Groundhouse Sheppey: The Hobbit Home

Case Studies, General

Based on the ‘Groundhouse’ concept in Brittany featured on Grand Designs, Groundhouse Sheppey is the first permanent home of its kind in the UK.

Designed and self-built by Heidi & Savas Pavlou (with the help of many others!), Groundhouse Sheppey seeks to inspire and educate as well as doubling up as a comfortable family home. The project has had to adapt to extremely tight building regulations, challenging the owners and builders as well as impacting on the design, systems and materials.

The positioning of the building makes the most of solar gain as well as connecting the inhabitants and visitors alike to the outside by means of tri-fold glazed units running the whole length of the front of the building. The project used waste construction materials, mainly chalk-rammed car tyres.

Three sides of the building are wrapped in tonnes of soil which provides insulation, habitat and is aesthetically pleasing as it helps the structure ‘disappear’. A third of the site has been dedicated to a community space, the first part is a woodland of commemorative trees donated by the Woodland Trust.

As you go into the property the theme of recycling continues, most of the kitchen/guest hub has furniture made of old pallet wood donated by H M P Stanford Hill. The owners worked in partnership with the prison’s Working Out scheme, the first stage of integration back into society for prisoners and a stepping stone for getting back to work.

One of the main features in the hub is a recycled glass bottle wall, with old bottles turned into bricks and laid in lime, the other a wall made from Sheppey clay, to demonstrate the resources already on site.

As you work through the house the theme of connection with natural resources continues. The main back wall of the hub/kitchen is made from Sheppey clay and sand covering the all-important tyres. The toilets and irrigation are run on rainwater harvesting from the extensive roof which also is destined to be another wildlife habitat.

Being encouraged to envelope the whole building with superior insulation and membrane to meet the highest standards of current building regulations, installing superior windows and energy efficient systems along with maximum solar gain and nature’s insulation has led to excellent SAP ratings.

The building control officer from South Thames Gateway Building Control Partnership stressed the importance of the building’s energy performance at initial meetings, and continued to reiterate this throughout the construction process, which has led to a low-energy, high-performance outcome and a beautiful place to live in and share with others.

Open dialogue and working together with building control was imperative, explained Heidi: “Instead of being told that we could not do what we wanted, the guidance from building control was how we could prove we could meet building regulation requirements. At each bridge we had to cross, we were told what those requirements were ahead of making sourcing decisions and work schedules.

“We had numerous site meetings and visits from building control, providing us with useful links and tools to help us to meet the stringent laws whilst trying to be sympathetic to our artisan approach

“Keeping in touch at every stage with building control was critical – we could not afford to build things in order to have to rip things down.”

Heidi continued: “What has been achieved here is proof that mixing non-standard, state of the art, community, specialists, open thinking councillors, communicable building control, nature, passion and resourcefulness can mean a great outcome for more than just the inhabitants.

“We opened our lives to accommodate volunteers from all corners of the world and the thing that all involved had in common was simply a care for the planet and the well-being of people. We have ended up with an amazing home and this is just the beginning.

“The Groundhouse Sheppey is a humble home in my mind and the finishing inside is very ‘homemade’ and far from perfect, but that is what makes it perfect and inspiring, it leaves you ready to have a go, not to be scared, to be creative, resourceful and well-connected to the great outdoors.

“Not only has this place included the community at large in its build, the intention remains a mission to educate and inspire the future generations when it comes to choices and environmental impacts.”

Groundhouse Sheppey was a shortlisted finalist in the South East LABC Building Excellence Awards 2018 in three categories: Best individual New Home, Best Inclusive Building and Best Educational Building.

Design team

Client and designer

Heidi & Savas Pavlou

Project team

Gordon Livesey, Mecserve, Kloeber UK Ltd

Building Control

South Thames Gateway Building Control Partnership

Further guidance

STG LABC Guide to Extending Your Home

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