Built for less than £160,000 in a Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), the house is nestled at the foot of Melfort Hill and perched 100m above Loch Melfort, and includes a private water supply with septic tank and a reed bed filtration system.
Fearnach Bay House is located in a peaceful, secluded corner of Rory and Jennie’s working Argyll hill farm, overlooking the yachts moored in Loch Melfort and within a short stroll of its own private shoreline. This Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) has a rich and varied bird population and teems with wildlife — including seals and otters, which are frequently spotted in the waters of the loch. The house enjoys southerly aspects and stands against the backdrop of the magnificent Melfort Hill, which offers breathtaking views over the nearby islands of Scarba, Luing, Jura and Islay.
“It was the obvious spot for a house — although we doubted whether the planners would agree,” says Rory, whose family has farmed the same estate since 1343. Twenty-five years ago, he and Jennie had converted a stable building into a spacious traditional farmhouse where their three children – Alice, 25, Flora, 22, and William, 18 – grew up. The couple thoroughly enjoyed the experience and tackled a great deal of the physical work themselves.
“We’re both now in our fifties and it seemed sensible to think ahead and build a smaller, lowmaintenance home designed to cater for our needs as we grow older,” explains Jennie. “It’s notoriously difficult to get planning permission in the area, though, and we’d been refused consent to renovate a ruined building further up the Melfort Hill, as it was too far away from the main road. Instead, the planners suggested that we could build a new house in a less-elevated position beside the loch, and we jumped at the chance.”
Jennie and Rory had noticed several attractive new houses around Perth, which they felt were particularly well designed with perfectly proportioned windows. They contacted James Denholm, the architect responsible, and invited him to visit the farm. Their brief was for a traditional, cottage-style property that would appear to have stood on the waterside site for more than 100 years. Within this traditional façade the couple wanted to create a luxurious, relaxing, hitech home which would incorporate a number of energy-efficient features.
James Denholm responded with a picture-postcard design of white-rendered walls beneath a slate roof. The rear of the house, facing away from the loch, is slightly more contemporary in appearance, with a steeply pitched roof, overhanging to create a large covered porch beneath.
Numerous lessons had been learned from converting the stables 25 years before, and the couple shunned PVCu windows in favour of timber. “All the PVCu windows needed replacing in our old house, and weren’t particularly good for the environment, so we decided to choose natural materials wherever possible this time around,” says Rory.
Single storey offshoots to either end of the four bedroom house help to reduce the visual impact of the building, and large windows ensure that virtually every room has magnificent views towards the loch. One important consideration was that these windows should be positioned low enough that the view could still be enjoyed from a sitting position, and even from the beds. Wooden shutters and window seats throughout help to create a traditional feel.
“The lounge, dining area and kitchen are all open plan, and there’s a ground floor bedroom and en suite wetroom designed for disabled access,” Jennie explains. “We had great confidence in James and we definitely weren’t disappointed. Everything looks beautiful but is also practical and easy to maintain.”
Rory was able to use his farm machinery to quarry rock and lay a new access road to the site, which stands approximately 100 metres from the shore — alleviating any risk of flooding. “That was probably the easiest part of the build,” he says. “We already had electricity and a telephone line fairly close by, and put in our own private water supply and septic tank, with a reed bed filtration system which discharges directly into a burn.”
The Campbell- Gibsons also decided to sink a ground-source heat pump in trenches on the two-acre plot, motivated by articles they had seen in Homebuilding & Renovating. This collects natural warmth from beneath the earth’s surface and powers the underfloor heating.
“We’ve always been fairly eco-minded,” says Jennie. “When we visited the Scottish Homebuilding & Renovating Show in Glasgow prior to building the house, there were a huge number of green products and materials to inspire us.”
Rory prepared exceptionally deep foundations for the new house, which stands on a raised beach. Several metres of peat were excavated in order to reach a solid footing, and this provided opportunity to create a basement storage area — the ideal space for containing the house’s plant.
A substantial bespoke timber frame kit was made locally and delivered to the site, and this was erected by Rory with the help of an experienced joiner and some local tradesmen. Two friends – a father and son team – were then responsible for building the outer blockwork skin of the highly insulated structure.
“We employed other tradesmen to complete the rendering and slating, but the first roofer let us down badly,” says Jennie. “He agreed to start in November, erected the scaffolding and then decided that he didn’t want the job. Trying to find another roofer at that time of year was practically impossible, and we had to pay over the odds. It’s a large roof and the Spanish slates are all double-fixed using copper nails, so it was a fiddly job. After this point, Rory did virtually everything else — from plasterboarding to laying floors and hanging doors.”
Rory owns a commercial concrete mixer and was able to pour the floor screed himself. This took far longer than anticipated to dry out, which delayed progress for more than a month, so it was a real high point when the solid French oak flooring could finally be laid in the open plan sitting/dining room.
This room features a woodburning stove with a slate hearth, and opens directly into the traditional kitchen, with its bespoke cabinets and slate flooring.
Jennie worked closely with local interior designer Jane Blanchard to select traditional fabrics for curtains, blinds and cushions throughout the house, and each room has been given instant character, and completed to an exceptional standard. “We were happy to let Jane come up with ideas, and she suggested several items of furniture,” says Jennie. “Jane was a delight to work with and really helped us to make the most of every single room.”
The house ultimately came in on budget at £158,000. Rory and Jennie feel that they saved around £40,000 by tackling so much of the work themselves, and are currently renting out the house for holiday use as an additional way to help cover costs until they are ready to relocate from the farmhouse.
“The new house includes some hi-tech gadgets, such as a multi-room sound system with iPod docking stations, but overall it has that peaceful, traditional feel associated with older homes,” says Rory. “Everybody who visits is taken aback by the location and views. There really is nothing more relaxing than being able to look out and watch the boats and wildlife down on the loch.”