When Marnie Collins began designing a family home for herself, husband Norrie and their three children, Kyle, Jamie and Ruidi, she had in mind the type of large detached villa that she was so familiar with from her childhood, growing up in the United States. And Timberholme, the self-designed and self built family home that has emerged from Marnie’s original plans, does indeed have the impressive size and striking individual appearance of many rural US villas. But Timberholme is also firmly rooted in the Scottish Borders and, as a result, forms a unique, charming addition to the landscape.
The Collins family had previously lived in the Borders town of Galashiels, but decided that they would “like to head for the countryside,” says Norrie. “Galashiels was becoming a busy area and property values were going up, so we wondered if there was a better way to live and we thought that we’d like to build our own house. We decided that we’d start to look at finding a larger piece of land and more space.” Luckily for the couple, they “fell in love with” the first plot they viewed – or rather two plots across fourand- a-half acres – and subsequently bought the lot.
The plot had existing cottages and outline planning permission — with arrangements for the demolition having been taken care of by the time Norrie and Marnie bought it. Marnie admits that as soon as the plot was theirs, “the house was finished and decorated in my mind! Norrie and I are both textile designers but I also do quite a bit of amateur interior design. My father is an interior designer in the United States, so that is my background. Once I saw the site, it was a case of getting together ideas that I thought would work well spatially and architecturally. We wanted the house to reflect our style, which is natural but not rustic. And we didn’t want an eyesore that stuck out. Our architect, Michael Shepherd, was great at translating our vision into reality while adding his own signature touches.”
The resulting Timberholme is a five bedroom detached villa with a full-length basement, combining timber frame construction with sandstone and treated cedar finishes. The unusual main elevation of vertical and curved elements also features extensive glazing and a slate roof. “In the end, we had to be really brave combining so many different elements,” says Marnie. As well as designing their new house, the couple also supervised all elements of the 11-month construction, a process that Norrie describes as exhausting: “It’s our first self build and probably our last!” he admits. “The hardest thing about doing the house was the project management. With a contractor, at least you have a contract,” states Norrie. As part of this, the couple upgraded services as well as installing a private water system themselves. “I also coordinated the construction and often worked as a labourer,” continues Norrie. “When we were installing the floor structure with an underfloor heating system, I had to take possession of eight tonnes of sand. I’m still recovering, believe me! Luckily we moved into the area when the house was being built, which was a godsend. This meant that we were five minutes away so we could supervise closely.”
Marnie and Norrie admit that they made a few compromises due to budgetary constraints. The original plan had included a pond, which had to be reconsidered, but Marnie insists that they still want a jacuzzi on the outside deck. Perhaps the biggest sacrifice, however, was taking a metre off the north gable, which Marnie feels impacts on the size of the guest bedroom, which also functions as a snug. But a few budgetary sacrifices aside, the couple maintain that their original vision has largely prevailed.
In terms of the layout, the ground floor entrance from the main eastern elevation leads directly into an open plan living and dining area. The couple now spend most of their time in the double-height living space, which culminates in an end wall featuring an open fire with bespoke metal surround. This light and airy wing leads up to the main circulation and dining area, which is adjoined by a simple MFI kitchen located in the west elevation. Completing the picture on the ground floor is the guest bedroom, a bathroom and Kyle’s bedroom.
A bespoke beech staircase leads from the main circulation area to the upper level. Marnie describes the staircase as “a happy accident. It was sourced by the joiner and came in thousands of pieces. Thankfully, the joiners installed it!”
On the first floor landing, rooflights introduce more light. “There had previously been a steel beam but we had to insist that it got moved, as it cut out so much light and it took about a metre and a half off the ceiling height,” explains Norrie. “But because we were here all the time, we could make changes like this that we weren’t happy with.”
Dominating the first floor is the impressive en suite master bedroom which overlooks the main south-facing living area, and also features a balcony designed by Marnie to follow the curve of the turret on the main eastern elevation. Jamie and Ruidi’s rooms, set directly above the two ground floor bedrooms, complete the upper level.
In addition to the ground and upper level living quarters, Timberholme also boasts a large basement studio which is currently given over to Découpage, the couple’s successful bespoke handmade wallpaper business that boasts the likes of Malmaison hotels and Manchester United FC amongst its clients. “It was a big dilemma as the basement cost us [a lot],” says Norrie. “But as well as being a studio, it is also a flexible space that can be used as an entertainment area and could evolve different functions depending on how we want to live. There is a separate entrance, so it’s also self-contained.” The basement area is surprisingly cosy, due namely to the installation of underfloor heating here, in addition to its presence in the upper levels — all powered by a huge oil tank located at the house’s rear.
“The heating system is generally very good — a bit cold to begin with. It’s not instantaneous. But we can walk around the house barefoot and in T-shirts in winter and that’s great. It also costs roughly the same as our previous smaller four bedroom house that was powered by gas central heating,” explains Marnie. Norrie adds that the only advice he would like to offer would be to leave the underfloor heating for a few months before laying the floor. “The floor dried out too quickly before we laid the limestone surface and as a result we’ve had a few cracks. But we were so keen to move in,” he explains.
Still, the couple have no complaints about the remaining material finishes, which Norrie himself was largely responsible for, including all the tiling, painting and wallpapering. In terms of these finishes, the main open plan areas have been kept modern and minimalist with limestone floors, white walls and extensive glazing. Unsurprisingly, the couple have also decorated the bedrooms, bathrooms and even the kitchen with their own Découpage range of textured wallpapers, which provide a rich and luxurious counterpoint.
Since the family moved in, Norrie proudly admits that although set some way from the nearest road, many a passing driver has stopped to steal a closer look at the unique, formal appearance of this impressive self-designed, self built home.