Nordic style meets Hebridean spirit in Rodel House

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Nordic style meets unpretentious Hebridean spirit in Rodel House, a lovingly restored sea captain’s home on the Isle of Harris

 words Natasha Radmehr | Photography Christina Kernohan

Built in 1781 for Captain Alexander MacLeod, B-listed Rodel House overlooks the once bustling harbour in Rodel, the former capital on the Isle of Harris. The house had at various turns been a laird’s house, a hunting lodge, an inn and a hotel. Yet, when now owner Anderson bought the property, every wrinkle and quirk that might have ornamented the home’s history was absent from its interior. Its past had been plastered over, its rooms reduced to featureless boxes belying a storied life.

Anderson sought to change that and so assembled a team with the chops to sympathetically revive it.

The exterior is pictured, nestled on the Isle of Harris
IMAGE | Christina Kernohan

Among them was the architect Lachlan Stewart of Anta, well versed in the sensitive conservation of historic buildings, and the interior designer Maria Speake of architectural salvage and design firm Retrouvius.

The intention wasn’t to slavishly recreate Captain MacLeod’s abode, but to imagine how the building might have evolved had Rodel House’s dialogue not been broken.

Blackhouses aside, there was no indigenous architecture on Harris. This was an opportunity to start a conversation about what island style is

A Daniell print proved helpful when streamlining the external composition, most notably in justifying to Historic Environment Scotland the demolition of a 19th-century cottage extension sandwiched between the three-storey house and a parallel L-shaped building known as the sail loft.

“Pulling that extension away meant we could open up more light and allow the building to breathe again,” explains Lachlan. “We then had to reorganise the fenestration, which started to talk the language of a house from that period while adhering to that strong Highland vernacular of symmetry. We kept it in the 18th-century tradition of manse houses that feel utilitarian rather than ostentatious.”

Anderson was keen for Rodel House to reflect Harris rather than exist as a form of “disembodied luxury”. Somewhere a crofter could walk into with their muddy boots on and not feel intimidated.

The yard of Rodel House is flooded with light throughout the day. Photograph includes white painted exterior and deep wooden door
IMAGE | Andy Stagg

These days the lower floor is occupied by a kitchen, dining room and gathering space skinned with reclaimed bead-and-butt boarding. The wood shows its age with pride; it is distressed, knotted, imperfect. Some panels are varnished, others painted white.

Rodel House on the Isle of Harris features a little reading nook by the window
IMAGE | Christina Kernohan

Retrouvius Design Studio are behind the interiors of Rodel House. As a result of Maria Speake’s hard work, the aesthetic now is Nordic-meets-Hebridean with an emphasis on natural materials and honest craft.

Low-backed wooden chairs tuck into an unfussy handmade dining table. Woven baskets are suspended from the ceiling beams and the drawers are stacked with vintage cutlery. The kitchen cabinets, made by Retrouvius, are painted forest green. “We wanted to capture a sense of the spirit of the island, which is unpretentious, simple and raw,” says Maria.

“The palette was inspired by kelp, seaweed, pops of cold-water coral and lichen. Everyone always goes on about the heather but there are so many more amazing colours when you go outside… all these incredible yellows and deep greens.”

The captain's house on the Isle of Harris features a green panelled breakfast room for communal dining
IMAGE | Christina Kernohan

A pale ash staircase, almost Festival of Britain in design, leads the way upstairs. It is markedly different to its predecessor, which Lachlan recalls as a space-gobbling concrete monstrosity reminiscent of a WWII bunker.

The new incarnation is far neater, with tapered banisters and a generous double-height space at the upper landing. “It feels modern, uplifting and connected,” says Maria. “When you walk upstairs you feel all the windows along the east elevation lighting up the hallway.”

This house on the Isle of Harris boasts sleek white walls and a hard wood floor
IMAGE | Christina Kernohan

The drawing room on the upper floor carries a few more airs and graces than the living spaces downstairs. Anderson liked the idea of having one high-status room as an imagined vestige from Captain MacLeod’s era, with Georgian-style panelled walls and vintage furniture gathered around a handsome fireplace. The Barra-based painter and decorator Lydia Warren used limewash paints on the lime-plastered walls (“It makes a big difference because the pigment is so true,” she says).

Rodel House has a wooden floor and wood burning fire place in the living room
IMAGE | Christina Kernohan

The grey, like misty air, but glows pale gold in the sun. “The low light in winter is very soft and beautiful,” says Anderson, “and every window is an Old Master painting.” On a clear day, the craggy contours of Skye can be seen across the sparkling expanse of the Little Minch. Those views, combined with the home’s celebration of timber, conjure the sense of being on a boat.

Some of the bedrooms (there are five) are especially cabin-like, with shiplap-panelled slanting ceilings and striped bedding. One bedroom is cocooned entirely, from ceiling to walls, in a rich teal Harris Tweed.

One of five bedrooms in Rodel House on the Isle of Skye
IMAGE | Christina Kernohan

Elsewhere, robust fabrics such as corduroy provide warmth and practicality. “Materials even someone in a wet Barbour could sit on,” explains Maria. Since its completion last year, the house has become a place where people connect and collect. Sometimes Anderson stays there; often it is hired by visitors, who spend their time on the island fishing and birdwatching, painting and stargazing.

Rodel House on the Isle of Harris boasts rust palettes in sitting areas, flooded with natural light off the Scottish shores
IMAGE | Christina Kernohan

The residents of Harris are pleased to see the house singing once more in harmony with the ancient landscape. “Musicians have a great way of rediscovering an old tune that has lain dormant and giving it energy again,” says Lachlan. “Architecture can do that too, creating a seamless dialogue between the past and the present.”

Rodel House

Isle of Harris

HS5 3TW

Visit the Rodel House Website | Follow Rodel House on Instagram


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