With ceilings four metres high and acres of space to fill, it wasn’t easy to make this Perthshire new-build feel cosy or comfortable. But the owner’s ingenuity and determination have resulted in a remarkable home
It’s a dilemma common to many empty-nesters, downsizers and parents who are happily spending their grown-up children’s inheritance: how do you com- bine the delightful convenience and hi-tech toys of a contemporary property with the family heirlooms that you’ve spent decades accumulating? Is there a style of new-build property that sits comfortably between the bland contemporary box and the loft apartment of the Brooklyn hipster?
These were some of the thoughts swirling through the heads of George and Elizabeth Green when they began the search for a new home in the Perthshire village of Auchterarder. Their daughter was grown-up, living in Canada with children of her own. Post-retirement, there was no pressing need for the Greens to stay in London, especially given its dearth of convenient golf courses.
As regular visitors to Gleneagles, the couple needed no convincing of Perthshire’s charms. But where was their perfect house? The family home in London was a period property: “Leaded windows, inglenook fireplaces, beams.” A very traditional look, in other words, and over the years Elizabeth had collected furniture to match. And, while she was ready for a change, she was not prepared to relinquish all the older bits.
“I walked in and loved it immediately. I like the modern spaciousness that’s the look just now. I like the family room that’s the kitchen and living area in one. It ticked all the boxes”
“I wanted fresh,” she says, “somewhere that was my taste straight away. It’s never the same when you renovate. And I felt I’d done enough knocking around other people’s taste.”
The couple’s initial browse of new-build properties in the highly desirable PH3 postcode was not promising. “We looked around at several areas. At one development, there was just one house left. We soon saw why no one wanted to buy it: there was no view and no garden.”
Deflated, driving to Auchterarder for some mood-improving lunch, they spotted a For Sale sign. Without much hope in their hearts, they pulled in for a look around a new development of spacious barn-style properties. “Some were nearly finished, others were already occupied,” Elizabeth recalls. “One plot was lying empty – there were foundations but nothing else. We looked at each other and said, ‘Bet this one is taken because of the view.’ We were very downhearted.”
Without much expectation, she rang the developers, Stirling-based company Ristol. No, the plot had not been sold. Yes, it would be possible to go and see the identical barn next door, which was sold but as yet unoccupied.
“I walked in and loved it immediately. I like the modern spaciousness that’s the look just now. I like the family room that’s the kitchen and living area in one. And the views – facing west towards Crieff and the Ochils – were fantastic. It ticked all the boxes.”
They christened their new home Rossie Barn. As it was still basically a hole in the ground when they signed on the dotted line, the Greens could make sure the basics were simple, tasteful and neutral. So the hard flooring is bleached oak and palest grey ceramic tiles, the paint colours are from the Farrow & Ball catalogue and the staircase and upper levels have a cosy cream carpet. White Duravit sanitaryware is standard in every bathroom.
Even the beams in the open-plan living space –which are decorative rather than functional – are the straightforward model. “You could have chosen beams that were more beamy,” Elizabeth recalls. She preferred to keep it simple. “These are just to break up the space.”
With 4m-high ceilings, space is one thing the room has plenty of. To avoid the echoing that can come from the combination of height and hard surfaces, Ristol fits special noise-absorbing panelling on the ceiling which is designed by Arup Acoustics, the company behind the Glyndebourne Opera House, no less.
Some of the developers’ other suggestions – oversized film-set-style lights, for example – did not appeal. A proposed island-breakfast bar in the kitchen was declined too. “I don’t like breakfast bar counters and I don’t like stools – so uncomfortable. I wanted a table.”
The plans were rejigged, the second half of the free-standing structure was lowered, and there is now a skinny island with a built-in table on the other side. Instead of stools, Elizabeth has enviable CH24 Wishbone chairs, designed by Hans Wegner for Carl Hansen. She first spotted them in London, coveted them for years and finally bought them from Dallas & Dallas in Glasgow.
Other Ristol features, such as the smart light oak doors with vertical panelling, got an immediate thumbs-up.
