Four years after Tom and Danielle's distinctive wavy steam bent home captured the hearts and imaginations of many when aired on Channel 4's Grand Designs, we've returned to the ancient Cornish valley on a rainy July day to discuss the highs and lows of the build process, how the house has evolved since completion and future plans for the property.
It’s been four years since Tom and Danielle finished building their memorable curvy steam bent home set in the heart of an ancient woodland in the South Cornwall. A project remembered and admired by many after its appearance of Channel 4’s Grand Designs, the 'wavy wooden house' has since become a true family home, reflecting the personalities and taste of those who abide between its flowing, curvaceous walls.
It's been two years since we last caught up with Tom and Danie about their future plans for the family home, we thought it was time to revisit the (rather soggy) woods and discover their post-lockdown home improvements, changes and updates…
How has the house evolved since it was first built?
I’d say for the first year after we finished the house we didn’t change much. But now we’ve been living in it for four years, and our three children are older, we been looking at making the space work differently for us. Fortunately, the way we built the house – with a steel structure and wooden dividing walls – changing this has been fairly easy.
Instead of just two big bedrooms upstairs we now have four and downstairs, instead of a separate lounge space that we found we were not using a lot (due to having a wood burner in the Gamekeeper's cottage – the old part of the house), there is now a master bedroom. We also changed a large under stairs cupboard into an en-suite bathroom for the master bedroom, the space is full of different angled wooden walls and is probably the most unusually shaped bathroom I’ve seen!
We’ve also found that we're spending a lot of time outside. So we decided to make some of the decking area undercover meaning we can still sit out there in the winter months, or even if its raining. The house is enclosed by a large canopy of trees and we love being surrounded by nature, come rain or shine!
What about in terms of furnishings? Have you added new pieces to your home since you started living in it?
As designers, we’re always working on and developing new products. Our home has become a place where we test and live with our prototypes before launching them and consequently, we have gathered a number of new products that weren’t part of the space four years ago!
Our nature inspired product range has really helped to bring the outdoors into the space. The mix of wood tones in the house, along with the verdant greenery, makes the space look alive and full of life.
In hindsight, is there anything you would have done differently during the build stage?
Lots! Neither of us had any experience of building a house before and we undertook the vast majority of the work ourselves. In hindsight, we would have opted to have skylights in the ceiling of the house to let more natural light into the space in the darker, winter months.
We also wish that we had not gone to the expense of installing underfloor heating upstairs – its not been on once! The house is so open plan that the heat from downstairs rises and keeps the upstairs warm even in the winter.
What is your vision for the property in the next few years?
We're really enjoying watching nature take back control of the site. When we were building the house we still had our design studio and steam bending workshops located in the woods behind us, which gave an almost industrial edge to the natural landscape. Now the business has relocated to Falmouth, we have our woodland back!
Saplings, wildflowers in the small meadow area and bushes have been sprouting up everywhere over the spring and we can see the house is going to be immersed once more in a thick canopy of woodland - like when we came to view the original cottage.
It's a joy to see nature come back to life as we are less 'productive' on the site and so lovely for the children too, that we aren't planning any extensions/or outbuilding renovations anytime soon.
- Tom Raffield, Designer.
What are you going to prioritise next?
We are itching to design some new steam bent chairs for the living room - so watch this space! As for the exterior, we're planning to re-oil the ash cladding once the weather improves a little this summer. We haven't treated the wood since we finished the house and it's aged beautifully and turned a really lovely silvery hue. We'll give it a coat of hard wearing wax oil to weatherproof it for the winter.
We get a lot of questions about maintaining the wood but to be honest, it's no more upkeep than having a painted house that you'd have to refresh every few years. We plan to sand back any areas that need it and just touch it up where needed - for us it's all about letting the natural beauty of the wood shine through, we don't want to cover anything up.
What are the highs and lows of owning such a unique property?
I think Danie would be in agreement with me saying that the low is definitely the cleaning (although not the staircase before you ask...!) The living spaces where we spend the majority of our time as a family are large and open plan which makes upkeep very time consuming - although a good problem to have I know.
"The highs for me are just being in the house or outside taking in the view. It's hard to put in to words what it feels to be staring back at a house you built yourself; it's a special and truly unique feeling that I don't get when I go anywhere else. The house has so much meaning and so many memories attached to it, it's still the best decision we ever made."
- Tom Raffield, Designer.
What is your favourite feature or space within the house?
Personally I love the wooden staircase and the huge Flock Chandelier which spirals above it. I remember when we got to the stage of decorating the space and I just had this vision of designing a statement, steam bent lighting piece above the stairwell that would be incredibly memorable. I'm still really proud of it (and remember every minute of discomfort trying to install it single-handedly on a huge ladder).
Danie loves where the old part of the house meets the new. The glass corridor we have in situ marks this point, it's a way to travel between the Gamekeeper's cottage and modern, steam bent extension. We managed to retain so many of the old characteristics and features of the property that can still be seen, that's very special to both of us and pays homage to the house when we bought it.
Finally, what advice would you give to someone planning a renovation on the same scale as yours?
You have to really immerse yourself in the project and be motivated by the passion you feel for the anticipated end result.
For us, the house we built was to become our family home, that vision throughout the build spurred us on endlessly through the difficult times. It's true what they say, building your own home really is very hard going, especially if you have a low budget and want to do as much of the build yourselves - something I think we underestimated a little, especially when you throw in a pregnancy! The excitement of what you are creating and going to live in keeps you going.
The sense of achievement when you start putting the furniture and lighting up is amazing! That is when suddenly the house is transformed into a home.