Brave new home

After an almost traumatic experience with her first self-build, Poppy Robinson bravely decided to take on another, conquering her fears to produce a bright and eco-friendly forever home


On the Lincolnshire coast sits an unusual but practical home, designed with sustainability and later-life in mind. While designed as an annexe to meet building requirements, the build has still achieved everything Poppy Robinson set out to achieve, and more, despite her nearly being put off self-building from her previous project.

She embarked on her first self-build project back in the early 80s. With her father’s help, she created a large, five bedroom detached house that has accommodated her family ever since. But while they loved the final result, she found the whole process extremely stressful, so much so that it took her almost “five years to recover.”

“It completely took over my life,” says Poppy, adding: “trying to juggle two children, a full-time job, and project manage everything, was just exhausting.” There were also complications with contractors: “I was constantly having to chase people who sometimes just didn’t turn up, and having to dismiss people who were incompetent!”

The incessant research and constant decision-making became overwhelming, and on top of the long hours, she was living in a poorly insulated caravan. “It drove me mad, and initially I had no intention of ever doing a self-build again.”

However, with her two children now having flown the nest and her being “semi-retired,” it was time for Poppy to start looking for a new home,’ her current place being too big for her to manage efficiently. “I wasn’t enjoying myself and thought; while I’m still fit, I want to move and find a forever home.”

Determined to not self-build again, she began searching for homes locally. But there was a double-edged sword with a house having stunning views and a sizeable private garden, as finding somewhere which would be as good as what she had was proving difficult. After months of searching, Poppy’s daughter and son-in-law, who had built their own home, made a suggestion – “If we can obtain planning consent, you can build on the land next to our house.”

Previously this wouldn’t have crossed Poppy’s mind, but having visited many “dreadful places,” in her house hunt, it became a more appealing prospect. “The decision to self-build was really taken for me. I realised designing my own place was one of the only ways I could get what I wanted.” So, with some misgivings, she embarked on self-build project number two.


As an experienced self-builder and having learnt what she definitely didn’t want from her lengthy search, Poppy went into the project knowing exactly what she was looking for.

At the top of her list was living in a ‘futureproofed’ home – a place that catered for her needs now, but which would allow her to live there on her own for as long as possible. “I wanted the facility to have easy rise stairs throughout as well as the option of installing a stairlift if need be,” says Poppy.

Ensuring the home is filled with natural light throughout the day was another priority. “I wanted the building to ‘follow the sun’ as it rose in the east and set in the west. Mainly because as you get older, you can’t see a thing!” With the site practically on top of her daughter’s home, achieving privacy was a necessity. Poppy wanted to ensure that they were not overlooking, or overlooked by, the nearby house.

From the outset, Poppy put a strong emphasis on sustainability. “I wanted a renewable heating system, and high thermal and energy efficiency wherever possible i.e. windows, doors, insulation etc.” Educating herself on the latest products and what was now available, she visited local new builds and self-builds with eco-credentials to inspire ideas, and help her find locally sourced materials to reduce the overall carbon footprint.


Significant in Poppy’s decision to embark on a second self-build was the fact that her son-inlaw’s uncle, a retired architect who designed her daughter’s home, offered his services to work alongside her throughout the process.

“He was able to sit down with us to draw up some initial plans that we took to pre-planning advice. This was an invaluable exercise as it gave us a feedback report of what was acceptable, and what needed revision,” says Poppy.

Following this feedback, it was clear the planning application needed further consideration, and architects Lincolnshire Design Consultancy (LDC) in nearby Louth, were recommended to Poppy. “They were a pleasure to work with,” she says, “listening to our needs and requirements, and coming up with innovative designs for us to look at.”

As the site formerly held a well-established farmhouse, it included a set of outbuildings that piqued the team’s interest. Originally the team earmarked the old milking parlour – a single storey red brick and Lincolnshire pantile structure – for conversion. “At first I wanted to live in the milking parlour, I would have been very happy in there,” says Poppy.

But a challenge was raised by the fact the site fell into a zone 3 (high risk) flooding area, meaning any habitable floors had to be at least 1 metre above ground level. “We haven’t had a flood here since 1953, so finding this out was difficult to comprehend. But you have to go with flood maps, you can’t get around it.”

Co-operating with the planners, the team rejigged their whole thought process, and realised that demolishing the outbuildings and building new was their only option.

Knowing of its sustainable benefits and shorter build time, Poppy was eager to build with a timber frame from the start: “I thought; ‘I’d never done a timber frame before, let’s go for it’.”

However the flood regulations also meant they were restricted in terms of where they could use timber. To solve this problem, the base of the home has been constructed using traditional concrete lintels up until ground-floor level (meeting the 1 metre requirement), and a timber frame then sits on top of this. “The whole building has been put on a raft, if you like,” says Poppy.

Another bump in the road came when the team discovered that there was a planning constraint with developing a residential building outside the authority’s Local Plan. But with LDC’s planning expertise, they worked out that if they met certain requirements, they could submit the project as an annexe.

