The house that James built

For a builder there could hardly be a more important house than the one he builds for himself; as James Vickers of Complete Construction Services says, 'It has to be something of a show home. We can bring prospective clients here rather than intruding on people whose houses we have already finished.'

James, with his wife Selina and their two small daughters, now lives in this splendid country house built by his own company. It is traditionally-styled but completely new, and includes a number of innovative features which CCS clients have already seen and asked to have incorporated into their own homes.

The Vickers' house was built in the 'footprint' of an old one, which meant that James and Selina were constrained by planning rules to enlarging the area it covers by no more than 50%. They had to think long and hard about their use of space, but have come up with a design which more than adequately caters for their family.         

As you walk through, the sense of space is enhanced by the fact that the only place carpet is used is in the hall and in a converted attic room. James is an asthma sufferer, and says that having clean, dust-free timber flooring throughout the house helps him tremendously. The light reflected from its surface also helps enlarge the rooms visually to a remarkable degree.

The lounge, one end of which can also be used as a dining area when friends come round, has as its central feature a brick-built fireplace surmounted by a massive lintel beam. This was reclaimed by CCS from the old house at Braddan Bridge which they demolished and re-built a few years ago. The bricks they sourced from the York Handmade Brick Company.

Into the fireplace cavity is fitted a Euroheat Harmony iii oil-fired stove - these living flame appliances are so marvellously lifelike that you wonder why anybody bothers to haul solid fuel around any more. It is linked to both the central heating and hot water systems of the house, as is the Rayburn stove in the kitchen, a boost which makes the system versatile and ensures more than adequate supplies of heating and hot water. The fireplace design is a clever one which James evolved for himself; a light fitted into the top of the stove cavity illuminates a horseshoe-shaped 'window' in the brickwork above the lintel and any ornament or clock you might care to put in it.

This room is enhanced by what appear to be two enormous exposed ceiling beams, but they are not actually all they seem to be. A pair of structural RSJs have been concealed as rustic beams with scaffold planks, heavily distressed and stained to match the fireplace lintel. James did these two himself, but by the time they wanted to repeat the idea in the kitchen he had had enough and gave it to somebody else to do! So impressed have clients been, however, that CCS has already had to make more of them for other people's houses.

The doors are an attractive glazed design by Magnet, fitted with bevelled glass to allow light to flood from this room into the hallway.

Both lounge and hall are floored with random-width solid Welsh oak planking, with skirtings and architraves in redwood stained to match the floor. For the walls Selina chose Crown Orchestral Red, a lovely rich, warm colour, to pull the room together, and the curtains were made by her ever-helpful mother with fabric from Bon Fabrics in Douglas.

The mood in this house is something between a cottage and a slightly grander traditional house, so all the rooms have cornicing. The egg-and-dart design here was sourced from MFBP in Hills Meadow, and is actually plastic, but painted, it is completely indistinguishable from fibrous plaster and involves very much less wastage. The ceiling  roses, however, are real plaster, sourced from Classic Mouldings in Douglas.

The hub of the house, as with most homes, is the kitchen. The units here were manufactured and fitted by Mike Clark of Silverdale Pine from reclaimed Douglas fir. Some of the wood came from pews discarded from Lonan Church, and is over 200 years old. The work surfaces, which extend deep into the window embrasures, are in South African granite also sourced by Mike. It has a naturally high sheen and is very easy to keep clean.

A pine table for family meals, which fits in very well with the built-in units, stands on a warm-hued floor of terracotta tiles also sourced from the York Handmade Brick Company.

The lighting in the kitchen - apart from a repeat of the lounge feature light in the chimney breast alcove - is all from recessed fittings in the ceiling. 'We like the quality of light they give', say James and Selina. 'You can really see what you're doing, but there is none of the glare you get from fluorescent lights'.

In tandem with the spacious kitchen runs a snug little sitting room, with French doors opening outward into what will later be a conservatory. This arrangement is perfect for young families - anyone working in the kitchen has a full view through a glazed door of what the youngsters are up to, and small children can be reassured without having to come through into the area where cooking is going on.

'More and more people are asking for this type of family room', says James.

The oak flooring of the lounge flows seamlessly into the hallway, but the stairs are covered with a Wilton carpet supplied and fitted by Magic Carpets of Foxdale.

A grand shelving arrangement was built by The Village Workshop of Laxey. 'It was basically built to house a bargain set of Encyclopaedia Britannica which we picked up for £400 in a motorway service station - but it's useful for my rallying trophies as well', adds James modestly. He has a very large number of them.

He enjoys adding detail to his house designs and points out with pride the reeded architraves on the doors here, with small carved rosettes at the corners. 'It costs almost nothing to have these little differences', he says, 'and I think it gives the place a lot more character'.

But the most admired feature of this part of the house is the massive staircase, with huge balusters and much heavier turned banisters than are usually seen in modern houses. Made up by CCS from components sourced from specialist suppliers in England, it is also of redwood and has been stained to match the floor. Since it was finished two more of the company's clients have seen it and said 'Please build one for me!'

Upstairs there are four bedrooms and three bathrooms, and the second floor attic space has now been converted into a further large family room which also houses a pool table.

The staircase leading to this room is most ingenious. Not having enough space for a full-scale flight of stairs James was pleased to spot the unusual variation pictured in the English Building Bye-Laws Manual. He has now installed such staircases for a number of clients.

One of the clever things about this house is the fact that so many of the services are skilfully concealed. Wiring for sound and the discreet alarm system, for instance, has been entirely hidden between the ground floor ceilings and upstairs floors, and the natural stone cladding which covers the two main faces of the house conceals all the drainage downspouts. Even the vents from the lavatory soil pipes come out through the chimneys so that they cannot be seen, and James worked the drainage out so carefully that only two manholes have been necessary, as opposed to the ten or more normally required for a new house.