This dramatic structure in the Aberdeenshire countryside has married cutting-edge marine-engineering technology with time-honoured stone masonry to create a family home that is rewriting the rule book
Building your own house takes a huge amount of effort and commitment. For Gavin and Angelique Robb, you can multiply that by ten. Their herculean efforts to transform “some old cowsheds” in rural Aberdeenshire have already spanned a decade, and they’re not finished yet. With Skye Steading, their new family home which combines traditional granite farm buildings with a new double-height Corten steel-clad agri-industrial wedge, the couple are in the process of planning the next phase of the development: the construction of a ‘mirror image’ house.
Their journey began when they purchased a group of semi-derelict farm buildings, complete with asbestos roof and old milking facility. “We were living in a flat in the centre of Aberdeen and had never talked about moving or buying anywhere,” says Angelique, who relocated to Aberdeen from Louisiana to work as a drilling engineer in the oil industry. “But leafing through a free local newspaper, I spotted a plot for sale with planning permission and almost an acre of land. So we visited the site and were so excited by what we saw. In our initial enthusiasm we considered building the house ourselves. Now I say to myself: ‘What were we thinking?’ The only building I’d done at that point was putting a deck in my back garden when I lived in Houston!”
She and Gavin, who also works in the oil industry, enlisted the expertise of architect Andy McAvoy of Glasgow-based Assemble Architecture. He admits to a few initial reservations. “On that first site visit, my default position was to steer a young family away from this type of undertaking. The site had many issues – tricky topography, large amounts of awkward demolition, 150 years of adaptations to the existing building – and the drainage and infrastructure needed to be dealt with up front to make the site accessible and workable,” he says. “But Gavin and Angelique were unfazed when I brought up all these issues.”
After studying 19th-century maps of the original steading buildings, Andy convinced the couple to follow the original U-shaped arrangement. He also prepared a feasibility report on building two houses rather than one, sharing an entrance courtyard but having private aspects and gardens. It meant the infrastructure cost could be split over two properties, something the planning department would have to agree to (which, in the event, it did). As well as the two houses, his plans included a separate commercial space and workshop and an extensive garden with polytunnels and growing spaces for Angelique’s landscape and garden design business.
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Words Caroline Ednie
Photography Nigel Rigden
What A renovated steading with a new Corten steel-clad addition
Where Rural Aberdeenshire
Architect Andy McAvoy, Assemble Architecture,
Build cost £400,000