Under the guidelines at the time, designing an annexe required the neighbouring property to have shared facilities. Therefore their plan was to incorporate shared amenities such as electricity, water, and garaging. Not only did this help meet specifications, but also ticked the box in terms of supporting multi-generational living.


Actively taking on the role of project manager once more, Poppy was determined to avoid the pitfalls of her first self-build, and so needed to appoint a trustworthy and competent team.

“I wanted a local contractor who was reliable, enthusiastic, and wasn’t hassled about putting in extra hours in planning meetings. I didn’t have to look far, because if I look out my window now I can see his house.” The chosen builder was Phil Winter of J.H.A Winter & Sons, who spearheaded the team and was the key to making sure the project was up to her standards.

To keep ahead of the game and ensure their choice of suppliers were made in a timely fashion, Poppy, her son-in-law’s uncle, and Phil held Saturday morning meetings every week (or fortnight) onsite, to agree a work programme over the following weeks and months.

By the time it came to construction (which began in early 2016), Poppy had already sold her house and was planning to rent out a nearby property. Fortunately however, her daughter and son-in-law conveniently came up with the idea for her to live in their front room during the build, which meant Poppy could be on hand for any key decision making.

“During construction, I would do all my research online in the evenings, and in the day, I would visit places such as other recently built houses, eco and Passivhaus projects, and installations of technology like ground source heat pumps.

With natural light being central to the design, finding the right window and door supplier was of the utmost importance. Poppy also wanted to avoid going overseas, however part of their design involved bi-folds, and “a lot of companies buy them from abroad and then market them here” – so she faced another challenge.

Then Poppy discovered Origin – a doors and windows supplier who manufacture all their products in Britain. Following a visit to their showrooms “out in the wilds in Lincolnshire,” Poppy was sold, and explains how their “enthusiasm and welcome was infectious.”

Origin supplied the two double panel bi-fold sets in the upstairs of the home, and the stunning five-panel set downstairs. Apart from the Velux rooflights, they also supplied the remaining windows as well as the front door.


The main entrance to the home sits alongside the three garages (two for the main farmhouse and one for the annexe). On entering – at the ground level – there’s a downstairs toilet, a boot and cloakroom, and direct access to the garages.

A custom-made ‘easy rise’ stairway, designed and made by the son-in-law and his uncle, ascends to the upper ground floor and the large, open plan kitchen/living room. “I wanted the next part of the journey to be an exciting passage, and it is!”

With the property being raised to adhere to flood resilience requirements, through the three, identical windows there are elevated views over the adjacent fields and farmland. “It is a constant joy to see the changing colours of the countryside,” says Poppy. Other glazing such as the rooflights, high cathedral window, and Origin’s five door bi-fold allows natural light to fill the space.

When it came to designing the kitchen, Poppy says she “could have gone for a very modern kitchen which on its own would look great, but in the greater picture of the open plan area with traditional furniture it could have stuck out like a sore thumb.” Instead, she selected a composite material with a wood grain finish.

More easy rise steps offer access to the first floor. The architects made clever use of the landing area here, incorporating an office/hobby space, a “relaxed” cinema area, and access to the first balcony. Also on this level are two double bedrooms, one with a shower room and one with a bathroom and dressing area with access to the second balcony.

As Poppy used the traditional furniture from her parents’ bureau, there was the constant task of marrying different styles and ages of furniture together. “I overcame this by paying particular attention to the open plan areas which I did not want to become a jumble of styles.”

As the team had to demolish the old milking parlour, an important design aim was to give a nod to it in the new design. Internal examples are the red ceramic tiles, and the downstairs toilet which includes a small round marble washbasin sitting on an original milk churn.


Externally, the home has been finished with red Ibstock brick – again reflecting the appearance of the old parlour – as well as larch cladding, and Lincolnshire pantiles on the roof. “Seeing the external materials gradually being built up was exhilarating, and confirmed that I had made the right choices.”

The ground source heat pump provides “constant, pleasant heat” throughout the house. The system is controlled in six zones, with the water coming into the house at varying temperatures throughout the year. The home also has high levels of thermal efficiency, with airtight windows and doors.

Poppy has now been living in her new home for a couple of years, and is overjoyed with the final result, after braving the self-build challenge a second time. “I always look forward to coming home and enjoying the wonderful views that the home has given me,” she says.

She says the three vertical windows in the lounge are one of her favourite features. “It’s like having three changing landscapes throughout the year.” Demonstrating the uniqueness and quality of the design, the project was runner up in the Midlands region at the Small House of the Year Award 2021.

Would she be keen to do it all again? “Only if the same support system could be in place,” says Poppy, alluding to the family help she had, as well as the rest of her team, adding “I am not sure that would be possible.” However, she concludes optimistically: “It certainly hasn’t put me off; it was a great learning curve that I could draw on. And I would like to have a go at a Passivhaus.”