• The home – a detached prefabricated timber-frame family home with impressive environmental credentials – belongs to Duncan and Christine Penny.
  • It was built by prefabricated timber house manufacturer Baufritz and is situated in Cookham Dean; a small village in Berkshire.
  • The layout of the existing 1960s house on the site was haphazard thanks to numerous extensions over the years and, crucially, the house was expensive to run. In its place, Christine and Duncan wanted a contemporary and sustainable house that would better suit the needs of them and their family.


  • Obtaining planning for a contemporary new home on an elevated plot adjoining a conservation area was challenging. The solution was to build the house into the hillside site, and split it into three distinct elements beneath separate roofs to break up the volume. Planning officers recommended approval and permission was granted in October 2011.
  • Timescale was also a critical factor as the family needed to move out of their home during construction. The timber frame construction was prefabricated in Germany before being transported to the UK. Then the timber and render exterior was erected within three days, with the house complete and ready to move into soon afterwards.
  • The entrance elevation presents as two modest wings arranged in an L-shape. Slender columns support the first floor, giving the house a lightweight appearance. The main external materials here are white render and red clay tiles – a contemporary palette that nevertheless blends comfortably with the setting.
  • The garden elevation, on the other hand, offers something quite different and a much livelier composition. Here three storeys face the large south-facing garden, with a tall grey timber-clad section that juts upwards and contrasts with the pale render and clay tiles used elsewhere. A large timber terrace with a steel and glass balustrade runs across, with a glazed verandah that forms an elegant outside living space.
  • Inside, the main open plan space contains an entrance hall leading to spacious living, dining and kitchen areas. The feeling of space is enhanced by generous amounts of light entering the house from three sides through full height windows, leading to a generous series of balconies and terraces. To one side, a smaller living room can be partitioned off by sliding doors to create a more intimate space. Upstairs, four large bedrooms each have their own private bathroom. The master suite is particularly impressive, with full height ceilings extending into the pitch of the roof to enhance the sense of space. On the lower ground floor there is a wine cellar, music room and a large games room with sliding doors opening onto the garden.
  • Sustainability was a key criterion for the house, whose design exceeds Level 5 of the Code for Sustainable Homes. 90% of the demolished house was removed for recycling, while the prefabricated timber frame construction method minimised construction waste. The house is well-insulated using a thick layer of natural wood shavings, and carefully orientated to maximise natural light and solar gain during winter. External blinds reduce overheating during the summer. The house also has provision for solar hot water or PV cells on the main roof. Total annual emissions are a very low 16.64 kgCO2/m2.


  • The plot – which included an existing house – cost £465,000
  • The build cost was £1,000,000
  • The gross floor area is 379m2. The cost per m2 is £2,639.


  • Planning consent was granted in October 2011
  • Construction began in August 2012 (the house was prefabricated in Germany prior to construction on site)
  • The house was completed and occupied in May 2013

Learning Points

  • Obtaining planning consent in a conservation area is always going to be challenging owing to that additional layer of protection. However, early discussions with planning officers are always worthwhile. Working with planning officers from the earliest possible stage, provides a clearer understanding of what may or may not be possible on the site, ensuring that they are familiar with the scheme and are happy to recommend it for approval when the time comes to submitting a planning application. Planning discussions can and should be a positive and ongoing conversation, and time and effort invested in this stage will therefore be well spent.
  • One of the main benefits of prefabrication offsite is the massive savings in construction time. Once groundworks are complete, a house can be constructed and watertight within a matter of days – very different from the usual construction site. This reduces the risks of things going wrong on site, minimises disruption to neighbours, and reduces the time that owners may have to spend in temporary accommodation while their house is being built.
  • If timescale is a factor, prefabrication is something to be considered as it removes many of the delays and uncertainties associated with a traditional build. More time and thought is invested in earlier stages when many choices are made prior to fabrication in the factory rather than still being considered while construction is ongoing. But overall the time benefits are still substantial, and the construction phase is shorter and much less stressful.

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