“We built Killearnan Lodge as a house to be lived in and enjoyed, as opposed to something to be looked at and to go ‘ooh aah!’ to,” says Peter Swanson when describing his and wife, Linda’s, raison d’être behind the striking new build home that they now share on the Black Isle in the Scottish Highlands. Yet, although Killearnan Lodge is undoubtedly the practical living and breathing family home that the couple envisaged in the first instance, it is also, nevertheless, charmingly unique in its looks, as well as impressive in terms of its sprawling size — all 410m² of it.
“The brief was simple,” explains Peter, a local businessman. “The house’s main aspect was to be across the water, so to this side of the building we wanted a lot of glass so that all the public rooms had wonderful views out to the sea; and in terms of style we wanted a New England-type feel to it. On the other – north-facing – side of the house that looks onto the surrounding hills, we were keen to create Highland lodge-style interiors; so, on this side everything has been kept very traditional with stone-worked edging and a big porch.”
Peter and Linda originally bought the land which now houses Killearnan Lodge as an investment around four or five years ago. “It’s an area that we liked to go walking in – it’s a place of particular scenic beauty,” says Peter. “Then after we had bought the site, every time we came out to visit it to have a walk around the area, we kept saying that we must build there.”
At the time the couple lived in a large Victorian villa in Inverness, which proved to be the main testing ground when it came to dipping their toe in the self- build and renovation water. “Our previous house -and the related outhouses – was a major project for us. We started renovating the main house from scratch: taking the roof off it, re-plumbing, rewiring, re-heating and taking it back to what it was – back to the original features. We’d done a couple of renovations before that too – I’d like to think all sympathetically,” says Peter.
Killearnan Lodge is the couple’s first major new build and as a result it proved a different yet no less demanding challenge. Indeed, the house has been designed as a one-and-a-half-storey home. However, when the couple realised how large the footprint of the house was going to be on one level, they realised they had no use for the first floor. “It occurred to us that we might not need to go upstairs at all,” explains Peter. And at 410m², and cleverly built into the sloping hillside, there is certainly no shortage of space inside the house.
Essentially, Killearnan Lodge comprises three en suite bedrooms, with an additional bedroom which currently features as a large office space, in the eastern wing of the house. The open plan kitchen, dining and family room (as well as utilities and bathroom) are situated in the western end of the house, as is the music room, which plays host to Peter’s impressive collection of guitars. At the heart of the house is an expansive entrance area to the north with sliding doors that retreat into the wall so that the whole centre depth of the house can be opened up. This area culminates in a similarly expansive drawing room/lounge area, taking full advantage of the wonderful south-facing sea views.
“We have one bedroom above the garage and that’s it as far as the upper level goes,” says Peter. “When people go up into the roof space they go completely wild, as it’s just this huge, huge space. It’s the whole length of the house, so effectively it could accommodate an additional seven en suite bedrooms – maybe more. I’ve been tempted to make it into a huge games area but I’ve been warned off that idea by Linda!” laughs Peter.
The Swansons achieved their unique vision in collaboration with Billy Reynolds of young Dingwall-based practice, Reynolds Architecture. “I’d known of Billy through a builder friend and had a look at some of his work,” explains Peter. “I then had a chat with Billy and he had some good ideas in line with my wife’s vision for the house. Linda wanted an architect that could share her vision and one that she could work with closely as part of a team. Billy’s got great ideas and great vision, and he’s also ‘user friendly’! As a result the collaboration from day one was first class.”
The actual building of Killearnan Lodge – which was constructed using a bespoke timber frame and blockwork with white harled finishes, atop of which is a slate pitched roof – took close to a year, rather than the originally anticipated 10-month time frame, to complete. By this time, as Peter explains, he and Linda were desperate to get into their new home. “Our previous house sold after three days on the market, and we had to move out three weeks later. For the duration of the build we were renting a small two bedroom flat – for myself, Linda, daughter Emma and our dog. So we were keen to keep on schedule.”
Peter describes the build project as “a bit like an S curve”. The site itself was a challenging one due to the steepness of the site, therefore a builder with a strong civil engineering background was chosen to tackle it. “The site is on a hill – a cut and fill site – so we had to cut into the hill and there had to be a lot of piling installed underneath to make sure that the house didn’t flex. So this part of the build – namely the engineering and groundworks – was important,” says Peter. The couple were on site every day to check progress. Indeed, Linda in particular was extremely hands-on with all aspects of the build and finishes.
In terms of the interiors, Linda sourced most of the finishes and materials herself, and as a result has enhanced the light-filled spaces by means of a simple white and neutral backdrop and blonde ceramic flooring combined with the richer tones of the merbau timber floors.
In addition, Linda was also responsible for elements of the build such as the landscaping of the sloping site – which also features a spa area with hot tubs and changing area. Linda is also currently busy extending outbuildings such as the stables and tool house. “One of our friends has said that Linda is never happier when there’s cement and sand lying around the front of the house,” laughs Peter. “Killearnan Lodge may be finished but we’ve got five builders here at the moment working on various ongoing projects.”
On a practical, energy-efficient level the house outperforms the Swansons’ previous much smaller house. “We have underfloor heating that works very well, and although we have huge amounts of glass, which one would expect to account for some heat loss, it actually has the opposite effect. It only takes about two minutes of sun, even in the winter months, and the place is roasting. Our bills are much smaller than our previous house. It’s a very efficient house for its size.”
Indeed, there is little that Peter doesn’t like about the house. “We wanted a house with oodles of light, and we’re hit by it on every aspect. The house picks up the light in the morning right through to the evening, and the view out from the front of the house is spectacular – you see ducks, otters and seals – it’s like having our very own menagerie!”
“I think that we’ve achieved everything that we wanted to; in fact, we see this not only as our long-term home but also as our spiritual home.”