Above: a vaulted ceiling floods the space with light. large windows and bifold doors open on to the wrap-around decked terrace for all year round waterside views.
Father and son team Peter and Paul Myers built their dream waterside home on Rod Eyot island in Henley-on-Thames …
words: natalie flaum | photography: james french
Peter Myers has fond childhood memories of boating holidays spent in the Norfolk Broads with his parents. Together with his wife, Marsha, and their son, daughter and grandchildren, the boating legacy continues on board their own canal barge – so it was no surprise when Peter’s son Paul Myers, a property developer, began his search for a waterside plot with a mooring. He discovered a 70ft site on Rod Eyot island, Henley-on-Thames, in an auction catalogue.
“The plot came with planning permission and its own mooring, which is extremely valuable in Henley where 45ft moorings can cost as much as £185,000!” he says. “When we viewed the plot, on a little boat, it was piled high with thorny brambles so we couldn’t walk far, but it had a lots of open space between two properties on the island.”
Using a marina can cost £5K per year, explains Peter. “The beauty of this plot is that we had the chance to build our own home and have somewhere to put the boat with electricity and water access all year round.”
With their maximum budget in mind, Peter went along to the auction as Paul tuned in online from his hotel room on holiday in Greece.
“Auction day was very fraught with a good few hundred people in the room”, Peter recalls. “I felt anxious as I was bidding on Paul’s behalf. Although I had purchased furniture at auction I had never bought a house. When bidding began it started low, but it was rapid. I let two bidders fight it out and then I bid for the first time on our maximum limit. To my surprise, my bid won and I was in total shock. When the hammer went down we exchanged on the spot, signed a contract and paid 10% of the value there and then.”
Flood risk assessment determined the property should be built 9-feet above riverbank level. “The previous year, quite a few homes on the island were damaged by floods. All that was left of the previous outbuildings on our site were pieces of rotten wood,” says Peter. “It was daunting at times… we were in unknown territory, as Paul had never built on an island before.”
The plot came with a very firm footprint, which meant that there were serious size restrictions. Paul hired a structural engineer to produce a set of drawings to assist with building regulations. “I tweaked the plans myself with the help of an architect friend of mine who lives on the island and who had built his own home,” he adds.
Building work began during the winter of 2013 with Paul project managing, using his team of tradesmen to build the shell.
“I used dad’s barge as an office to keep warm and dry and managed all the paperwork on site,” says Paul. “The foundations were the hardest and worst part. Initially, we assumed the building would be built on a shallow foundation on brick piers. Our surveyor suggested as we were building on a riverbed, a soil survey was required. In the end we had to drill way below the riverbed until we could find solid ground and the soil was sent away to the laboratory for analysis.”
The solution was pile concrete foundations and a galvanised steel framework to reinforce and form the main structure to the shell of the house.
As the island of Rod Eyot is inaccessible except by boat, the difficulties of building on an island presented themselves at every corner as Paul faced a somewhat problematic challenge over several months ahead.
“You can’t cross to the island by foot or road, and so are marooned unless you have a boat,” says Peter. “Every household who lives on the island has a car space in a private car park on the main bank in Henley and a boat to go to back and forth.”
And, of course, all the building equipment and workforce also needed to be transported across by boat.
“I hired a pontoon and bought an old fishing boat, appropriately named Last Chance, from a retired navy diver in Littlehampton. Unfortunately after a winter with a load of builders on it, it no longer looks like it did when I bought it, and its name now, sadly, rings true!” laughs Paul. “I hit a real low point when the pontoon became heavier than the fishing boat that was towing us, and we were out of control floating down river towards Henley Bridge. We had to throw ropes to people on the riverbank to rescue us in the pouring rain, and we ended up pulling on ropes by hand standing on the bank, digging your feet in the old fashioned way, heaving it across the river. We must have pulled on rope 8-10 tons by hand at a time over a distance of 25 feet. There were times when the river flow would be so fast due to weather conditions that we’d have to start at one end of the bank and drive the ropes right at the other end to allow for the current as we were pulling it.”
As there is no gas on the island, everything is powered by electricity, but is extremely fuel-efficient and the property has a sewage treatment plant.
“To comply with and pass SAP regulations we had to install a low energy product that allowed us to use electric radiators,” says Paul. “We used a great hot water cylinder product from ESP Ecocent, that has a built-in air sourced heat pump that converts the warm air in the house into energy and hot water through a heat exchanger, which can also be used as an air conditioning system during the summer.’
Another eco-efficient feature is the waste unit that converts sewage waste into clean water, which is then pumped back into the river. “Many homes on the island have septic tanks that need to be emptied often and are enormous in size,” explains Paul. “This would have meant digging a hole large enough to accommodate one below the waterline, then having the problem of taking away all the muck by boat.”
When the building was finished, Paul did all the interior work himself – from flooring and tiling to kitchen installation and decorating.
‘‘It was a ridiculously hard build that came with pure aggravation at times,” he reflects. “The hardest part was building the house and the best part was finishing it. I was cursing it, but looking back it was the biggest learning curve. I remember watching an episode of Grand Designs when Kevin McCloud was building a house on an island and he said ‘Building a house on a river… you must be mad’ and this became my mobile ringtone for the duration of the task.” His next build, he declares, will be somewhere warm and dry with a driveway and not a puddle in sight…
“Paul’s not only a brilliant project manager but an incredibly talented builder,” says Peter. “We love the kitchen, and the wide decked verandah that wraps around the house makes it a fabulous spot to enjoy the sun from any aspect. I enjoy photography and have taken some great shots here, and Marsha thinks its a fabulous place to work from home. Our neighbours are incredibly friendly; the lady next door lives on the island permanently with her three teenage children… she does the school run and commutes to work by boat every day!”
The Myers’ friends all remark on the wow factor of this beautiful property in the heart of Henley with a 70ft mooring right on the River Thames. “Life couldn’t be sweeter here!”, says Peter.
Island Reach is currently tenanted but will shortly be on the market with a guide price of £575,000. For more info, contact Paul Myers at Country Life Homes: 07956 444064 • www.countrylifehomes.co.uk