Upside down oak frame house in rural Cornwall


Project Background

Our clients had been looking for a plot for a long time and they found a site where a self-build project had been started. In this case the foundations were already in place. They contacted us because they needed to know whether they could build the house as per the planning permission, before they decided to buy the plot.

We carried out an analysis of the proposed scheme, the site and the work that had already been done, to determine the likelihood of delivering their project in budget. An important part of the analysis is understanding the client’s aspirations, their likes and dislikes and the non-negotiable and negotiable parts of the project specification.

We concluded that by working closely together with the client on the (previously approved) design and details specification, the project is feasible and on that basis they proceeded with the purchase of the site. Our findings meant they could secure the plot and be confident that they could complete the project within their budget.

The client instructed us to do a complete turnkey build, and have been enjoying working with Josh Wood, our lead architect on the project, who has shown them that even though the exterior is set, the internal layout can be completely re-arranged to create a bespoke house that will work best for them and suit their lifestyle.

The House

In this case, good design depends largely on the ability of the designer to recognize constraints and show willingness and enthusiasm for working within them. The design has had to overcome numerous limitations, and this makes working on the project very exciting. 

There were many issues with the design that had received planning permission. Firstly, the already built foundations were unsuited to an oak frame, neither was the layout and positioning of the external walls. This design seemed almost unbuildable with an oak frame and hugely costly. Secondly, the design would have failed today’s building regulations, particularly, having so much glazing, in respect to energy usage calculations.

“Our new design incorporates a simplified oak frame that is far more efficient and honest (it actually holds up the roof this time)”, said Josh Wood, lead architect on the scheme. “The external fabric is considerably more energy efficient, cost effective and sympathetic to the local landscape character, as well as tailored to our client’s aesthetic aspirations.

Together, at briefing stage, we formulated a concept for the house. We imagined that it was a compassionate renovation of an old Cornish Barn. Looking at this in detail we began to create a set of rules by which to form the architectural language of the proposal. This required that the house should consist of one large rectilinear open plan space built with the earthy rust-speckled local stone and held up by a magnificent oak frame with two other forms in submissive contrast to this main barn-like form. Frameless glazing accentuates the absence created by large voids where walls could have fallen. The stone is built up to a height common for old barns in the area and the rendered gable walls above suggest a respectful contrast between old and new.  The light in the space is playful and helps to define certain areas. A large void in the center of the plan brings light down through all levels and creates a magnificent oak and light filled entrance hallway.”


The design has evolved from 2 key agendas: to create an external appearance that is more in keeping with the character of the local area and to improve the energy efficiency of the proposal by reducing the amount of glazing and thus heating demand.

From the outset a direction was established to find a contemporary reinterpretation of local traditions. The form of the proposal tells the traditional story; a simple rectangular form adapted over time. It was important that the external materials also told this story. Here the adoption of substantial Killas stone walling suggests an ‘original’ rectangular form that has partially collapsed. The top of this wall is kept low to accentuate a horizontal ’long and low’ appearance, typical of the traditional houses and agricultural buildings in the area. The stone contrasts with distinct areas of render painted white suggesting later additions to the building.

The internal layout maximises the space by opening up the plan and enabling uninterrupted appreciation of a magnificent oak frame. The separate functional spaces within this are delineated using a variety of tricks; a light filled void in the centre of the plan acts to separate the kitchen from the lounge, a south facing gable end gives a beautiful, sunny yet intimate feel to the dining area, and the rhythm of the oak trusses distinguish the direction of movement throughout the house.

This house was completed in Spring 2019.

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If you have a plot, and would like to talk to one of our project advisors about getting planning permission, budgeting, building costs or anything else relating to building bespoke oak frame homes, schedule a call below to pick our brains!


The Complete Oak Home offer something rather different, not oak frame manufacturers but oak frame experts who design & build oak frame homes. 


The one thing that has enabled us to progress is I believe finding a company that is prepared to partner with us from the very beginning and take us through planning, design/costing, tendering and build through to completion (or to any stage along the way). The Complete Oak Home offers us a way of achieving our dream by undertaking those tasks for us. 


We have both had a good look at the designs and we absolutely love them. It hugely exceeds our expectations and for this we are truly thankful of your superbly impressive work! We are so excited to think that this could be ours - you are very talented indeed.


To find out more about our client-led approach to design, have a read of our blog posts on bespoke architecture, designing from a blank canvas and our client lifestyle briefing process.

If you would like to speak to our Project Consultant, Ged Brockett, and have a FREE phone consultation about your project, please call 01249 479890.