Building a Paragraph 55, energy positive, carbon negative, Passive House

A new build ‘House for Life’ in Devon

The planning process started late in 2014 and it was finally approved in April 2016 under the “Paragraph 55” exception (see here for an interesting explanation of that, and note that in the July 2018 version of the National Planning Policy Framework it became paragraph 79 and is now paragraph 80) after being presented to the Devon and Somerset Design Review Panel (see here). Construction began in October 2017 and it was a fourteen month build in the end, having lost maybe a month to the “beast from the East” and we moved in in early 2019 having “glamped” over Christmas 2018.

The architects are McLean Quinlan who only design individual homes and who are very much architects and designers; so as well as doing the overall architecture of the house itself, they designed all of the interior, as well fittings, finishes, and lighting.The very contemporary build is principally a single storey, flat-roofed, four-bedroom house with a partial basement taking advantage of the sloping nature of the site. The internal dimensions are approximately 300 square metres for the main floor and 100 square metres for the basement. The main floor has four bedrooms, with the rest of it being open plan but divided into various zones, while the basement has a large  living space and a study, plus the plant room and a large storage room. While being contemporary and clean, the external design of the house reflects its siting next to the tall red brick wall of a classic 18th century walled kitchen garden. It has a glass roofed courtyard-style room at its centre, and a “virtual path” running right through the house along the line of the former garden path between a gate into the walled garden and the gardener’s cottage on the other side of the house. It has a simple but elegant brick front, matching the old wall, with a discreet entry porch and a slim window opening to one side, while its most distinctive feature is a contemporary glass oriel window emerging through the wall. The rest of the house sitting behind the front wall is black rendered with a large proportion of triple-glazing. Construction is by advanced SIPS panels manufactured off site, nearby in Devon and consisting of a mixture of standard and bespoke panels.

The house was designed and built using Passive House principles, and has been officially certified by the Passivhaus Institut  – see here for more information, or go here for an excellent book about it. There’s much more information about this on the “eco” page of this site. It utilises air-source heating, a mechanical ventilation and heat recovery system, solar power generation, electric and thermal energy storage, super-insulation, triple-glazing throughout and low energy lighting. Its layout and orientation is designed to maximise the benefits of natural solar heating. The performance figures for the first two years show that it is carbon negative, energy positive, and running cost negative, so we like to think of it as a power station and a bank! It generates some 40% more power than it consumes. The water supply is from a borehole on site and there is a private sewage system, so all utilities are covered by the electricity supply.

House garden 0921

Landscaping has been designed and implemented by us (well, to be honest, by Eileen) and incorporates some 125+ newly planted trees to reflect its partially wooded surroundings and its past life as an orchard. At the front, the garden is more formal, echoing the symmetry of the original kitchen gardens, while at the side there is a small copse of Himalayan birches, and at the rear it is less formal and effectively merges into the woodland and meadow-like landscape beyond. In the front garden there is a new, lower wall opposite the old wall, using the same brick as the front of the house. The old wall has been under-planted with an abundant herbaceous border including shrubs for winter interest and espaliered fruit trees, giving passers-by a glimpse of how the original Georgian walled garden would have utilised its high brick walls. The front boundary of the plot  has been planted with a native hedge, which will hide the cars from the lane and partially hide the house itself. The hedge sits on top of a bank which has been seeded with wild flowers.

There is a parking area for several cars at the front of the plot, immediately off the minor road.

The interior is highly contemporary and relatively minimalist using natural materials such as wood, clay and stone and the highest standard of fittings and finishing.


The house was entered for various 2020 architectural awards, but some were postponed until 2021. We didn’t actually win any, but we are currently going for the “Always a Bridesmaid” award for collecting the most short-listings (9) without actually winning an award, but it is great to be recognised on shortlists in the architecture, design, and Passvhaus worlds, and in the UK as well as internationally.

Shortlisted (one of 10) in the Architects Journal House of the Year 2021 for the Manser Medal. 

Longlisted (one of 20) for the RIBA House of The Year 2021 (as seen on episode 4 of Grand Designs coverage of the finalists on Dec 8th 2021)

Shortlisted for the RIBA 2020 Awards for the South West region.

Shortlisted for the international Dezeen 2020 architecture awards for a rural home (the only European house in the shortlist of 5).

Shortlisted for the international Frame 2021 House of the Year awards (one of only two European house in the shortlist of 6).

Long-listed for the international AR House awards 2020

The architects were short-listed in 2020 for BD architect of the year for individual homes, including this one.

Finalist in the UK Passivhaus Trust 2021 awards – one of 3 in “small projects”. We didn’t win, but being finalists was praised as a great achievement for first-time Passivhaus architects and builders.

Finalist in the international Passive House awards 2021

Articles about the house

As with the shortlists, there has been a wide range of printed and web articles about the house in Passivhaus, self-build, design and interiors magazines, architectural journals, and weekend papers.

Passivhaus articles

Architects’ Journal


Pasivhaus Trust

RIBA Journal

Self-Build & Design July 2021

Weekend Financial Times

Elle Decoration Nov 2021 and Elle Decoration Country Volume 19


enki 45 May 2022

Hauser (Germany) Dec 22/Jan 23

And more……

“Pevsneresque” Review of the house

We had a very interesting visitor to the house late in 2022. He’s Peter Beacham OBE, who is an architectural historian based in Devon. Initially, he worked for Devon county council as its first conservation officer before becoming the national English Heritage Protection director, responsible for all listings in England, and he now has various retirement roles such as being on the architectural panel of the National Trust. He has written several books on various aspects of the architectural history of Devon and, in particular, he wrote the updated Pevsner guide to Cornwall’s buildings and contributed to the updated Devon volume (they are the definitive records of buildings in England). So we were very interested, and also a bit worried, in what someone who has been immersed in historic buildings in the SW for well over 50 years would make of such a contemporary house. He has kindly given his verdict in Pevsner style and luckily he doesn’t share our new King’s approach to contemporary architecture.

“The Walled Garden is such an accomplished project. The house is imaginatively conceived, designed with understated assurance, and brilliantly executed. It fully realises the potential of its constrained yet latently characterful site.“Both exterior and interior exude serenity. The approach is masterful, at first sight apparently a continuation of the garden walls. The gradual reveal of the interior, with its free-flowing interconnecting spaces, and the visual linkages with the garden and beyond, is so sensitively handled, the climax of the glazed South wall thrilling.

“The materials are beautifully employed. The brickwork, its bonding and generously-scaled mortar joints a visual delight – the pierced screens at either end of the glazed wall too an inspired touch. The craftsmanship of the interior is of exemplary quality, sustained throughout. And the gently rustic finish of the clay walls conveys just the right sense of ‘imperfection’!

“I think the garden, both in design and planting, is the perfect complement to the house. It uses the different spaces so quietly yet confidently, and the threading of grasses through them unites house and garden with the calm of unity.”