Kirkwood Timber Frame

Paul and Laura Mowatt: Self-builders in Laurencekirk

Paul Mowatt had dreamed of building the perfect home for his family and after finding the ideal plot in beautiful Aberdeenshire, he turned to Kirkwood Timber Frame to get started on his self build journey.

As an experienced builder, Paul Mowatt had dreamed of building the perfect home for his family, after building their first family home 18 years ago. Paul has overseen numerous projects and created a vision for the home he wished to build.

Mowatt family

We recently caught up with Paul and his wife, Laura, and asked them to share more about their self-build journey, their experience of working with Kirkwood Timber Frame, as well as their advice to anyone who is considering building their own home...

Let's take a closer look...

Why did you decide to self-build and how did your journey begin?

Paul: “I built our previous home 18 years ago and had been looking for land to build a new home for a while. Laura was quite fussy with the plots I had been suggesting, but when I found this one on ASPC, I knew it was perfect for her. It’s close to a great secondary school for our son Morgan, and it turned out when we came to see the land, I actually knew the seller - so it felt like this was meant to be!”

Laura: “It was all Paul’s idea. His dream has always been to build a home again but none of the plots he’d found were right for us. He dragged me to another plot viewing, and I thought it was going to be unsuitable again, but when we got there, it was perfect. I could really imagine our family living here. The roads are quiet, the views are spectacular, we are near good schools and not too far from where we were living before which was ideal for staying close to family.

“Our house was also getting older and work was needed to keep it in good order - plus it wasn’t very energy efficient with oil central heating. We talked about it as a family and once the kids knew they would each have their own en-suite bathrooms, they were all for it!”

What did you do first, and what were your goals for the project?

Paul: “We wanted a really nice house for us and the kids. Laura wanted a spacious family home with a big kitchen and a large living room for entertaining guests. As our son, Joe, is now an adult, we also wanted to create a self-contained apartment and utilise the space above the garage for him to have his own independence.”

Laura: “We spoke with Kirkwood Timber Frame’s architect right away. Originally we wanted a bungalow, an en-suite in every bedroom and a self-contained unit for Joe, as we doubt he will ever fly the nest! We left it to Aaron, our architect at Kirkwood Timber Frame, to come up with the design after telling him what we did and didn’t want.

“The plot had outline planning for a 2-storey property rather than a bungalow, and Aaron has done a great job at giving us the best of both. Our living room, kitchen/dining area and bedrooms are on the ground floor, with a beautiful large landing and snug upstairs which makes the most of the beautiful views and what was originally going to be our eldest daughter, Nicole’s bedroom. During the build she decided to move out, so our youngest son, Morgan, has now claimed her bedroom and what was going to be his bedroom will become a gym/guest bedroom for when Nicole, her partner Jay and Aurora our new granddaughter come to stay.”

Tell us about the design process. What was on your wishlist?

Paul: “We searched the internet for inspiration on styles of houses we liked, looking at different layouts and coming up with a brief for the architect. He was then able to combine all of our ideas and produce the perfect layout, before plotting the house on the plans exactly where we asked.”

How did you find the process of obtaining permissions to build?

Paul: “Kirkwood Timber Frame took care of everything - from designing our dream home to dealing with the planners and getting a building warrant. It took a little longer than normal, as we had to consult Scottish Water about a bore hole, and the project was done during Covid restrictions, but we knew we were in good hands throughout the whole process.

“There was already planning in principle on our plot which helped, and meant that the house design sailed through the planning process. The only thing they asked about was where we were going to put the washing line!"

What route did you take to build your home, and where did you live during the building process?

Paul: “Being a builder myself, I wanted to undertake as much of the work as possible but had a lot of help from my dad, who is a retired builder, and my son, who now works with me. I’ve worked on Kirkwood Homes’ sites for over 24 years so I had experience but nothing compares to working on your own project! On the plus side though, I actually knew a lot of the other tradespeople who came to help me with my build. The team at Kirkwood Timber Frame were always helpful with material, which was a massive help in keeping things moving.

“We sold our house to fund the build of our new home, and my sister was kind enough to move in with my parents so we could stay in her house comfortably with the children.”

What kept you motivated throughout your project?

Laura: “Due to the pandemic, the sale of our house fell through and the land sale was on hold. It all felt a bit slow at the start but in October 2020 everything fell into place. Our house was sold, we had purchased the land and our planning permission and building warrants were in place.

“The financial side is the most stressful part. We struggled to find a bank that was able to help us with a self-build mortgage, as we didn’t speak with anyone until we were partially through the build. I finally found BuildStore and they were able to get things sorted and find us the best deal, although the wait for funds to come to us was really nerve wracking.

“To keep me motivated, I would visit the site regularly. I think seeing the build progress helped me to remember there was light at the end of the tunnel and our dream home was taking shape even through the stressful moments.

“I couldn’t wait to get everything cleared out and clean the place! Our daughter Zoe has been drawing faces on the glass doors in the dust and blaming the joiners - so we’re lucky to have a good team of tradespeople helping to keep the house tidy!”

What was your budget, and did you manage to stick to it?

Paul: “Our budget was £450,000 but we didn’t stick to it and have gone over it by £100,000.

We sold our property to fund the build, but we needed an additional self-build mortgage to top it up and found that the high street lenders were not very accommodating.”

Laura: “The cost of labour was also more expensive than we had budgeted for. Even though Paul is in the trade, we still managed to underestimate the costs so I would recommend being prepared to go over your expected budget. Brexit and the ongoing pandemic certainly impacted costs. In some cases these skyrocketed.”

What was it like working with Kirkwood Timber Frame and what stood out to you about them?

Paul: “Nothing was too much trouble - they were so helpful throughout the whole process. The price was good and the service from their architectural team, surveyors and designers was exceptional.”

What has been your personal highlight of the process?

Laura: “The kit delivery day was the best day. We all had the day off to see the lorries coming into our site and even though it was pouring down with rain, we didn’t care. We were so excited! Truck after truck came up the road and I could see our house starting to take shape. I couldn’t believe how quickly the kit went up - it was only a couple of weeks and our home was built and I’m very proud of how it has turned out.”

Would you change anything about your home?

Paul: “The only thing I would potentially have done differently would be moving our ‘his and hers’ wardrobes to add a window in its place, although we really are making the most of the views with every other window!”

What advice would you give to other self-builders thinking of starting the journey?

Paul: “I would say be organised with a spreadsheet to keep track of your spending, and try to start the build in spring. Due to when we began the process, a lot of the groundwork happened during the winter months and the site was really muddy. We wished we were able to start earlier in the year and then pause over the winter.”

Laura: “My advice would be to try and get the whole family involved. There were days when we were on-site shovelling snow off the floor slab - although the kids helped a little, they mostly had snowball fights!

“I would also say to believe in the experts you’re working with. When the foundation went in, the kitchen looked small, but now that the build process is complete and the kitchen units are in, it looks like a massive space - so I guess the lesson is to trust your architects and remember that your perception of the space will change as the walls start to go up.

“Last but not least - just do it! It will get stressful but it is worth it in the end. I’m now so excited to move in and really appreciate the time I’ll get back with my family!”

To find out how to get started on your self build journey, click here.

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