very quickly, which makes choosing products quite straightforward. I already have a vision of what I want a design to look like and I never spend hours browsing,” Michelle explains.
An intelligent audio visual, lighting and security system has been installed which has Sonos speakers throughout the ground floor “Neither of us really like the traditional Farmhouse style preferring contemporary finishes and products, but we both felt passionate about preserving the authenticity of the house’s age,” and separate gym, and can all be controlled by phones, iPad and computer both at home and remotely.
Michelle and Dave spent £80,000 on furniture for their new home, but Michelle believes she could easily have spent double that. “My business definitely took a hit because I had so much to do during this project and I was on site a lot. So we spent the money on things that really matter, and spent a bit less on furniture than I would have liked,” she says. Since they moved in, Michelle found she missed the extra work, and set up a new lettings business to fill the rest of her spare time. “I always need a project. If I’m not spending time with family and friends, I’m working,” she says.
Future plans include moving the boundary to increase parking, and building a large stone wall around the entire site. And she won’t rule out the idea of another project, already exploring the possibility to jointly manage future schemes with the builder with whom she built a good working relationship. “This house felt like home straight away,” she says, “but if the right project came along I would certainly consider it. I expected this place to make a loss, but due to market conditions, it’s actually worth more than we thought it would be.”
The front door is at the side of the property, opening into the entrance hall. Leading left and right from here are the study and large family room respectively. At the end of the hall is the open-plan kitchen/living/dining room, and Zack’s playroom is accessed from here, along with a downstairs loo. The middle floor has three bedrooms including the master suite which includes a large bathroom and dressing room. Both of the other two bedrooms on this floor both have access to a bathroom and the guest room has access onto the balcony. The third floor has two bedrooms in the roofspace, with a shared bathroom
Plot cost: £1m | Spent: £250,000 | Worth: £1.5m
What were the items on your wishlist?
Gym, garden, garages, basement cinema room, and plenty of space for entertaining.
What was the high point of the project?
Moving in and seeing the completed project.
And the low point?
The basement flooding was a nightmare, and a very expensive one.
What was your greatest extravagance?
The cinema room, it cost around £100,000 in total.
And your best buy?
The cinema room sofa – it’s modular and the only one we could get down the stairs, but we got it from a showroom as an ex-display and it was half price.
Anything you would do differently?
I would have the drive approach the front of the house rather than the side.
What are your future plans?
Developing my three businesses over the next couple of years, and I want to purchase a much bigger premises to house all the businesses. Then I will probably start up or invest in something totally different – I am always up for a challenge!
Do it, manage the costs tightly and be on site when needed.
Builder – Abbey Mill Homes | Kitchen supplier – Springhill Kitchens (01908 310833) | Kitchen appliances - Neff | Sanitaryware/bathroom products, tiles – Porcelanosa | Lighting system – RAKO | Cinema equipment – AV Custom
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They provide support with property development, finance, and property search and their finance team at IMS Independent Mortgage Solutions can help with any mortgage and legal requirements. With access to properties and developments through existing clients and respected agents not on the open market they can both acquire and project manage renovations, alterations or refurbishments in partnership with their team of builders, interior designers and bespoke furniture makers.