A sensitive transformation of a dilapidated nineteenth century stone barn in the Scottish Highlands has given Linda Wilson and Peter Quicke their dream home.
'There was the most hideous weather, with sideways rain, when I came up from London to view this dilapidated barn, but as soon as I saw it I knew it was a fantastic property,’ recalls Linda Wilson. ‘That day, you couldn’t even see the incredible view over the loch towards the Five Sisters of Kintail, so it was a lovely surprise the next time I went up to see it.’
It is fair to say it was love at first sight for Linda and her husband Peter, who snapped up Leachachan Barn shortly after a visit back in late 2009. With its incredible location on the banks of Loch Duich in the Scottish Highlands, the dwelling is a 150-year-old former stable block that was derelict when the couple bought it.
Scottish-born Linda had been looking for a potential project for about a year, and after a family holiday near Fort William, she had initially set her heart on constructing a new-build nearby. However, when she found the barn for sale, the renovation project proved irresistible. With the outline planning permission due to expire five months after the purchase, Linda needed to find an architect, fast, who could help her realise the dream of a new family home.
‘I really liked Rural Designs’ projects, so I spoke to architect Alan Dickson, who got behind the idea from the start,’ says Linda. ‘What was great about Alan was that he really understood how to design a house for the Scottish environment – making the most of the views, but also keeping the house warm, and to maintain the traditional features, which is what I wanted above all.’
'The project was a sensitive one; from the very beginning, both Linda and Dickson wanted to ensure that the barn kept its agricultural identity. ‘You get a lot of terrible conversions that look like some kind of Franken-barn that’s neither a house or a barn,’ explains Dickson. ‘What we wanted to do with this build was make sure that, at the end of the project, it was unquestionable that it was still a farm building, and that any alterations were absolutely in character.
‘Along the main elevation there were three large existing openings, so we wanted to keep these,’ continues Dickson. ‘These were originally big timber-boarded doors, with very little natural light coming into the structure, so we decided to fit glazing in the openings instead, but kept the wooden shutters so the property has a dynamism to it.’
The main challenge was to make the most of the spectacular view down to the loch, with the prime position being at the gable end of the house. ‘The view towards the Five Sisters is absolutely the killer feature of the site, so we wanted to create a new opening to respond to it,’ says Dickson. ‘We decided the best option was to introduce a big gable window, and although it’s clearly a modern intervention, it still has character; the modern shutters and exposed steel beam are a nod to the barn’s agricultural heritage.’
The other task was to create extra space for modern living, without interfering with the original floorplan of the barn. Dickson wanted the main living area to remain as open plan as possible, maintaining the full width and height of the original building, so he introduced a timber-clad lean-to extension that contains the bathroom and utility room. ‘We decided to work with the subdivision that was already there and put all the smaller spaces in an extension to the rear of the property – it’s like a small backpack to the house.’
To meet Linda’s brief of keeping the barn warm, mineral wool insulation was used for the walls and roof, while the windows are triple-glazed to protect from the inclement Scottish weather. The stonework needed a little more repair than anticipated but, other than that, the building was in a relatively solid condition. Linda was also keen to reuse as many of the original slate tiles as possible, so these were retained, while the timber shutters on the original openings had to be reproduced due to poor condition.
The restoration of the barn itself was relatively simple, only taking around eight months after a straightforward planning process. ‘I completely trusted the architects and the builder, and came up once a month to check on progress, but it was quite nice to hand it over and not worry about it.
‘My favourite things are the slate roof and stone work – I think its great that we’ve maintained so much of the original character,’ adds Linda. ‘Despite originally wanting to do a new-build, I’m so proud that we renovated instead, because I think we’ve got a much more beautiful building as a result.’
The configuration of the new interiors is deliberately simple – once you enter through the boot room/utility zone, your eye is drawn into the spacious double-height living area, where Linda’s prized wood-burning stove is set between two large expanses of glazing. ‘It’s a fantastic place to sit when it’s pouring with rain,’ says Linda. ‘I adore the wood burner’s position; you can be sat in front of it and see all sorts of wildlife, such as seals and otters. It’s wonderful.’
Also in the open-plan living area is a simple L-shaped kitchen made up of units that were transported from a farmhouse in Devon that was Peter’s childhood home. ‘It was nice to have a bit of history in our future home,’ says Linda. It wasn’t just the kitchen that was reclaimed – Linda was keen to have a parquet floor running through the space, although it proved a little trickier than she’d anticipated.
‘I’ve always had a bit of a passion for parquet, so I bought some from a reclamation yard, which had come out of Edinburgh’s National Museum of Scotland, but it got sent to the wrong address in Oxford and they laid it by mistake,’ Linda recalls. ‘But they gave me a another more pared-back, lighter design that was in better condition. However, the concrete slab wasn’t quite dry enough when it was put down, so it lifted a bit and had to be re-laid. It was the only thing in the entire project that didn’t go smoothly, but it was worth the effort.’
At the other end of the property on the ground floor is the master bedroom, which sits within the original footprint of the room. Little structural quirks hint at the barn’s original features – the joists in the ceiling have been left exposed, as has some of the thick stone wall (a theme that runs throughout the property), plus a little chamfer that’s been turned into a sitting nook by the bedroom window, working with the unusual shape of the existing building.
Influenced by Scandinavian simplicity, Linda wanted to downplay the importance of the upper rooms, keeping the small original roof lights rather than adding lots of large, new openings. The first floor is split into two zones – one is a gallery space with a sofa bed that looks over the new solid A-frame beams down into the living area, while on the other side of the staircase is a dormitory-style room with two beds for their teenage children.
The barn is currently a holiday home as Linda and Peter’s children are still in school, but Linda’s determined to move into the property full time once they’ve flown the nest. She’s currently planning to extend the house by adding an en-suite bathroom, which should happen next year. ‘When you’ve walked up a nearby mountain, all you want to do when you come back is soak in a nice hot bath, so we thought a bath with a view and a little wood burner would be a nice idea.’
Words: Charlotte Luxford, Photography: Nigel Rigden