Within the kitchen, the Greens were given a budget and pointed towards Glenrothes-based specialists Murray & Murray. For a kitchen built where agricultural buildings once stood, what could be more appropriate than the fresh finishes of a dairy? White units, tongue-and-groove panelling and light granite surfaces keep it contemporary but carry a hint of the milk churns and cream separators of the past.
“I don’t like everything to be steel and ultra-modern with invisible knobs. I didn’t feel that was the look to go for on a farm setting. We’re in a barn, after all.”
No milkmaid would recognise the hi-tech kit, much of it from Swiss company V-Zug, that hides within the countrified cupboards. Two ovens, one of them a steam model, sit at eye-level. (There is no microwave, as the steam oven has many of the same functions – or at least it does in theory: Elizabeth admits she is yet to get the hang of it.)
A futuristic extractor fan pops up at the touch of a button and has a control panel that’s straight off a spaceship. Its owner is already blasé about this: “I just didn’t want a big thing hanging down from the ceiling.”
There is a wine cooler, but it is currently switched off and full of red wine. This is because there is plenty of room for the whites in the walk-in fridge, one of the property’s American-inspired features. This looks like a regular door on the outside and a sauna on the inside, and means no hidden bag of salad will turn into slime ever again.
“It’s just like a very cold cupboard,” Elizabeth explains. “It came in the spec of the house. It means you can see what you’ve got and never get a dried-up pack of ham or an old bit of apple.” There is a small freezer in the run of kitchen cabinets. With plenty of space in the garage – which is accessible directly from the back of the house, another American touch – she can add a chest freezer later.
Hanging above the island are three glass pendant lights. “These were the most difficult thing in the whole house to choose. I didn’t like all the metal lights that I saw around. They didn’t go with our type of things. Eventually, in John Lewis, I found these.”
This was the problem Elizabeth was to face again and again. So many of the pieces that were on the scale needed for a room with 4m-high ceilings were ultra-modern. “They were too industrial, too ‘now’. I felt they would be out of date by next year. I wanted contemporary but not shouting in your face.”
Happily, help was at hand. Elizabeth met Auchterarder-based interior designer Pat Renson while the barn was being built; the Greens were renting a nearby flat while Pat was working on the property downstairs.
She produced fabric sample books for the Greens to look at. From these, Elizabeth chose an Ironmill tweed for the cosy curtains in the living area. These are essential for insulation in the winter, but should disappear in the summer when the French windows open up onto the garden. The sofa, spotted in a sale in London, was both neutral enough for Elizabeth’s pared-down palette and high enough to be comfortable while watching TV.
The rest of the open-plan space has a gently Scandinavia-meets-North America feel which also acknowledges that this is a Scottish home. Whenever she visits her daughter in Ontario, Elizabeth is a regular at Pottery Barn where she has picked up various moose-themed objects. These sit on a console table from Glaswegian furniture-maker Margaret Boyd. The perspex occasional tables were sourced in Perth. The stag pouffe is from Pat’s Auchterarder shop.
“I like the Scandi style, and if you stick to neutral colours you don’t get tired of them. I also wanted to use as many Scottish products as possible. So the curtains were woven in Perth, there are Anta rugs in the lounge, Margaret Boyd makes these console table in Ruthven Lane. I like to think that I’m supporting Scotland.”
Instead of a dining room, Rossie Barn has a dining hall. An early suggestion, to have a round table with flowers in the space, was instantly dismissed by Elizabeth. “This is not the reception area of a hotel, this is our home. But we do use the space for entertaining. And in winter we close the curtains and it’s just like a dining room.”
The lush Larssen drapes do a lot to give the space its dual identity. By day, they dress the windows; by night, they become the walls and transform the room into an intimate dining space. Another of Margaret Boyd’s console tables holds a couple of her lamps alongside a pair of ducks which Elizabeth has owned for a long time. The urns were found at Lombok.
