A heart of oak


Already in receipt of several awards, Hornsey Rise in Leicestershire was developed to meet strong demand for luxury detached homes with a more ‘intimate’ community feel. Lee Harris of developer Springbourne Homes explains to Jack Wooler how the site’s rich history and ecology helped inform the project’s oakframed designs.

Hornsey Rise, in the hamlet of Wellsborough just outside Market Bosworth, Leicestershire, comprises 19 homes, from three up to six bedrooms, with generous gross internal areas running from 1,400 to 4,000 ft2. Developer Springbourne Homes has constructed these luxury homes on the top of a hill among three acres of mature woodland, surrounded by bluebells and snowdrops. Maximising the site’s natural features was an integral part of the project’s ethos.

Intended to be a counter to what the developer sees as typically ‘bland’ new build housing developments of late, there are 16 different house types spread across the site – even including a refurbished 1930s chapel. However the reiterated house types have been mirrored or repositioned to ensure that every home is differentiated in some regard.

Connecting the development aesthetically, the homes’ envelopes all have oak-framed double gables. These are intended to ‘root’ the properties into their rural landscape, and set the tone and expectations for what’s inside.

Viewing the homes, this expectation is met; they have been designed to heighten the level of intimacy and connection with the occupier. Both are characteristics which Springbourne CEO Lee Harris believes helps to set Hornsey Rise apart as a genuinely ‘luxury’ project.

Since its inception, Harris reports that the project has been hugely successful, winning a number of local and national awards and quickly selling off-plan. Despite this success however, he says there were a number of hurdles the developer needed to overcome to make Hornsey Rise the project it is today, and lessons that Harris hopes to share with his peers.


According to Harris, early research from local agents initially informed Springbourne’s early development decisions, with agents reporting an appetite for large, luxurious, detached homes in rural locations.

Not satisfied with just any home that meets these needs however, Harris explains that the firm’s research indicated that those who sought such new build homes were also tired of “monolithic house types and congested developments.” Instead they were searching for high quality builds and “the intimacy of a smaller community.”

Springbourne has set out to embody these traits at Hornsey Rise, and to raise the bar: “From the moment they the enter the homes, we want to wow visitors; it starts when you walk through the oak screen and front door and see a double height hall with connecting doors to the reception room. Your eye is then drawn to a contemporary oak staircase weaving its way throughout the void, and meeting the gallery landing.”

The internal layouts are intended to support modern family living, and as such offer open plan connected spaces, with large kitchen, dining and family rooms blending into the gardens through bifolding doors, large bedrooms with ensuites, and flexible breakout areas, snugs, cinemas and more, all kitted out to the highest specification. High-end brands chosen include Karndean flooring, kitchens with three ovens, built-in coffee machines, wine coolers, and Quooker instant boil taps. Other ‘preselections’ include Hans Grohe and Villeroy and Boch sanitaryware, and porcelain tiles from Porcelanosa.

Harris continues: “Luxury is experienced with every connection, opening a door, turning a tap, sliding your hand up the hand built staircase, or simply sinking your feet into the deep pile carpets and feeling the warming glow of the underfloor heating.”


Before any of this could be achieved however, it was first essential to find a home for these luxury designs.

According to Harris, the site itself was in fact one of the main inspirations for the design of the entire project, offering a rich history and enviable views across the nearby landscape, both of which the team intended to make the most out of.

In order to best achieve this, at this early stage of the project Leicestershire historian Nigel Palmer was commissioned to research the site’s history, with Springbourne using the research to decide how the land could best be treated.

In this process, Palmer reportedly uncovered “an astonishing timeline,” which featured some of the most significant figures and notable events over the last millennium – the site dating back to the pre-Norman conquest days of Lady Godiva. It is mentioned in the Doomsday Book, and “directly linked” to five English Kings.

Fast-forwarding to the existing buildings on the 10 acre site, the team learned that it was developed by the then printers union as a convalescent home, opening in 1921. It then became a retreat for retired missionaries, but closed in 2012 when the home was no longer economically viable. In its prime, the site was reportedly regarded as a landmark location, boasting royal visits, distinguished gardens, and wide vistas.

After being briefed on the site’s offerings, Harris tells me that Springbourne Homes chairman Adrian Burr immediately recognised the “fabulous potential of the site” and the “splendour of the surroundings.” He acted quickly to meet the Aged Pilgrims Trust, who ran the missionary retreat, to agree the purchase, with a promise to restore the site to prominence and build beautiful homes.


The site’s parameters were defined, but as the previous building footprint had been respectful of its location, Springbourne were keen to show similar respect to the landscape, “countering any encroachment into country views and impacts of urbanised living.”

Three boundary lines were established – the first being the building line etched into the site at its midpoint, preventing the stretch of houses beyond the boundaries of the previous forms. Secondly, a formal garden line defined the limit of lawn and spread of planting – blended into a natural meadow grass. Then, the final boundary forms the landscape ‘buffer,’ a natural margin that is beyond the ownership of the residents and a space that can be controlled and maintained for improved biodiversity.

As soon as the project kicked off, a secure fence was erected around these boundaries, as the site would be vacant through the appraisal, design and planning processes. Despite these efforts however, the existing building was targeted by arsonists, making it structurally unsound, exposing asbestos ceilings and insulation, and requiring a “painful” remediation process.

