Ranch dressing

Animal lovers Jules Hamilton and Nigel Shore have extended and transformed a Suffolk bungalow, using traditional timber cladding and a ranch-style feel to help the home blend with its rural surroundings


“Oh, you’re the wooden house with the donkeys!” is the response Jules Hamilton and Nigel Shore are growing used to when the topic of their Suffolk home comes up in conversation with local people.

Jules laughs when she says: “We seem to be a bit famous now in the village – but we’ve had lots of comments from people who’ve seen the house and like it, which is very kind.”

Nestled in a rural valley, the couple’s home today looks nothing like the pink bungalow that could once be seen on their one-acre plot, which is close to the village of Waldringfield and the River Deben.

For starters, at the front of the house, a sizeable area that stops just shy of a new two-storey extension is now a fenced paddock that’s the domain of the couple’s miniature Mediterranean donkeys, (who are named Chaos and Shambles!). 

The paddock’s proximity is a deliberate and charming design quirk of this reimagined property, designed with the animals in mind. Jules, who runs an animal welfare organisation and also breeds dogs, explains: “The donkeys are tame and they’re our pets – they come onto the outdoor veranda with us and sometimes come into the house. So, we made sure that they can get close to the house while still being outside, and also that the living room window is low enough for them to see us.”

Jules says the donkeys regularly attract the attention of people in passing cars, but the house itself gets just as much interest: “People have knocked on the door to tell us how much they love it or even offer to buy it!”

At least some of that interest is because of the couple’s decision to use wood to clad both the original bungalow and the extension. Jules says: “We’re in a very rural spot, and we wanted to use natural materials wherever possible.” A popular alternative to wood cladding that they could have selected is fibre cement cladding, which has a finish that looks like wood, but is a composite material made of cement, cellulose, sand and synthetic fibres. Advocates claim it can be fitted in less time than wood, and needs less maintenance.

Not everyone agrees with that, and Jules and Nigel, who work in the financial services sector, are definitely happy with their choice. Pressure-treated and planed, their Scandinavian Redwood cladding is guaranteed for 10 years, and in terms of aesthetics, will silver as it ages. Jules says: “We have had people coming and asking for advice because they’ve seen what we’ve done, and are doing something similar themselves.”

Making the move

The couple’s self-build story would be very different if they’d gone ahead with ambitions to extend their previous home, a semi-detached house in Halstead, Essex. However, in 2015, they sold up and paid £385,000 for the Suffolk plot, which Jules discovered almost by chance while looking for property in the area for a relative. They moved into the existing three-bedroom bungalow straight away and then began the process of coming up with redevelopment plans – and the finances to pay for it. 

Jules reveals: “I always knew that I wanted to build a house from scratch, and I had been gathering ideas like a magpie for years. We wanted to marry three design themes: a kind of a Texas ranch feel, traditional timber cladding and Cotswold stone.”

She adds: “It was also important that internally we have living space that was ‘broken-plan’ rather than open plan. That’s because we needed to be able to zone it a bit so that the space would work for just us two but also for when we had family here to stay.”

A local architectural design company helped bring the couple’s ideas and plans into focus but also, crucially, persuaded them to reposition the new-build extension at one end of the bungalow so that it would fill the space provided by demolishing an existing garage. 

The couple secured the services of a recommended two-man building team, who also shared the task of project management: “We were very lucky to get them because we were the last house they did before retiring,” says Jules. “Not only were they skilled at the tasks they took on, but they knew the right roofers to get in, and they introduced us to the most amazing electrician – they just had a working lifetime of good contacts that we benefited from.”

Work begins 

With the couple continuing to live onsite in the bungalow, construction work on the extension finally began in December 2019. While they had been fortunate to find good builders, they were then unlucky in the timing of their self-build project, as March 2020 brought the first Covid-19 lockdown.

Jules says: “It was a bit frightening at first when work stopped because none of us knew what would happen next, but eventually everything got going again in earnest. When the cost of materials then went up, we realised we’d been fortunate once again, because our builders had pre-ordered all the wood and plaster. In fact, we had to hide everything because of all the theft that was going on at building sites around the country.”

