Form & function: Project on the Isle of Tiree is a family affair

This new-build on Tiree mixes curves, arches and different levels with elements of balance and asymmetry to produce a house that is strangely harmonious and at home in its island setting

If you’ve spent the past four decades dream­ing about having a beachfront holiday home on your favourite island, only for the project to fall apart just when it looked as if it was finally going to happen, you’d be entitled to throw a strop. But rather than weep and wail, Liz and Dave Kerr swallowed their disappointment and decided to look at the situation from a fresh perspective.
They had bought a ruined blackhouse on the Isle of Tiree with the intention of restoring the B-listed building and adding a modest traditional-style extension. But when a survey revealed the ruin to be unstable and beyond repair, it had to be demolished. The couple were devastated.
Having the cottage de-listed by Historic Scotland was a long process, but once it was done the Kerrs decided they might as well build something else on the plot. It wouldn’t be the original blackhouse they loved, but it could be good – and this was Tiree, after all. “It’s not just the beaches, rocks and constantly changing colours that I love,” says Liz, who has spent family holidays here for the past 42 years. “Tiree has a magical light; even on a grey day it lifts your spirits. When I first saw the site, it had a sense of peace about it.”
The question was what to build. Murray Kerr, their son, is an architect but he was busy running a studio for BDP in Holland at the time. So they engaged another architect to design them a three-bedroom holiday home large enough to host extended family gatherings. But when Murray saw the sketches for a “big statement building”, he realised his long familiarity with Tiree meant he was better placed than anyone to articulate his parents’ needs in a design.
But first he had to convince the rest of the family to give him the job. It was the pitch of his life, with a PowerPoint presentation explaining the design concept to his three sisters – a doctor, a staff nurse and a lawyer – who, Liz laughs, are “no pushover”.
“It was pretty nerve-racking,” Murray admits. “I think they even took minutes!”
The concept was for two houses – one, the ‘Living house’, for Liz and Dave, and one for guests – connected by a glass-roofed utility wing. This idea would allow them to rebuild the cottage as true to the original as possible, with thick stone walls, deep inset windows and a black tarred soft-top roof with symmetrical chimneys. “You would never know it wasn’t an old black­house,” says Liz now.
“The last thing we wanted to do was make an ostentatious architectural statement,” explains Murray. “The concept was to create a traditional cottage with agricultural buildings around it that looked as if it had grown organically over time. This led to choosing corrugated galvanised steel and corrugated fibre cement, materials widely found in rural settings – except with lead flashings to lift it aesthetically.”

This is just a taster, you can browse the full article with more stunning photography on pages 94-102, issue 92.

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Words Emma Leask
Photography David Barbour
What A three-bedroom holiday home
Where Isle of Tiree, Hebrides
Architect Murray Kerr, Denizen Works, 07739 517 938
Construction time 18 months