It may have taken a decade to build, but for Colin and Marta, who appeared on Grand Designs first back in 2013, there’s a happy ending for this amazing airfield home
Image: The house is built from materials similar to those used on aircraft hangars on the site. An aluminium sheet roof is screwed into steel beams. Photo: David Barbour
With the kind of perfect timing an aeronautical specialist appreciates, Grand Designs revisited Colin MacKinnon and Marta Briongos’ airfield home in Strathaven, South Lanarkshire, Scotland, just as it was voted one of the 10 best new buildings north of the border by the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS). This was a moment made all the more celebratory by the fact that when Kevin McCloud and the TV cameras had last visited back in 2013, after four years on site, the house had still not been completed.
‘We literally finished less than a year ago,’ says Colin, 59, a former journalist who, together with his Spanish‐born partner Marta, 58, runs a microlight flying school from the airfield.
The RIAS judges described this steel and glass home and workspace as ‘cheerfully idiosyncratic’ and said the ‘ light, airy and joyful building’ fitted in perfectly with its semi‐industrial hangar neighbours. The couple have named the house Aluminia Meadownia because, says Colin, ‘ it’s clad in corrugated aluminium and the airfield looks like a meadow with the wild flowers in summer’.
Watch the episode: Strathaven Revisit, 2019
Image: The silo-like structure on the front of the home acts as a balcony with panoramic views. Photo: David Barbour
Before moving to the airfield full time, Colin commuted from their previous home in Glasgow, but as he and Marta already owned the land, building a house on the site seemed a logical step. They asked Edinburgh‐based architect Richard Murphy to design a house with a first‐floor living space that would look over the airfield as much as possible. As Richard is a keen microlight pilot, he was delighted at the prospect of being able to fly to the site.
The form and materials were inspired by local agricultural and airfield buildings, as well as the work of Australian architect Glenn Murcutt, known for his rugged aesthetic and use of precision‐cut steel.
Following the layout of Colin’s grandmother’s cottage on the Isle of Skye, the first floor has the traditional 20th century Scottish layout of three sections – a bedroom and living room at either end of the space with the kitchen in the middle. This floor is where the couple spend most of their time, the living room overlooked by a mezzanine office platform, which Marta uses as an art studio. There’s even a swing for Marta to practice her aerial gymnastics. ‘I am an aerialist enthusiast and love to see the world upside down and hang from anything – and the beams are just too tempting!’ she say
Image: The precision steel-framed roof light over the top-floor office/art studio provides an amazing view of the sky, both by day and at night Photo: David Barbour
Downstairs on the ground floor are three en‐suite guest bedrooms for the couple’s children, Iain and Alba, and their partners. Since the house was built they now have young grandchildren, so one bedroom has been transformed into a playroom with a futon.
The vivid hues of orange, yellow, purple, pink and lime green that stand out against the walls and floors are not only an expression of Colin and Marta’s ebullience, but a guard against the occasionally overwhelming sense of openness on the other side of the windows.
‘In aviation, everything has a purpose – too much extra stuff and the aircraft won’t get off the ground,’ says Colin. ‘Our house is like that: we have lots of space upstairs, which we can enjoy every day, and then a modest front door, entrance hall and small guest bedrooms.’
‘The first floor has the traditional 20th century Scottish layout of three sections – a bedroom and a living room at either end with the kitchen in the middle.'
Image: Bright accent colours ensure the house looks cosy all year round. Exposed steel beams and stove pipes in the living area combine with treasured family pieces as part of the couple’s distinctive style. Photo: David Barbour
That doesn’t mean the project lacked imagination or ambition. ‘The house they asked for is big and the only way they could afford it was to organise the build themselves – which they did with heroic determination,’ says architect Richard Murphy.
Colin and Marta’s easy‐going approach to life and their artistic flair belie the hurdles they have had to leap during the ten‐year process to f inish their remarkable project. It took some persuasive argument to justify granting planning permission for such a distinctive rural home, and the scheme was eventually approved on the grounds that it was necessary for their business for Colin and Marta to be on site at the airf ield.
A catastrophic fire in 2010 in one of the hangars caused £850,000 of damage and it took the couple five years to agree a final settlement with the insurers, meaning work had to be suspended because of cash-flow problems. And when the build went over budget by nearly £30,000, Colin and Marta made the tough decision to sell some of their treasures: a painting by Scottish colourist JD Fergusson and a large Lalique vase. ‘The budget was calculated so that we could finish without a mortgage, and we have managed to achieved that,’ says Colin.
Image: External curves of the building are repeated in the ground-floor guest bedrooms, which have high clerestory windows to allow light to filter through. Photo: David Barbour
One of the most important investments the couple have made has been the house’s energy efficiency. ‘Colin describes insulation as his pension plan: we spend the money now, and then we won’t have need so much cash when we are older to keep the place warm,’ says Marta. ‘We have a wood‐fired boiler for heating and all the lighting is LED.’
Read more: 9 design ideas for better kitchen storage
Image: The aluminium sheet roof overhang helps to provide protection against strong winds and the windows. David Barbour
After 10 years, to finally finish and be able to enjoy their house marks the end of a long adventure. But Colin remains pragmatic. ‘It’s done, and now we just have to maintain it. Any building that’s out of the ordinary will take longer and cost more than you had envisaged. We simply spent money when we had it, and stopped when we hadn’t. Building a house is a journey, and you are allowed to make stop offs. It is only one part of your life.’
While it must get noisy with aircraft landing and taking off, exposure to the elements, it turns out, is more of a presence. ‘We love being snug in the TV room w a tching a movie on a wild, windy day, or enjoying the summer glow in the sky after sunset from the living room,’ says Colin. ‘And did I mention a long soak in a huge bath that measures two metres by one metre? We planned the house to make the most of things, whatever the situation, and it really does achieve that.’
Property Detached self build home
Project started 2013
Project finished 2019
Size of house 290sqm
Cost Approx £580,000