The Brief

The Association of Self-Build Architects (ASBA) guidelines on preparing a client brief are available here (PDF file link).

Formal Client Brief as specified to Justin Smith Architects, February 2013

Design Requirements
Fundamentally, the brief is to design a comfortable family residence which respects it surroundings and is adaptable to meet the requirements of the client and likely future owners. A few characteristics are particularly important:


  • Aim for Passivhaus certification (to be confirmed once the budget implications of that are understood) since this will reduce the impact of future increases in space heating costs and provide a comfortable, quiet, draught-free home
  • Aim for compliance with CSH Level 6 and AECB “Gold” criteria though expect to discuss the pros and cons of these (especially in relation to some of the other design criteria)
  • Favour reduction in future energy demands over reductions in embodied energy
  • Include some aspects of electricity generation (most likely Solar PV, or preferably PV-T) to offset the power consumption of domestic appliances, lighting etc. since affordability is improving all the time and the Feed In Tariffs remain attractive. Aim for something like 10kW of peak capacity.
  • Harvest rainwater and use this for WCs, the washing machine and for outdoor use

Most likely, good thermal performance will be achieved through relatively traditional masonry construction (for high thermal mass) with an extra wide cavity, excellent airtightness and careful attention to detail in both design and construction. Passive solar gain should be exploited as much as possible but overheating in summer is a cause for concern and will need careful attention.


  • Requirements change. Different people have different priorities. Flexibility is important.
  • Follow the Lifetime Homes design principles

Home Automation and Connectivity:

  • Invest in automated control systems for lighting, heating (what little there will be), ventilation and blinds
  • Integrate audio-video systems into the house (but the “intelligence” of these should be separate from the building fabric since it will tend to get out of date quickly and will need to be upgraded or replaced on a regular basis)
  • Adopt industry standards (such as KNX) and Open Source rather than using proprietary systems
  • Embrace the concept of Smart Meters and apply more widely, separately measuring Hot, Cold and Rain water usage and different categories of electricity usage

External styling:

  • Assuming the outbuildings are re-built in a traditional South Derbyshire farmyard style, having a strong contrast between those and a much more contemporary main house would be ideal (subject to planning approval)
  • Avoid anything which might look like a poor attempt to replicate a traditional building style


  • Use a small palette of quality materials
  • Avoid uPVC (windows, fascias, rainwater goods)
  • Avoid “imitations” – e.g. use real stone and real wood rather than stone-effect tiles and laminate

Within the main house, the layout should accommodate:

  • An open-plan kitchen and informal dining area
  • A living room area
  • A family room / play room area (potentially part of the open-plan kitchen area)
  • Ideally, a formal dining room
  • A ground-floor room that could be re-purposed as a bedroom (potentially the formal dining room)
  • A ground-floor shower room (for the ground-floor bedroom) also acting as the ground-floor cloakroom
  • A separate utility room to keep the washing machine and tumble dryer out of the way
  • A large home office, perhaps on the ground floor but more likely on the second floor (perhaps able to be re-purposed as a bedroom) with additional space (not necessarily adjacent) to act as a soundproofed and well-ventilated “server room”
  • A master bedroom suite, including en-suite bathroom and dressing room area
  • A guest bedroom suite, including en-suite bathroom
  • At least three additional bedrooms, preferably including en-suite bathrooms (Jack-and-Jill configuration?)
  • Family bathroom unless all bedrooms have an en-suite
  • Given the countryside location, a “boot room” or similar area near to the back door would be ideal

Within the outbuildings, the layout should accommodate:

  • Enclosed garaging for three or four cars with plenty of space to open the doors and perform maintenance (North barn)
  • Covered but open-to-the-air space for one further car, ideally with easy (covered) access to the house
  • Workshop space (East barn)
  • Garden storage space for tools and machinery, able to accommodate a ride-on mower
  • Further utility room space (i.e. brewery!) and a WC easily accessible from the garden
  • Assuming a log boiler is required as top-up for the heating (especially DHW) this should be located in a dedicated boiler room within the outbuildings, perhaps also housing the hot water accumulator tank
  • Further storage, perhaps in the loft space (North barn has evidence of an external staircase providing access to the loft space?)

Design & Construction Programme
There is no imperative to complete the build particularly quickly. The client understands that time and attention devoted to the design phase typically pays dividends later. It is also preferable to avoid building in the winter months, so:

  • Aim to start work on-site early in 2014 and complete before the end of 2014
  • Complete design, planning and tender milestones during 2013 in support of a 2014 build programme

Note that the existing planning permission was granted 2011-06-30 with the usual 3-year expiry period.

Overall build budget of £450,000 divided up as follows:

  • For the demolition and reconstruction of the single storey outbuildings (garage, workshop, utility areas, storage areas with a total floor area of approximately 200m^2) a budget of approximately £80,000
  • For the main house, assuming a floor area of 300m^2 on two and a half storeys, a budget of approximately £350,000 including all fixtures and fittings
  • For hard surfacing and landscaping of the courtyard, garden and the entrance gate a budget of approximately £20,000

Additional £50,000 contingency (which probably isn’t really enough…)
Professional fees will be funded separately; not included in the above.

Assume a relatively “hands off” approach from the client (with respect to the construction rather than the design) with a main contractor taking responsibility for the vast majority of the build based on a comprehensive tender document.

The client is likely to take responsibility for some minor aspects of the build. Most likely the home automation, monitoring and IT systems.

Plan the whole project as a single phase comprising:

  • The demolition and reinstatement of the outbuildings on the same footprint as today
  • The construction of the replacement house
  • The landscaping of the plot
  • The construction of a new gateway at the junction with Aston Lane

Assume that the re-surfacing of the access track will be completed at a later date

Development Constraints
There are relatively few constraints, especially since the plot is large and there are no other buildings in the immediate vicinity. However:

  • The plot is in Green Belt and hence planning permission is (will be) based entirely the the right to replace the house that was demolished in 2010 and to renovate the remaining outbuildings
  • There is no mains gas
  • There is no mains drainage

While there are no other buildings in the immediate vicinity the surrounding fields are relatively flat and the replacement house will be visible from:

  • Two or three of the nearest neighbours
  • Chellaston Lane (the continuation of Aston Lane) which is higher than the plot and has good views over it
  • Snellsmoor Lane on the other side of the plot. This is some way away but the fields are flat and the hedges are relatively low. The Dutch Barn next door to the plot is visible though not particularly prominent.

Any Other Items

  • While the client is not a dog person, the countryside location means that future purchasers are likely to be, so some provision should be made to accommodate one or more dogs, perhaps as part of the “boot room”
  • The client is a cat person. Passivhaus-certified cat-flap anyone?


  • The client is not a fan of bolt-on uPVC conservatories
  • Heavily glazed rooms integrated into the rest of the building are fine
  • Consider a heavily glazed connection between the main house and the outbuildings, for access in poor weather

CC BY-SA 4.0 The Brief by Marsh Flatts Farm Self Build Diary is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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