Ivory oak wood flooring in Devon's dream home

Aug 11, 2023

When destiny and opportunity come together in perfect harmony, it can lead to incredible outcomes. Such was the case for Lara and Mike, a couple whose journey took them from bustling city life to the tranquil beauty of Devon, where they built their dream home. Lara, an inspiring visionary and driving force behind this renovation project, shares the story.

- Could you please introduce yourself to our readers? Tell us a little about the place you live in, your work, and your family.

- I am Lara. I live in East Devon on the wonderful River Exe at @ourhomebythe_river with my husband Michael and our two young children. I am originally from Yorkshire but spent much of my working life in London as a talent manager. I moved to Devon when we had an opportunity to relocate for my husband's work as a dentist after he left the Royal Navy. We pulled our skills together and embarked upon a joint venture, buying a dental practice in Exeter and raising a young family. Michael worked on the clinical side of the business, and I brought a creative flair and changed up the traditional approaches to the way dentistry was provided. Thankfully, it was a success and became one of the leading dental practices in the UK. After five years of ownership, we sold it to Bupa and took our children on a once-in-a-lifetime trip around the world for a year! It was by far the best thing we have ever done as a family and had a big part to play in what would come next… designing and building our dream home.

oak wood flooring london
Images: Emma Solley.

- Building your dream home is an incredible undertaking. Can you share with us the inspiration behind this project and the vision you had for your ideal living space?

- Like many people, we had always talked about building our own home and what a privilege it would be to design and live somewhere we had created. After returning from our travels, we took some time to decide where home should actually be. We had fallen in love with many places on our travels, but England still felt like home. It was while weighing all of our options up that an opportunity to buy the bungalow across the street from where we lived came up. With estuary views and the potential to create all the living space we yearned for, it felt like serendipity! We gathered together all of our ideas and inspiration and set about engaging with Kast Architects.

We wanted to design and build a contemporary home that would be filled with light and maximize the views to the garden, estuary, and beyond. Michael was keen on contemporary, and I was keen for it to have softness and elegance, so choosing the right materials was going to be key. I wanted to pull inspiration from our travels, and I was pretty certain from the outset how I wanted our home to function.

- Your dream home undoubtedly reflects your personality and lifestyle. What personal touches or unique elements make the space truly yours?

- This is a really good question. I know that Michael just adores the balconies, sitting on them or looking at them from the garden. They really have been designed and built so well. I just love the Purbeck stone, and it is by far my favourite exterior detail. Our architects initially wanted us to go down a brick route, but I was passionate about bringing in the beauty of the Purbeck stone from the Jurassic Coast. We also had some of the stone engraved with all of our names, so when you look hard enough down the side of our house, you will see four different pieces of Purbeck with our names subtly hidden. I also spent months and months deliberating over the timber cladding. I was dreading the idea of patchy wet timber. So, when I finally discovered Sioox Treatment from James & Hatch and Sons, I just knew this was what we needed. A wonderfully clever treatment that accelerates the timber aging process to deliver a consistent weathered soft grey colour, with no transitional patchiness.

Inside, the North third of our cuboid-shaped home has all the building services such as a boot room, office, laundry, bathrooms, and storage. The South two-thirds of the cuboid structure is river-facing and houses the living quarters where we spend 90% of our time. The flow is one of the highlights of the house.

oak wood flooring london
Ecohardwood oak wood flooring. Colour: Ivory. Grade: Prime. Width: 230mm. Images: Emma Solley.

- When it comes to interior details and choosing flooring for your home, what factors do you consider? How did you decide on Ecohardwood oak wood flooring, and what drew you to this particular option?

- Once we had designed the house, we really felt an engineered oak wood flooring would work so nicely for the ground floor spaces and bring about softness and flow to the space. In our previous home, we used a lot of limestone flooring. It’s a beautiful product, but it does have a tendency to mark, so I was keen to explore the timber flooring route. With some help from a friend and interior designer, we set about trying to source long and wide oak wood boards that would bring about a sense of bespoke luxury feel at a price that fitted our budget. The oak wood flooring colour and texture were really important too, and twenty different samples later, we found just the right one with Ecohardwood wooden floor company.

