Selfbuilder Diaries


Jo and Andrew’s dream New England-style home on the Dorset coast is finally taking shape after years of planning woes, and their original builder dropping out a week before demolition began! Jo takes up the story…

When we purchased our property in Dorset, we were living in Brisbane, Australia, and so hadn’t stepped foot in it. But as we were drawn in by its great location and beautiful sea views, we perceived it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. However, securing the property required numerous middle-of-the-night Skype conversations to convince the previous owner’s son we were the right buyers for their property. But, in 2017, it was finally ours.

Given its century-old vintage, the property suffered from persistent leaks, extreme cold, and extensive dilapidation. After seeing it in person for the first time, we decided that we’d achieve a better outcome if we knocked it down and undertook a complete rebuild, given the scale of work needed to bring it up to modern standards.

We returned to live in the UK a year later, appointed our architects, and thought we’d be demolishing the old house within a year. We we wrong!

Planning took two and a half stressful years – the planning committee were beyond slow, and it felt like our lives were on hold while we waited. The process included appealing to three refusals due to the council not following their process, engaging planning consultants, resubmitting plans and finally lodging a complaint to the council CEO. Despite all this, we finally managed to gain our planning permission in December 2021.

We engaged a different architectural practice to support us through the build itself. They have been great to work with, even when we probably drove them mad with our changes and endless questions! 

We chose insulated concrete formwork (ICF) as our build method and viewed a couple of other local ICF projects before finally committing. We chose to manage the build ourselves. This means that my day job is now sourcing trades, managing the timeline and budget, researching all things build related (we’re learning as we go along), and getting stuck in wherever and whenever!

We’ve experienced the highs and lows you hear of and see on TV. So far, the worst moment has definitely been our original builder dropping out. We’d just moved out of the old house into a rental, and the demolition team were starting the following week. The builder had not been responding to our messages/emails for a few weeks. A Sunday evening WhatsApp confirmed our worst fears, that we’d lost our builder – cue lots of tears and sleepless nights.

We carried on with the demolition and groundworks while trying to find a replacement builder and accepted the inevitable delay. Our new builder delivered us our superstructure shell at the end of 2023 and is now working on the house exterior, most importantly wrapping and cladding the house to become watertight. Our builder has been great at interpreting my ‘vision’ of a New England style coastal home, patiently looking at the many Pinterest images I’ve shown him and incorporating changes during the build.

When you’re self-building it’s really important to take all the pleasures, small and big, as these are what keep you going. I never thought I’d get emotional watching the first concrete pour into our ground floor walls, but it turns out it was a seminal moment for me – and happy tears this time! The day we finally got to stand on the second floor and saw the new and vastly improved sea view we’d gained by going up an extra level made all the stress and sleepless nights totally worth it. We’ll never tire of that view and when we have a bad build day, that’s where we head to remind ourselves why we’re doing this.

We’re currently fully immersed in the first-fix phase – equally busy but in a different way. We’ll be doing a lot of work that doesn’t need to be signed off, for example laying the underfloor heating, installing the stud walls, plumbing bathrooms, fitting the kitchen and decorating throughout.

When we’re not onsite, we spend hours online, researching things like smart technologies, designing lighting layouts and learning new DIY skills, as well as sourcing items for our home. 

It’s exciting to now have a ‘house’ to work on –  it’s intense; at times overwhelming. ‘Decision fatigue’ is a real thing and you need a lot of resilience to build your own home. We’ve still got a huge amount of work to do, but standing back and looking at what we’ve achieved so far makes me really proud and gives us the motivation to finish what will be our beautiful home.

If you’d like to follow our build we’re on Instagram @auster_icf_self_build