A Self Builder's Viewpoint

View Blog

A Self Builder's Viewpoint

Dennis Dixon and his wife Rita have built the perfect new home in the idyllic surroundings of the South Downs. Here he describes why choosing York Handmade’s bricks was a crucial factor in the success of the project.

Dennis & Rita DixonRight at the start of our self-build project we realised the importance of getting the outside envelope of the new house right, not only from our own point of view but in particular from the perspective of the planners. The plot was situated within the South Downs National Park, an area where new building has strict planning constraints. In order to get planning permission, we had to choose materials that fitted in with the local vernacular. Flint was the obvious choice. It is such an abundant natural material in the South Downs that most of the buildings are made with it. We wanted a brick that would complement the flint, so we searched through the brick library at the National Self-Build and Renovation Centre (NSBRC), but nothing we saw was quite right until we spotted a brick wall at the back of the show house. I made a special inquiry and was told that the bricks were York Handmade’s special Old Clamp blend.

The uneven nature of flint makes it unsuitable for the detailed parts of a building, specifically the abutment with doors and windows and at corners. Even very old buildings use brick in these places. As a consequence, bricks were an essential part of the construction. But, in addition, we did not want to over-do the flint panels and, besides that, it is cheaper and quicker to build with brick.  

So, thanks to the brick library at the NSBRC, we had discovered York Handmade’s Old Clamp blend and to enhance the colour variation and emphasise some of the detailing, we added five per cent of York Handmade’s Thirkleby blend. Over the course of the build we purchased 20,850 Old Clamp and 1,047 Thirkleby bricks. We used the Thirkleby bricks for the stepped plinth courses, thinking that the darker colour would make it stand out.
In addition we purchased 600 x 50mm Thirkleby bricks, which were used to build the Inglenook fireplace inside our lounge. The smaller thickness is less imposing. I was pleasantly surprised to find that delivery could be arranged so easily, despite the long distance between Petersfield and York.  

Self Build BricksThe nature of the bricks really improve the look of the house. As the bricks are handmade, that means that every brick is different. The slight colour variation and the surface texture combine to give a pleasing and slightly rustic character. Unfortunately we were limited in the choice of mortar colour, which was governed by the flint. Otherwise I would have gone for a darker mortar which would have really enhanced the colour of the brick. But that is a problem specifically related to the South Downs.

Ultimately we were really pleased with our brick choice and would certainly recommend York Handmade to other self-builders. Despite the bricks’ craggy appearance, they are deceptively strong and we have had no problems with laminating. In fact, during the build, a number of people stopped to inquire about the bricks and I was happy to give them a sample to take away. 

Such was the success of our self-build project and the attractive appearance of our new home that York Handmade entered us into the annual competition organised by Build-It magazine, where suppliers can nominate customers for a number of different categories. We were shortlisted in Brick Built House of the Year category, but sadly did not win. Nevertheless, we are immensely proud of our new home and would like to thank York Handmade for the pivotal role they played in this very special self-build project.