John was so helpful and fabulous to deal with from start to finish. Disaster struck when our plumbers caused a flood right next to our newly delivered fresh flooring. It became absolutely soaked overnight and had to be replaced. John was an absolute diamond and sorted everything out with a new batch in no time at all. He was our savior and personally jumped in a van and hand-delivered our flooring straight from the dockyard, so we could hit a deadline and keep the build on track!

- It is truly delightful to hear such positive feedback! Could you share any tips or advice for homeowners who are in the process of selecting the perfect flooring for their projects? What should they consider before making a final decision?

- For me, flooring and kitchen choices are the most important things to get right. Furniture can be changed, and rooms can be redesigned, but flooring and kitchens are big items and not something you are likely to change up for some time. I would one hundred percent encourage any homeowner to just take their time when choosing flooring. Visit Ecohardwood wooden floor company and see things in the flesh, gather samples galore, and leave them in your space to consider. Try out ‘tests’ on your samples, pour some red wine or tomato sauce on your wood flooring samples, and see if it wipes off easily. See what the colour looks like in your space, as showroom lighting can really change the way a product looks. The most ideal flooring is one that looks fabulous and is really easy to clean too.

Practicality and durability (especially when you have a busy house of children and little doggy paws) were key in my mind alongside aesthetics.

oak wood flooring london
Ecohardwood oak wood flooring. Colour: Ivory. Grade: Prime. Width: 230mm. Images: Emma Solley.

- Are there any specific architectural or interior design elements in your home that you particularly cherish? What makes them special, and how do they contribute to the overall atmosphere and functionality of your living space?

- My friend, who is an interior designer, helped me with some beautiful design ideas. Ensuring the flow worked and, in particular, the extra-large boot room as we get the children ready for the day’s activities.

We worked together with Brockhampton Bespoke in Dorset to create some of my favourite spaces in the home, from our bespoke Laundry Room to the kitchen and larder. Shaun at Brockhampton was wonderful, and the craftsmanship of these rooms is just gorgeous. Having the flexibility to be able to incorporate functional but beautiful spaces like boot rooms, larders, and laundry rooms is game-changing to the way our home runs.

The laundry chute is a practical winner with the kids and allows the laundry to travel from outside their rooms into the laundry room below and not be carried downstairs. My husband loves the tech of the MVHR system and the Rehau Air Tube, where air that is cooled under the garden before it comes into the house. He also loves Tesla batteries, which he promises me saves money and doesn’t just look shiny!

oak wood flooring london
Ecohardwood oak wood flooring. Colour: Ivory. Grade: Prime. Width: 230mm. Images: Emma Solley.

- Were there any specific challenges or obstacles you encountered during the design and construction process? How did you overcome them and stay true to your vision?

- Oh yes, plenty! Building a house is like a rollercoaster; you must strap in for the ride! Building during a pandemic was particularly challenging; with shortages and cost increases everywhere and trades becoming ill, it was hard to project manage. We had Chris Laing, our friend and project manager, to help navigate many of these challenges, which we are forever grateful for.

We had to move the house towards the lane by 3m because we realised after demolition we'd sited it slightly incorrectly with too much space at the front that was eating into the garden. This required another planning application that took another 12 weeks but sailed through.

The back garden was also sloped, which we wanted to level, so we built retaining walls and backfilled with the spoil from the foundation dig, saving tens of thousands in spoil removal fees.

During the build, we knew we couldn't get heavy machinery into the back garden again as the house spans the width of the plot. So, we did much of the heavy landscaping straight after demolition to save us time and money later.

