Can you tell us about when you moved in?
When I first bought the house, I got interviewed an awful lot. I bought off plan and I was forever being asked to give sound bites and be in photographs. I was the first person to move in and the first person to buy off plan, and so I became ‘the’ customer until more people piled in.
Kevin McCloud interviewed me on the phone. He was completely, you know – my hero at the time.
What was buying off plan like?
It came at a time in my life when I’d been living in Taunton for 17 years and my father died and left me a bit of money. My children had left home and I wanted a fresh start. I came across articles about this project and I just fell in love with it. I saw the drawings and I thought, yeah, I’m going to make a big change and I’m going to jump in. I committed to it about two years before I moved in.
Did you make any changes to the house?
I had the kitchen completely redesigned off plan, so that it didn’t get installed in the way that the other houses had been. My father was an architect, so I grew up being very aware of space and using space and I worked in an interior design shop many years ago, so I’m very conscious of space and environment. I enjoyed anticipating how I’d use the space and how I would adapt it for myself.
Has the house design worked for you for the last 16 years?
I’ve got a few niggles, but the house works, and I can imagine getting much older here and it still working. It suits me very well, its layout and its capacity. That’s what I’ve always said to people: ‘It’s so easy to live here’. Mostly everything’s in the right place, and there’s space and it’s easy to manage because it’s so well insulated and so on. I don’t have drafts or damp patches. Living in an Edwardian house previously, there were always drafts and little damp bits, or things that were crumbling or needed replacing. I’d never lived in a new house before, so that was quite interesting. It’s well designed.
You mentioned some niggles?
This thing about buying off plan… I’m very good at visualising plans and maps and so, up to a point, I could imagine what it’d be like, but I hadn’t realised how dark it would be in spite of facing south and how little light actually comes into the house from the south, and how small the windows on the north side are. That surprised me when I moved here. That’s the sort of thing that is a consideration, but this is talking about perfection and what would make it even better.
When you go on holiday, or are visiting friends, what does it feel like to come back? Do you feel like, ‘Oh, it’s really dark in the front’?
I love the skylight upstairs above the stairwell because the natural light comes flooding down. But the back of the house is very dark, although it’s always warm and comfortable. It’s never cold and damp. Never. So that’s nice. It’s lovely coming back. It’s my home.
What were you doing professionally when you moved here?
I was working in the college in Taunton in the Learning Support team working with young people with mental health problems. I still do a tiny bit of mentoring work for students at the college, it’s all on Zoom nowadays, but it’s just a few hours a week. I do quite a bit of walking. I’ve been leading walking holidays for women, which is something I’ve been doing intermittently throughout the year.
Were you attracted to this development because of your interest in people?
Heaven knew who my neighbours were going to be! I had no idea. It wasn’t one of those communities where you’re selected and there’s a process to go through. It was completely the opposite of that, but the prospect of meeting likeminded people and living alongside them appealed to me. It’s a risk, but the shared spaces and the shared management committee were all part of how it was set up. It’s the nature of this development. It’s not like a housing estate where we’ve all got separate units, and we barely know who our neighbours are. It was not designed to be like that. So that that did appeal to me.
It’s interesting from an architectural point of view because it’s since fostered this community.
There is something about the expectation that comes with the shared space and shared activities, such as in our meetings and shared gardening, that I have really enjoyed. I lived in a cul-de-sac before and knew everyone in every house by sight, but I didn’t actually interact very much with them. Here there’s an expectation that you will stop and say hello, or ask when the bin men are coming for example, we have a shared interest. We genuinely keep an eye out for each other without interfering, without needing to know too much. It feels very safe here. Very companionable.
I love the change that being here has enabled or you could say it’s just human nature to be connected to people around you.
I think it was a saviour for a lot of us during COVID – especially for a lot of us who live on our own. We spent most of the time in the garden, socially distanced, and it was actually a very happy time. I remember it fondly, but we don’t do that anymore because we’re all living our lives now.
What’s it like when friends and family visit?
It’s lovely when they’re here for the day because the children can just be everywhere and you’ve always got an eye on them. There’s space for them to run around. It’s unrestricted.
I’m not sure I could live in this house with several generations, or two generations or three because of the open space. It’s perfect for one or a couple, but if you had teenage children here, I think it’d be very different. But the family like coming here as visitors and that works well. They can just expand out into the garden beyond my little, tiny patch. I call it my little jungle.
It’s interesting. I always sit in this seat in the dining area, even when friends are here, I am reluctant to relinquish this position because I get the best view. I love the view, but I want visitors to enjoy it too!
That connection to nature is important to you.
I’ve always been very outdoorsy. So, one thing I love about this house is I can walk straight out the front door and go for a walk in any direction without getting in my car. That’s wonderful. It’s even better than I expected, for the fact that I’m in town, but so close to the countryside. It’s not super pretty, but it is peaceful. It’s real country. I popped out this morning to Tesco before you came. Walked through the field of cows. How lovely is that?
You were keen to tell us about the insulation?
I love the insulation, I always say to people the one thing that really works here is the insulation, the high level of insulation. The solar panels went out of date quickly because soon after PV tiles came in. They were superseded, but the insulation stands up and that’s in the physical building. It’s embedded in the build, so it can’t go wrong, so that’s really good.
Like many people, I get irate at builders and the government for not legislating further on the level of insulation to keep costs down and to keep people healthy. This house works and it’s the best thing about it.
What does ‘home’ mean to you?
A safe place that I’ve made my own.
Lastly, is there a possession that really sums that up for you in here?
These Thonet bentwood chairs, of which there are quite a few around the house. My father, when he retired, started caning chairs. So a lot of these he re-caned. Since then, I’ve picked up one or two. I’ve had them re-caned by other people. These chairs are lovely and light. You pick them up and you just move them with one hand. Modern wooden chairs are so heavy and they scrape on the ground. They’re horrible. But I love these chairs and they’re comfortable, and their design is timeless, good design is timeless.
The houses here don’t feel that modern and strange anymore. The trees have grown up. The garden’s grown up and so on…