In the formal living room, some of Elizabeth’s more delicate pieces of furniture, inherited artefacts and favourite paintings have found a new lease of life beside the Chesney’s fireplace and a Kirkby Design linen sofa made by Edinburgh-based Charlotte James.
She decided against another woodburning stove, feeling that it would not be well used, but kept the log storage nooks. These now house outsize hurricane lamps, a light Ralph Lauren-style touch suggested by Pat Renson.
A pair of oil paintings from the London house have found a new home in this room. Both are French, a room scene and a windswept beach. “I’ve always wondered where that room is,” says Elizabeth. It’s an evocative piece, with peeling paint on the shutters and the creaky-looking door. The second one is a beach scene. It’s a chilly day, suggesting Brittany rather than St-Tropez. One of the men is even wearing a beret.
The star of the room, however, is the view. “I wanted to keep everything light. The focus is looking out the window at the greenery and the scenery – that’s the bigger picture here. You can see for miles.”
Along the corridor, George’s study is home to the couple’s collection of antique books, built up over many years. There are vintage adverts for fountain pens – after golf, these hold second place in his heart – on the wall and a TV for enjoying the Masters in peace. A model yacht on the windowsill (property of the couple’s grandson) is another masculine touch. And should the grandchildren want to watch a particularly loud cartoon, they use this room as well.
They also have their own permanent bedroom upstairs. While still on the ground floor, a guest room with its own en-suite bathroom means there is a well-defined space for adult visitors. Here, Elizabeth’s upcycling skills have come into their own. A set of dated mahogany bedroom furniture with old-fashioned knobs has been sanded, painted with Farrow & Ball and given contemporary handles.
The grandchildren’s spacious room upstairs is full of their toys and books, awaiting the next visit. Whenever they are in residence, George makes the most of the generously sized upper landing and produces his own childhood train set from the attic. Elizabeth diplomatically refrains from mentioning who enjoys playing with this the most.
The master bedroom looks west, so the Greens can sit in bed and soak up the view. Pat Renson sourced the headboard, covered in James Hare silk. The white vintage-style Ralph Lauren bedspread is an old favourite while the cushions are from Voyage. There is a walk-in closet, although Elizabeth insists that this is “still not big enough”. This is partly because it contains the ironing board, so she can do the ironing while looking out of the window.
She drew the line, however, at enjoying the view while brushing her teeth: the en-suite has frosted glass. Like all the bathrooms in the house, the futureproof sanitaryware is set off with white swimming-pool tiles. One subtle stripe – most have grey, one has navy blue – stops the colour scheme just short of austere.
After London’s inglenooks and leaded windows, Elizabeth really appreciates the practical features of Rossie Barn. The garage, which has electronic doors, leads directly to a small hallway at the rear of the property. Here, there is a boot room, the utility room and a WC. “It is great,” she says. “George comes home in his damp golfing clothes, takes them off in the boot room, hangs them up and they are dry in the morning.”
There is a small terrace at the front of the house, facing east, ideal for morning coffee in the sun. Round the back, whenever the sun shines, the Greens decamp with drinks to admire Crieff sparkling in the distance. Having such a spectacular aspect has relieved them of all responsibility for gardening and they have gone for hard landscaping, minimal planting and the low-maintenance look.
“You keep your eyes higher,” smiles Elizabeth, waving her hands over the beds of lavender. “There’s so much green here already we don’t need to add any more.”
After a year in the barn, the Greens are sure they made the right move. Thanks to a Beam built-in vacuuming system, it is blissfully easy to keep clean, while that brilliantly situated boot room confines all sources of mud and debris to one small corner. It is light and bright, even in the depths of a dreary Perthshire winter.
“It was great to have a chance to buy something like this,” says Elizabeth, surveying her serene home. “There are not a lot of houses around like this.”
You can browse the full article with more stunning photography on pages 158-168, issue 91.Subscribe now
Pat Renson Interiors, 01764 660700
What A four-bedroom new-build barn-style house
Where On the edge of Auchterarder, Perthshire
Words Anna Burnside
Photography Neale Smith