A demolition team was brought in to make the buildings safe while Springbourne continued to pursue planning, and a high security fence was erected in front of the existing fence to prevent trespassing.

“By this time,” Harris says, “the buildings looked ‘wounded,’ scarred with graffiti – and the once beautiful gardens had become overgrown and largely inaccessible.”

As part of the careful demolition process, the majority of the materials were able to be recycled, either crushed and reused for roadways, or sold to salvage companies. Landfill was kept to less than 5%.


While this work was ongoing, Springbourne had handed the design process over to Hayward Architects of Hinckley, with a brief to create a development of 19 homes “rich in architectural distinction,” and harnessing the site’s strong existing qualities.

Harris tells me that the team explored more contemporary options such as curtain walling, mono pitched roofs and contemporary materials. However they found that while such individual designs were strong and exciting statements in themselves, when presented in a street scene with each other, they actually diluted the effect.

After extensive design sessions, the team arrived at a form they believed to be “familiar, yet majestic and classical.” This included double gabled, cathedral-style windows with expansive glazing, all set in oak frames.

“This resonated with the development’s rural aspects,” explains Harris, “and juxtaposed with the modern building technologies harnessed within.”

He tells me that the strong building lines here are intended to be accented by the use of natural oak, which was an early choice as the prevailing material across the project, “holding the expanses of glass in natural skins that bring bold strength rather than the slender and sleekness of aluminium.”


While the use of timber solved the design challenge of blending the new homes into their surroundings, the material did create more practical challenges for the developer.

An oak frame brings natural inconsistencies, for example, and some movement was anticipated in the design. This meant the connection details therefore needed to respond, in order to remain air and weather tight. To ensure the best performance possible here, green oak frames would be prefabricated in offsite workshops and brought to site on flat bed lorries.

The original intention was to lower the frame sections in, secure to the external walls and then install the roof. However, the team found that the oak frames needed further lateral support and would need temporary propping while the roof was installed. Then, the tolerances of the large roof spans and variances in the wall plates could pose problems with the pitches.

“After many design and installation meetings with our supply chain partners, architects and structural engineers we decided to construct the houses with the opening, roof included,” says Harris.

“It would require strengthening in the roof structure using gable ladders and glulam beams, however the oak could then be scribed and installed within the aperture – tolerances were critical here, as was access for cranes to position and access for trades to make safe and secure fixings into the walls.”


A further benefit that this use of timber brought to the development is its inherent environmentality, also bolstered by the offsite methods used to put them together.

Harris tells me that minimising the development’s environmental footprint was always an essential goal for the team in the whole project, particularly as it is a greenfield site.

One way in which they hoped to achieve this was to embrace EVs for example, and install, as standard, one car charging point per property, the capacity to add a second was included.

Another example, and one that was more challenging, was the transition to air source heating technologies across the homes, “presenting a learning curve in every part of the build.”

To fill the company’s gap in experience here, Springbourne partnered with Vaillant, who Harris says were invaluable in this journey: “The lower operating temperatures of the air means that the battle to reduce radiators had now returned.” However, their suggestion of using underfloor heating negated unsightly radiator panels and provided balanced ambient heat to the house, controlled with in-room thermostats, and wirelessly operated.

One further challenge they faced was balancing the heat output with the relative heat losses – making it vital to retain energy. At Hornsey Rise, this was achieved through creating large 250 mm cavities to include high performance mineral insulation, reportedly outperforming the standards for SAP and air tightness.


Beyond technological innovations, Springbourne Homes also had a duty of care to look after the surrounding ecology, including not just the varied tree and plant life, but badger sets, rabbits, birds of prey, and even the occasional Muntjac deer.

In order to approach this in the most informed way, the team engaged the services of specialists, including arboriculturists, to preserve a number of special trees. He continues: “We have invested large sums of money in the restorative works and maintenance of trees within the woodland, and removed self setting species in order to maintain the healthy canopy and carpets of bluebells.”

Also integral to minimising impact on this ecology, the team developed a SuDS design for the site, using an existing combined drain at the rear of the site. In line with environmental guidance, then added an attenuation pond to control the flow of storm water into the central systems.


Having spent the best part of two years developing, designing and creating the masterplan for Hornsey Rise, Harris is “delighted” with the initial response to the project.

“The real success came when we finally erected our first sign board outside the entrance,” he says. “The enquiry rate was a steady two to three per day, and the conversion rate on site was over 80%.”

According to Harris, people were buying off plan in “absolute comfort,” and within eight months of the site being operational reservations were completed throughout. This included plots that had not been dug out for foundations.

Outside of prospective residents, Harris says the project’s greatest reactions have been from within the industry, especially scooping three prestigious prizes at the UK Property Awards, including Best in the UK for Architecture.

Looking back on the efforts behind this success, Harris reflects that building bespoke luxury homes is “no easy journey.”

“It takes time to craft the design, harness the build and care for the customer,” he says. “However, it is all worth it when you see the excitement in their eyes as they take the keys.”


  • Architecture – Hayward Architects
  • Flooring – Karndean
  • Taps – Quooker
  • Sanitaryware – Hans Grohe, Villeroy and Boch
  • Tiling – Porcelanosa
  • Heating – Vaillant