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‘We built our dream eco home’

jane tonkin house 29 2 12Hertfordshire couple Jane Tonkin and Kim Tompkins created a stunning Scandinavian-style, timber-framed house with impressive green credentials.

Building a house from scratch is a pipe dream for many people, but when that possibility became a reality for Jane Tonkin and her partner Kim Tompkins, the pair grabbed it with both hands. Jane is an artist specialising in printmaking, and Kim runs his own business nearby. They were very keen to create an energy efficient house, and after a lot of research, opted for a timber-framed property. Jane says: ‘I would have loved a modernist white-cube sort of house, but as we’re in a green belt area surrounded by woods and trees, we felt that a design more sympathetic to the landscape would be better. I love those New England clapboard houses and also the clean wooden lines of contemporary Scandinavian architecture, so that is what we developed with our architect.’ The result is an impressive cedar-clad, slate-roofed home for the couple and their two boys, Eliot, seven, and Jago, four, on a plot just under two acres, which had once housed an uninspiring bungalow.

Energy-efficient features
During the build, Kim, who is handy with a digger, made trenches in the back garden to lay down the pipework for the ground-source heat pump, which provides the hot water and underfloor heating in the house. The couple also incorporated a rain harvester tank which provides ‘grey’ water for the toilets and washing machine, a heat exchange ventilation system and solar panels on a south-facing roof, adding to the house’s eco-friendly features. ‘We talked to our builder about making the insulation as productive as possible,’ says Jane. ‘To increase the efficiency of the house, we sourced double-glazed wooden windows from Norway, where this type of house is a lot more common.’ As the couple were in the process of having the timber frame erected on the site, they found they were expecting their second child and had to quickly adapt the plans to squeeze in another bedroom upstairs.

Designer elegance
Since moving into the house four years ago, Jane has started her own greetings card business, and now has her cards in stockists across the UK and overseas. Fortunately, the house had an existing outbuilding which provides space for her business, Shine Publishing ( ‘It’s brilliant for me as I can walk across the garden and use the studio for designing and artwork and then have a space for storage as well.’ Jane’s background as a textile designer has also proved useful in helping to create an elegant and liveable interior. The use of tongue and groove inside echoes the wood used on the property’s exterior. The whole place is filled with light and there are enviable views of the countryside from the siting room windows. In winter, the family enjoy relaxing in front of the open fire. The garden is an ongoing project, says Jane. ‘Kim has built raised vegetable beds so we try and grow as much as possible, but we have to try and protect the vegetables from the deer and rabbits that often wander up from the wood at the bottom of the garden. We’re sorting it out, but it’s a slow process!’
Practical magic
The hallway of the house has a hardwearing oak floor which complements the cedar-lined porch wonderfully. To store logs for that lovely open fire at winter time, benches on either side of the porch have been created, making them more than just a seat. Inside, two tongue and groove cupboards are ideal to conceal invaluable storage for the family’s shoes and coats. ‘This was a must for me when we were designing the house,’ says Jane. The pretty grandmother clock is a 1940s model bought from a 20th century antiques fair, and fits perfectly into the small space available.

This article was first published in at home with Sarah Beeny in December 2011. [Read the digital edition here]


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