A four-bed 'eco home' designed in the footprint of a much older and traditional cottage has come up for sale in Guist, near Dereham, for £995,000.

Common Gate Cottage has been in Mark Noble’s family for decades – although it’s fair to say it’s changed quite a bit in that time, becoming a space designed more for the future than the past.

His family purchased the property in the 1980s, when his dad was working in Saudi Arabia. It was primarily a base for the family to be when they visited the UK; their grandparents lived nearby and it was a good opportunity to escape the Saudi heat, Mark says, but with its far-reaching views and idyllic location, it also became home.

“The little cottage made for a perfect base for us all to have time together as a family during the short periods we were in the UK, and Common Gate Cottage has always remained a constant in my life. We moved around a lot with Dad’s job, mainly in east Africa, so I’ve always thought of the house and Norfolk as home.”

Years later, his father retired to Kenya and passed the property on to Mark, who moved back into it around 18 years ago. “It was just as I remembered as my family home,” he says. “Familiar and homely. It was fortunately one of those houses that was easy to lock up and walk away, and likewise when we came home to it.”

At the time, the cottage was still very much in its original form. “The original house was part quaint – a Norfolk brick cottage – and part not so attractive, with a functional flat roof extension,” Mark says. “We had a small garage, which stored anything but a car, and a long garden with some fruit trees and flower beds, before the long-reaching views over the reed beds, water meadows and farmland beyond.

“With such amazing views, its most limiting factor was the small windows, which let in little light and certainly didn’t make the best of the location. The cottage was also heated by two night storage heaters and a Parkway solid fuel stove that we ran 24/7 during the winter – and even then you were lucky to get the house up to 16 degrees!

"‘It’s character building’, I seem to remember being told when I was younger, but I never was and still am not convinced!”

After settling in, Mark and his partner considered buying a farmhouse instead – “something with a kitchen where the pony could look over the fence,” he says – but instead decided to look at redeveloping the plot they already had.

He took inspiration from Scandinavian design, he says, as well as another more modern house he’d spotted nearby. After speaking to its owner, he was put in touch with the Cromer-based architect Jim Bond. “For Jim, the brief was quite simple, really,” Mark says. “Make the most of the view and therefore every one of the floor-to-ceiling windows, to frame the stunning views which change daily and seasonally, be warm and cosy, and have a heart to the house, where we could all be together as a family.”

Mark says they pored over the designs for two years before submitting the planning application, which was supported by both the parish and district councils, but the resulting design retained very little of the original cottage. It was more ‘Grand Designs’ than Norfolk knap – although they did keep the name and the original name plates, a “sympathetic nod to the past” as the house used to control access onto Guist Common. The bricks and rubble from the demolition were used as foundations for the new driveway and garage.

Crucial to the design was also its eco credentials, Mark says, which had always been a part of his upbringing. “Looking after what we have was a principle instilled in my brother and I when we were children,” he says. “Recycling, turning lights off, shutting doors and not heating rooms you weren’t using.

“We built into the house as many environmentally-friendly features as we realistically could, and in turn benefitted from a cheap house to run.” It’s fitted with underfloor heating, fed by an air source heat pump, and has solar panels to achieve a ‘B’ EPC rating. “We have an amazing EPC rating which I was told at the time was something very impressive – and it still is,” Mark says. “Although we are all now seeing the importance of looking after our environment and building sustainably, we were onto it more than 12 years ago.”

Mark and his partner, as well as two cats and two dogs, stayed in a “very small” mobile home in the bottom of the garden while the work was going on. It was completed by Graham King of Baker and King Builders, and took six months to finish, all to the expected budget – actually quite unlike anything you see on Grand Designs.

“Appointing a builder is probably one of the scariest things I have ever done in my life,” Mark admits. “You are handing them absolute trust to build the most expensive thing you are ever going to own, and it’s going to be your family home.” To this day, however, he describes the process as a “absolute dream”.

The ‘new’ Common Gate Cottage is architecturally striking, beautifully modern and very practical – but it’s also cosy and lived in, retaining the homeliness of Mark’s memories. It offers four bedrooms, three bathrooms and lots of free-flowing living space, including an open-plan kitchen, dining and living area overlooking the plot’s stunning views and a beautiful first-floor sitting room.

Given the chance to do it all again, Mark says he wouldn’t change a thing.

“The house just suits us down to the ground,” he says. “It is so practical and functional and makes for such a lovely family home, with large floor-to-ceiling windows in every room.” Because it faces south, the windows make the most of framing the ever-changing view, while a balcony leading off from the master bedroom on the first floor seamlessly blends the out with the in.

Despite so much glass, Mark says the home is “super warm” and snuggly in the winter. “It doesn’t matter what the weather throws at you, and because it is so well-insulated, even if you have a power cut, you only have to light the log burner in the upstairs living room and before you know it you are warm and toasty again.”

The ground-floor day room is very much the heart of the home – exactly as Mark wanted it to be. “It’s a perfect room to just ‘be’ as a family, where we can cook, support with homework, have dinner or watch a film together.” Alternatively, it makes a great entertaining space, offering long, expansive views down the garden and beyond.

In fact, the setting itself is a huge draw, overlooking a reed bed in the Wensum Valley and then on to wet meadows, rolling countryside and woodland. You get stunning sunrises, sunsets and an abundance of wildlife, and there’s also no light pollution. “You get the most amazing starry nights,” Mark says, “only beaten by the African Plains.”

And while the location offers a rare and uninterrupted view of the valley – which Mark says “won’t ever change because of what and where it is” – it is also well-placed to make the most of the county. Norwich and King’s Lynn are 40 minutes away, and the coast can be reached in under half an hour.

Although the house has been in the family for 40 years, in one form or another, Mark believes it’s time to downsize. “Our drive to move is absolutely a lifestyle choice,” he says. “We are striving hard to make sure that we channel as much energy into work as we do into ourselves, each other and our family,” which includes his partner, Lauren, and two teenage children.

They hope to spend more time travelling and exploring in their beloved VW Campervan, Casper, and at their house in France – although they also hope to find another home locally.

“Not only is Norfolk home for us both, but we both work locally and have family here.” Supporting Lauren’s two children through school and whatever they choose to do after that remains their first priority, Mark says. “Our other plans, dreams and ideas can be worked towards.

“If my life’s events have taught me one thing, it’s that life isn’t a rehearsal and everything happens for a reason.”

Common Gate Cottage, Guist, is on the market with Sowerbys at a guide price of £995,000. Call 01362 702199 to find out more.

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