We built using Insulated Concrete Form (ICF) with Nathan from aspect Nubuild. It's big Lego blocks of polystyrene filled with concrete. It's super insulating and strong, accurate to build with fast! It comes from Norway, and Nathan is a master builder. He makes it look simple in experienced hands, but we know it's not.

- Looking back on the project, is there anything you would do differently now?

- Yes, there are a couple of things we would consider differently. First, we would factor in a plant room next time. Not knowing much about building at all, let alone super-efficient modern homes, we didn't realise the amount of kit the house would come with from three-phase electricity, networking hubs, Two MVHR units, Rehau air tubes, a Tesla battery and the usual boiler and tank. We would build a plant room in the centre of a house and preferably in a basement on a sloping site like ours.

Secondly, we would have loved to include a dedicated home gym area. While there is space in the house to fit one with some reconfiguration, it was somewhat of an afterthought, and we would have planned for it from the beginning if given another chance. First-world problems and all that!

- How do you strike a balance between functionality and aesthetics in your home design? Are there any particular design solutions or organizational strategies you've implemented to create a seamless living experience?

- Getting organised in the house design from the get-go is important. Just take the time to think about how your current life runs at home, and if you could wave a magic wand, what would a new way of life look like? There are so many clever ways nowadays to create practical and functional spaces that look beautiful too. Spend enough time on Pinterest or Instagram; the algorithm will flood your inbox with ideas! My main pet hate is clutter, so section everything up that you need to store in your house and decide where it will live and what is the best way to store it or display it.

One of my favourite aesthetically pleasing pieces was our kitchen drinks cabinet, it looks absolutely stunning, and it's super functional.

oak wood flooring devon
Photograph by Emma Solley.

- Based on your experience, what advice would you give those embarking on a similar renovation or building journey?

  • Find an architect that's right for your project.
  • Go and see lots of houses you like and nail down your style.
  • Be prepared that decision changes throughout the build cost money, so take your time in the early phase to get as much right as possible.
  • It makes a difference when you have passionate and committed tradespeople working on your project. So choose carefully.
  • Do your research and take good advice on IT, Tech and heating systems
  • Always keep back a retainer, don't pay full balances until you are satisfied with the fit and finish.
  • Keep A Site Diary.

- Could you share the best compliment your home has ever received? 

- As we are on a busy cycle path, we often get many passers-by who stop at the entrance to peek. We have people taking photos, and some even come onto the drive to have a good nosey. It does make me smile! We have had people knock to ask where we have sourced things from, and probably the nicest comment we ever received was this one: your house is absolutely beautiful. I could only ever dream of living in a house like this!

I think people admire its position, outlook and probably the Purbeck stonework, which gives the house such a lovely soft quality. I appreciate that our build won't be everyone's cup of tea, but all that matters is that your home brings you joy and that lovely warm feeling when you pull up on your drive or walk through the door.  

oak wood flooring
Images: Emma Solley.

- Home means different things to different people. What does home represent to you?

- Michael and I have lived in many homes together during his military career. I think we moved 8 times in 8 years at one point. We spent much time moving house in our 20s and 30s, not to mention Air B&B homes we stayed in during our family gap year.

When we embarked upon the build, we wanted the home to feel like a place of stability. A place to feel your best self and a place to feel inspired. We wanted a family home where our children would make memories to last a lifetime. Home isn't easy to define, but you know when you're there.

- Where do you typically turn when seeking interior design advice or inspiration?

- I worked with my friend Rachel from Ebb & Flow for lots of interior design, I wanted a simple, timeless palette, and I am a sucker for neutrals. We collaboratively pulled ideas together, and Rachel was brilliant at helping me achieve the vision. I spent most of my time creating folders on Instagram and Pinterest and building a huge picture of my style and inspiration. I also invested in plenty of home, garden and interiors magazines, plus some lovely inspirational books which now sit on my coffee table: Make Life Beautiful (Syd & Shea McGee), The White & Neutral Home (The White Company), From The Land (The Architecture Of Backen, Gillam & Kroeger).

