Escape: Elemental, Perthshire

This Perthshire retreat strikes just the right balance between civilised pampering and being at one with nature

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“If we forget about the building for a moment, ultimately it is about the actual site itself – the architecture just captures that,” says owner Seamus Shanks. “You are drawn to appreciate this unique place because it is almost impossible not to connect with the natural environment here.”

Photography Unique Home Stays
Words Catherine Coyle

Weddings do funny things to people. Lucy Day and Seamus Shanks were in a breathtaking spot near Dunkeld celebrating a friend’s big day when they realised they’d fallen in love – with the Perthshire hills. They woke up to breakfast the next morning still wrapped up in the beauty of the countryside, revelling in the splendour of the location.

Both dreamt of staying on, long after the hangovers and the romance of the day had faded; so, before heading back home to London, they explored the area, looking for a place in which to create their own Scottish getaway. 

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The black-painted timber panelling on the ceiling helps to give the space definition against the vast picture windows that frame the loch. The pair of Maison du Monde armchairs have a modernist aesthetic, their curved edges reminiscent of car fins. The coffee table is by Swoon Editions

What they found was something of a gem, and an opportunity not to be missed, despite the amount of work they knew would be needed to knock it into shape.

They also knew, however, that together they had the necessary skills (Shanks is an architect and Day is a designer) to do it justice.

The modernist lochside house they’d found had been built in the 1960s by the Scottish architect Stuart Renton as a holiday home for a Danish family.

“When we first set eyes on the property, Lucy felt it was such a shame that the interiors didn’t celebrate the 1960s architectural fabric,” recalls director at dRAW Architecture, Shanks.

“The previous owners had overwhelmed the spaces and didn’t let the real magic of the house – or nature – speak for itself.

“We quickly realised this was a chance to restore something special. In fact, our minds were made up within seconds of walking in, and we couldn’t stop thinking about what we could do to honour the design and the architecture.”

The couple found Renton’s original drawings in the barn and got to work continuing the story he’d started half a century before.

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The key, both then and now, was to integrate the structure into its setting, harmonise the two and allow them to co-exist.

The house, aptly named Elemental, sits on a sloping site that takes Loch Rannoch as its muse; the undulating inky waters can be seen from every beautifully placed window. The internal layout is simple, with a dual-aspect open-plan living, kitchen and dining area all focused around the views.

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An artwork from the Park Gallery in Cheltenham hangs above the console (the latter a gift from owner’s parents). The stools mean it can be used as a bar

As such, Shanks and Day were mindful not to over-dress the space, instead looking for sympathetic ways to reference the building’s modernist roots while creating a home they and their guests could appreciate today.

A poured-concrete floor makes the most of the underfloor heating, while the timber lining on the ceiling is a Scandinavian touch that works with a simple palette of natural colours and luxurious textures, engineered to wrap around you like a warm blanket and cocoon you in nature.

There are four double bedrooms, each displaying the clean-lined simplicity of a 1960s Scandinavian home but with an undeniable Scottish inflection on every wall and through every window.

That vista changes every time you catch a glimpse of it (or gaze at it until hypnotised); in summer it coaxes you outside to kayak on the loch, or fire up the barbecue (which helps to keep the midges at bay). In the depths of winter, it’s just as appealing to watch the birds at the feeder out on the black-shingled terrace from the comfort of indoors, wood-burner blazing. 

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There are four bedrooms – this one, painted in Farrow & Ball’s relaxing Downpipe, has a four-poster from the French Bedroom Company

Luxury is found not in the sheepskin rugs or the Crittall-style bathrooms but in the realisation that the stark, brutal landscapes, the changing faces of the sky and the water, are where the real beauty lies. Elemental simply provides a special shelter from which to discover this.

“The world is changing, and it’s becoming harder to find places that force you to engage with the natural environment and nature itself,” admits Shanks. “As soon as you leave the house you are suddenly primitive, almost wild, and it is that feeling that makes this place so special.

“We are humans, nothing more than the most intelligent of animals. We come from the wild and, subconsciously, it is always there. It takes being in it to realise that.” 

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