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John and Jenny Kinsley have pioneered collective custom build in Scotland – creating a home for themselves alongside three other intrepid families
The community self-build’s main facade is clad in red sandstone to reference the traditional tenements next door. A modern update is provided thanks to the use of Reglit glass panelling and French zinc

Architect John Kinsley’s lightbulb moment was sparked by reading a magazine article. “The piece was all about the merits of community projects in South America, where one in four new homes is created this way,” says John, who credits the article for his decision to collectively buy a plot of land and construct a block of four tenement flats in Edinburgh, along with a group of complete strangers.

“The UK house building market is almost completely dominated by a handful of big companies,” he continues. “Our method had the potential to eliminate the developer’s profit, so we could build at cost – around 20% less. I was also interested in how the typical Scottish model of shared tenement living could be updated for the 21st century, particularly in terms of sustainability.”

Land in the bag

John and his wife Jenny, a garden designer, knew of the perfect site in Edinburgh’s seaside suburb of Portobello, just a street away from their current three-bedroom Georgian house. The vacant 400m2 lot formerly hosted a cinema, which had been knocked down 15 years earlier. A handshake agreement was struck with the owner to buy the site for £250,000, dependant on obtaining planning consent.

John designed and assembled the dining table, which was routed from standard sheets of birch ply using computer-controlled techniques
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June 2018
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About Build It

Find the advice & inspiration you need to build or renovate your dream home, including: - Cover house... a charming vernacular new home in the countryside - Specifying sustainable building materials - Design ideas for listed buildings - Can smart homes be hacked? - Self-building for profit ... and more!