Then there is a small starter list of some of the companies we used that I would recommend.

Ecohardwood, engineered oak wood flooring - ecohardwood.co.uk
Aspect NuBuild - www.aspectnubuild.com & jackon.co.uk/products/thermomur-atlas
Laing Bespoke Homes - laingbespoke.co.uk
Brockhampton Bespoke  - brockhampton-bespoke.co.uk 
James Hatch & Sons - jamesehatchandson.com 
Ebb & Flow interiors - ebbandflowhome.com 
Jack Benjamin - jackbenjaminfurniture.com 
Haysoms Stone- purbeckstone.co.uk 

- How do you enjoy spending time when you're not immersed in your work or home projects?

- I am creative and have always loved watching musicals at the theatre. I also love walking the Devon coastlines, catching up with girlfriends, spa weekends, and little getaway breaks with Mike. I love the Cotswolds, Yorkshire Dales, Peak District & the Home Counties where my sister lives. Great food, Music, dancing, a good podcast and working out.

- As a Yorkshire girl, what do you miss the most from city life? 

- I am originally from Brighouse, which is about twenty minute’s drive to the city of Leeds. No offence to Exeter but Leeds shopping and restaurants are just fabulous, and I always feel so at home when I return. My mum and grandma still live there, so when the diary allows, I nip back to get my Yorkshire fix! 

- Any recommendations for our readers who might be exploring the Devon area?

Devon is a wonderful place to be, and there are plenty of things to do and places to explore. Some of my favourite places to visit in Devon are:

  • Dart Farm Award-Winning Farm Shop & Café

  • Cycling along the Exton to Exmouth cycle path with the kids to reach the beach

  • Enjoying a family and friends day out on our boat at Exmouth Marina

  • Staying at Watergate Bay Hotel in Newquay for a family getaway

  • Going on big coastal walks around Thurlestone and Hope Cove

  • Celebrating special occasions at The River Exe Café, a fabulous café located on the estuary

  • Splurging on a visit to Lympstone Manor, a Michelin Star hotel

Follow Lara @ourhomebythe_river
Fact sheet: Ecohardwood oak wood flooring. Colour: Ivory. Grade: Prime. Width: 230mm. Images: Emma Solley.

For more information about Ecohardwood and our premium oak products, such as oak wood floors, oak wood doors, oak wood stairs, oak wood wall and ceiling cladding please contact us [email protected], 020 3759 0771

The product was of excellent quality and very well finished. Beautiful solid light oak, planed on all faces and accurate. Speedy responses to queries before I placed my order, and then a completely smooth experience of ordering and receiving goods. Arrived well packed - really excellent experience - highly recommend Ecohardwood Ltd
We used Dune brushed throughout our new house renovation. Absolutely love it. Beautiful tone, interesting details, hard wearing. I did wax the floors after installation as recommended which takes some time but makes all the difference. Highly recommend.
We recently collaborated with Ecohardwoods for our project in Ealing, and I must say, the experience was outstanding. A special thanks to Irmantas for his invaluable assistance. His expertise in engineered wood was evident in the quality of materials we received. The precision and quality of their engineered wood contributed immensely to the aesthetic and durability of our project. Our clients were extremely pleased with the results. Kudos to Irmantas and the Ecohardwoods team for their exemplary service and top-tier products. Highly recommend them for anyone in need of premium engineered wood supplies.
Highly motivated approach to customer service, exceptionally high quality flooring, delivered exactly on the day that was first estimated, extremely pleased and satisfied with the whole experience and will be placing another order in the next month or two for phase 2 of my flooring project.
Hamilford Design have used Ecohardwood floors across multiple projects. The product is incredible and the team are extremely professional and efficient. We look forward to working with them in the future!
Ecohardwood Ltd - Hardwood Oak Flooring & Engineered Wood Floors London
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