West side story: blue guest-house overlooking the Isle of Mull

Painted blue to reflect the sea and with sheltered verandas to capture the sunshine, this guest-house gets the best out of every season

Tigh na Mara (Gaelic for ‘house by the sea’) was designed and built by Roderick James and his wife, Amanda Markham, to take full advantage of the array of fantastic views from their seven-acre site on the west coast of Scotland, which looks out across the Sound to the Isle of Mull.
“In 1996 I was designing a house for a client in the area, and on one of my visits up from Devon, where our main practice is based, I saw this undeveloped woodland site for sale, which stands at the end of a single-track road,” recalls Roderick. “The land was very affordable in those days, and we loved it so much we decided to buy the site. We built our own, main, house here eight years ago and felt instantly at home.”
Square in plan, with a pyramid-shaped roof, the three-bedroom house was designed by Roderick, whose award-winning architec­tural practice specialises in contemporary timber buildings beside the water. The exciting reverse-level structure has been built with a masonry ground floor, banked with earth, and a green-oak frame on the first floor.
Later, the need for additional office space and guest accommo­dation led the couple to build a detached guest-house (previous page, left) in the woods behind, with a first-floor studio space where Amanda and Roderick now work.
Despite also having a square floorplan, this oak-framed office and guest-house is markedly different from the main house, and was conceived as a prototype for easily expandable homes. A central two-storey core of accommodation measures five metres by six metres, and other ground-floor rooms radiate off in wings from this core. Corner verandas provide sheltered outdoor seating areas below the overhanging eaves of the lower slate roof, but could be fully enclosed in future to create additional rooms if required. “At the moment, the verandas are the perfect place to enjoy a drink after work,” Roderick remarks.
The guest-house is predominantly arranged over the ground floor, with a central two-storey core which creates a useful study/studio upstairs. The living-dining-kitchen space is open-plan and informal, and the children’s bedroom is accessed directly from the guest room via a secret door.
“Tigh na Mara, our main house, was one of the first properties I designed which was a departure from barn-style oak frames and began the move towards a more contemporary approach,” explains Roderick. “It worked so well that I decided to concentrate on this type of building, and now I have fifteen architects in the practice who between them are currently working on more than 100 individual houses across the country, including Achabeag – a new settlement which incorporates sustainable affordable houses just a few miles away in Argyll.”
Eschewing the medieval characteristics of oak framing to create a more modern feel has involved replacing curved bracings with straighter timbers or stainless-steel bracing rods, which are visually less obtrusive than oak. “The posts in our guest-house sitting room are only 150mm square,” says Roderick. “That means they create a lighter feel but still meet fire regulations.”
Although Roderick still works closely with his former company, Carpenter Oak, he employed a local builder, Angus Macdonald, to complete the build for the guest-house. “Angus learnt the slightly quirky way we do things, and is now working with us on other oak-framed homes,” Roderick explains. “Once I’ve found a company that gives good service I tend to stick with them rather than shopping around all the time. In my opinion, loyalty and aftercare are far more important than being able to shave a few pounds off the price.”

This is just a taster, you can browse the full article with more stunning photography on pages 90-98, issue 90.

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What A guest-house, with a blue exterior in the grounds of the owner’s main house
Where West coast of Scotland, looking out to the Isle of Mull
Architect Roderick James Architects, 01803 868 000,
Builder Macdonald Joinery, 01397 713866
Construction costs £280,000
Words Debbie Jeffery
Photography Nigel Rigden