Anxious not to block the view, the new owners of this plot in the north-west Highlands commissioned an unobtrusive house – and compensated for the low-profile exterior with rooms to take the breath away
When it comes to building a contemporary house on a popular beauty spot, boldness and tenacity are every bit as essential as mortar and cement. And achieving quality and originality in a rural setting can be costly, as Lucie Alexander and Steve Twitchett discovered when they decided to relocate to north-west Scotland and build a home for their retirement.
Despite the wide open spaces that define the Highland landscape, desirable building plots are in short supply. After a lot of research, Lucie devised a method of identifying likely propositions, working out that applications for outline planning permission usually pertain to sites which farmers or crofters are intending to put up for sale (otherwise people go ahead and try to secure detailed planning permission from the outset).
The couple were living in a converted barn in Cumbria when they came across a highly desirable plot at the settlement of Rhue, just outside Ullapool. They put in an offer before it was widely advertised and then waited patiently while the estate slowly got around to processing the farmer’s right-to-buy request.
The site had panoramic views across to the Summer Isles in the north-west and to the peak of An Teallach in the south-west. It was a stunning proposition for aspirant self-builders. But Lucie knew there were challenges ahead. “We quickly realised it is a sensitive site,” she says. “The people who live at Rhue are protective of it because it’s such a fantastic spot. I looked at the objections that had been lodged in response to a proposed development here. Quite a few said this site should not be developed at all because it is close to a spot that is very popular with walkers and a building could potentially spoil the view to the lighthouse.”
Rather than play safe with a traditional house design, the intrepid couple decided to give their chosen architects, Rural Design of Skye, a fairly open brief. “My only stipulation was that we didn’t want a square box,” says Steve. “If we were to have an architect-designed house, we wanted it to look as if it had been designed by an architect. We decided the best way to do that was to give Alan Dickson and his team at Rural Design complete creative freedom.”
This is just a taster, you can browse the full article with more stunning photography on pages 74-80, issue 93.