Although a lot of time was spent chasing various suppliers, construction of the extension didn’t suffer a serious delay, and was finished in September 2020. Activity shifted in 2021 to significant landscaping, installing wooden decking and stone patio around the house and creating off-road parking space. A wooden shepherd’s hut on wheels, supplied by Dutch company Tuin, was installed next to the house as Nigel’s office, while a stable block has also been built for the donkeys. 

Jules and Nigel’s preference for wood goes beyond the cladding that so effectively unifies the old and new structures of their new-look home, which is now more than twice the footprint of the bungalow at 221 m2. All the doors and window frames are wood, and they commissioned a bespoke wooden stairway at a cost of £4,000. 

Another wooden feature, and something that was a must-have when the couple designed their self-build, is the veranda at the front of the house. Jules explains: “Having a veranda – which is the main Texan design influence – was important to us, because we’re outdoor people, and we wanted a covered outdoor space we could occupy all year round to take in the view.” The veranda is topped by the same Spanish slate that roofs the rest of the house and which helps to visually unite the bungalow with extension.

A ‘broken-plan’ layout

Inside, Jules and Nigel have the ‘broken-plan’ layout they were after. The main living space takes up most of the extension downstairs, but also spills into a lounge area that is part of the footprint of the old bungalow. Beyond this, through a connecting door, the rest of the bungalow has been reconfigured to be self-contained with three bedrooms and two bathrooms – perfect for visiting family and friends.

Returning to the main living space, the standout features include the ground-to-ceiling double-sided log burner and the stylish kitchen with its white units and granite working surfaces. Delivering another of the design themes on the couple’s wishlist, there’s also what looks like a Cotswold stone wall, but is in fact cleverly disguised composite stone cladding that’s just as striking as the real thing. Behind that wall is another mini extension that’s home to two further spaces: a pantry with a walk-in larder and a utility room. 

Saving the most impressive space for last, upstairs in the main extension is the couple’s open-plan master bedroom, complete with a stone bath, ensuite toilet and shower, and walk-in wardrobe. It’s topped off by a fantastic countryside view through the French doors and a Juliet balcony. 

Besides industry-standard insulation, ‘green’ features at the property include underfloor heating, which along with the rest of the house’s hot water is heated by an air source heat pump. The pump cost £13,000 to install but a government grant means the couple will eventually be refunded £9,800 of that outlay. Roof-mounted solar panels to generate electricity for a new swimming pool are among plans for the future.

Crunching the numbers

Jules and Nigel borrowed £300,000 from Suffolk Building Society for their self-build, but had to find additional funding elsewhere when the final cost was £85,000 over that budget. Jules says: “Going over budget was by choice – we just didn’t want to compromise too much on materials and finishes. The result is a larger mortgage than planned, but we’re comfortable with that decision.” 

The couple are delighted with their reinvented home, which has now been valued at £1.25m. Jules says: “We like the exterior finish, and it caters to our outdoor lifestyle. Inside, the house delivers what we wanted with its very clever layout. 

She concludes: “When there’s just the two of us, we live very comfortably in the new-build extension. When we have family and friends here, we have the self-contained bedrooms where the old bungalow was – so as a property it works for two people, and it works for 10 people. We love it.”


“When they craned the bath into the upstairs bedroom. Not much else had been done in the room at that stage but I got in the bath – fully clothed – and looked out at the view. At that moment, I thought to myself: this is really going to be great.”

Jules Hamilton


“Probably when our builders had to quit the site at the time of the first pandemic lockdown. Covid was a complete unknown at that point, and we just didn’t know if they were coming back. That was when we were grateful that we hadn’t knocked down the bungalow and still had somewhere to live! But it was still a really miserable couple of months of not knowing whether we’d made the biggest mistake of our lives or if it would all come out right in the end.”

Jules Hamilton



David Hart at ABDS



Tricker & Broughton

(now retired) 


Huws Gray



NJS Joinery Ltd



Espresso Design London



Higgins Cladding



Opulence Stoves




Lusso Stone



RW Hall Flooring