Overlooking the Loch
Jim and Simone Fairfull overcame many odds for their dream home location
Grand Designers Jim Fairfull and his wife Simone tackled cautious planners to get permission for their Scottish loch-side home. The traditional exterior of Jim and Simone’s home – white render, stone and slate – belies the contemporary interior; double-height windows look out over the loch, making the most of this magical location
Grand Designs speaks to Jim to learn how he coped with the challenging self-build.
What did you enjoy most about the build?
Acquiring the plot and working with the architect to decide on the best position for the house and the configurations of the rooms was great fun – we could really get involved.
You had to change the exterior to appease the planners. How did you come to a compromise that worked?
It was tricky. We compromised on the pitch of the roof and the overhangs, but we were adamant that we wouldn’t change the amount of glass as it made the project. Although we compromised at first on the overhangs, we were able to go back at a later stage and make amendments.
You hired an engineer, quantity surveyor, services engineer, and a contractor. Do you think it was worth paying extra for professional assistance?
Absolutely! 100 per cent. The TV programme showed that. It made it far less stressful. Using a quantity surveyor gives you a clear idea of how much everything is going to cost and then you can keep to the budget.
Self-building is notoriously stressful which must have been particularly difficult as you had some health problems at the time. How did you manage?
My wife was very supportive and the fact that we had such a good team really helped. We planned everything thoroughly and the team took a lot of stress off our shoulders, so we could step back and watch it happen.
A project’s impact on the environment is increasingly a top priority for self-builders. Are there any materials or technologies that you wish you had used?
In six years, the technology in all these things has advanced incredibly and become much more cost effective. We looked into a heat sink (coils which are sunk into the loch to draw heat out of the water), but it was very expensive and would have taken about 10 years for us to break even.
At the time, it would have swallowed up too much of the budget. One thing that wasn’t available then that I would consider now is a mini hydroelectric system to produce our own electricity and sell back to the national grid.
Achieving a high-quality finish was much more important to you initially than the deadline. What advice do you have for others trying to balance these two factors?
We paid extra for small finishing touches; full-height doors, shadow gaps, skirtings flush to the wall – but we had this factored into our budget. You have to be realistic about what you can afford.
Lighting became an integral part of the design. What tips do you have for utilising this effectively?
It was a steep learning curve, and it was the one thing that we didn’t really budget for from the start. It used up our contingency funds. It’s important to think about lighting before you start the build as the architect and builder need to factor this in. It’s easy to rush it and get it wrong.
Once the house was finished you said that you would be interested in doing another build. Do you still feel the same?
Yes, I would love to. It’s a fantastic experience and a real privilege, although I think the current housing market is making it much more difficult.
Has the design lived up to your expectations?
Yes, it’s great. A lot of time and thought went into the planning, which was definitely well spent. We don’t feel that we got anything wrong. We love the layout and it’s such a unique house. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but we love it.