Visiting Speckled Wood at National Trust’s Swan Barn Farm in Haslemere


During the second phase of our renovation project in Haslemere, our clients took us out to visit the straw bale, roundwood timber-framed building used for accommodation for long term volunteers on this National Trust estate.

Speckled Wood is an inspirational building which was constructed by the National Trust in association and collaboration with the local community. The building is constructed from materials sustainably sourced from local woodlands and is designed to echo surrounding landscapes (—building-design-guide.pdf).

We built Speckled Wood entirely from timber grown on the National Trust’s Blackdown estate near Haslemere, Surrey. Named after a butterfly that frequents the local woods, the building is a roundwood frame of sweet chestnut, with larch wall plates and ridge pole. The chestnut shakes were constructed by volunteers on national trust working holidays. The building is used by long term volunteers/apprentices who then go on to work on other national trust land. By design, the residents should embody the essence of sustainability by living in speckled wood. Ben Law

Built by Ben Law, for pictures of the building process click here: and with Dylan Walker (

With timber shingles and the undulating straw walls this building has a strong organic feel, fitting nicely into the surround landscape. Straw bale walls can be built to straight lines and sharp corners but the curves and undulations work well here, creating a warm and inviting atmosphere inside. The thick timber window ledges, lime plaster and hand-built roundwood staircase make this a great space to live when volunteering for National Trust.

The short trip provided a strengthening break to get some fresh air during an intense phase of construction as well as the chance to see work crafted by the hands of several of our colleagues and friends.

Excavating in preperation for Ty-Mawr’s sublime floor system

In November Hawkland travelled over to Killgetty in Wales to work on the restoration of a large stone built farm house.

Our work was a small part of this large project that our client have taken on. Just over a year ago they brought this run down farm and have been working on it ever since. The main farm house is a beautiful stone building acting as the canvas to a collage of various eras and adaptations. The most unfortunate of which is instantly apparent in the above photo. The whole building, the walls around it and some of the attached out buildings has, at some point in it’s not so distant past, been cement rendered.

This over time has allowed the development of damp and mould growth within the building. The walls are solid stone with lime mortar and built directly onto the ground which allows for the movement of moisture up through the walls. This is okay when the walls are allowed to ‘breathe’ through the use of vapour permeable materials. However with the addition of the cement outside and gypsum inside these materials trap the moisture in the walls causing damp issues, giving rise to mold growth and the potential of reduced internal air quality.

The owners have already started to take off the cement from the outside and the gypsum plaster on the inside, allowing the walls to start drying out, although this can take a long time due to the thickness of the walls.

The focus for us and our involvement with this restoration was to help lower the entire ground floor level by 150mm / 200mm. This is to create space for the installation of Ty-Mawr’s sublime insulated limecrete floor system. 

The ground substrate varied widely in each room. We went from digging through bed rock in the first room, lifting and removing a suspended timber floor, a solid concrete floor in the kitchen and layers of limecrete, concrete and various other additions in living room.


With two of us on site and working for six days we removed over 13m2 of soil and rubble and levelled the floors out ready for the foam glass gravel to be poured in up to 120mm deep and compacted down to 100mm. A large scale renovation, not for the faint hearted but in the end this will be a lovely farm house.



Bio-aggregate Workshop: Neighbourhood Construction

Using a laser level to mark out where to cut the fixing points for the temporary shuttering.
Simon running through installation processes with some of the course participants.

Last week David attended a work shop on energy-retrofitting the traditional hygrothermal envelope. This included preparation, mixing and casting bio-aggregate mixture of hemp and lime onto existing masonry. The workshop, run by Neighbourhood Construction, taught the installation though kinaesthetic learning, a process that worked very well in understanding all the elements of delivering a project like this for a potential client.

Neighbourhood Construction also integrates some key principles that they are developing as a company. One of the first principles that underlies their approach is the shift away from static categorisation of people such as home owners / builders / professionals  etc, that may limit confidence and dialogue when looking at renovating a house, towards the concept that we are all Practitioners. A forward thinking definition that empowers the individuals.

The workshop also goes through their working model of project management for an informed renovation of traditional structures. This approach values a traditional learning style of constructivism or ‘learning by doing’, a refreshing antithesis to the prevalent, learning by listening, model of today.

Half way up and ready to re-attach the shuttering at the next level.

Starting with the Scientific Principles of Internal Weather (a very interesting theory being developed by Simon James Lewis), Thermal Envelope and Human Comfort, Neighbourhood Construction emphasises a knowledge-led approach to renovation. We touched on their Project Management Strategy that supports the delivery of an efficient and cost effective installation. This merged into on-site and off-site Protocols during the construction stage, which highlighted some really important considerations when working in a team such as communication, welfare, tidiness during the job and waste management. Finishing on People, a stage that talked about the importance of user centred design and planning, non-egotiscal management and how occupant behaviour can have a large influence on the success of an energy-retrofit in damp remediation.

COCA: Caerhys Organic Community Agriculture


Caerhys Organic Community Agriculture (COCA) is an agricultural scheme run for and supported by the local community. COCA members share delicious organic food grown in partnership with local farmers.

Next week we are working with Strawbuild to help rebuild the existing straw bale building at COCA.

Finished walls

Lime render - Hawkland
Finished body coat along the west wall
Lime render - Hawkland
Finished west wall and window details
Lime render - Hawkland
‘roughing up’ the window reveals for final render
Lime render - Hawkland
Julie checking detailing along the east wall

The client wanted a straight but slightly undulating finish. A combination of modern aesthetics, whilst still staying sympathetic to the natural irregularity in the straw bale walls.

The west and east walls are rendered in lime leaving the south wall to be clad and the north wall for the timber framed connection between the house and the existing studio.