Alex and Seonaid Maclean-Bristol have created an astonishing contemporary home out of the ruins of a Georgian landmark.

An 18th century Georgian ruin on the tiny Hebridean Isle of Coll would hardly constitute the most obvious foundation on which to build a new family home. However, this was exactly the starting point for the White House, Alex and Seonaid Maclean-Bristol’s contemporary farmhouse.

The couple, who have three young sons, relocated to Coll from London six-and-a-half years ago in order to take on a great deal of the day-to-day running of Alex’s family’s 800-acre farm. Alex and Seonaid lived in a traditional 19th century manse house when they first moved to the island. However, a long-standing yearn to create a home from the ruins of an island landmark was eventually realised when the couple were gifted the site by Alex’s parents.

The main priority for the couple was to “respect the ruin”. This decision was precipitated by Seonaid’s feeling that she was keen for the people on the island to be able to maintain the “incredibly personal relationship” they have with the ruin.

“We wanted to do something honest to the ruin,” says Seonaid. “But didn’t want to go down the route of renovating it.” Instead, the couple decided to embrace the unusual (and logistically more complex) option of partially occupying the ruin.

“The intention was that other new accommodation would be visually separate but physically connected to the ruin,” explains the architect of the reborn White House, Wil Tunnell of WTArchitecture.

The H-shaped plan – which provides pockets of external shelter on this very exposed site – features in one half of the main ruin a voluminous entrance hall and stairway together with a kitchen, storage space and WC on ground level, and master en suite bedroom and study above. The other half of the ruin – the side with that dramatic cracked gable – has been left as a roofless courtyard. The main hallway in the ruin connects through to a living/dining room with glazed walls and a sedum-covered roof. To the other end, the new west wing features four further bedrooms, utility spaces and a cherry wood-panelled snug separated from the living room by a wall of shelves.

The Maclean-Bristols were closely involved with the construction and were on site at least once a day. Towards the end of the project, it was four or five times a day. So, was it all worth it?

“I came across our notes for the initial brief,” reflects Seonaid. “Although this brief was actually fluid, we had a lot of the key things that we wanted, such as five bedrooms, making a feature of the crack, and preserving the façade of the original ruin. We were enchanted from the outset with Wil’s design and I’m happy that part of the house is still a ruin as I think it’s honest to its original character — particularly the courtyard, which gives the impression that the house once belonged to someone else a long time ago and its use has been adapted rather than renovated.”

Project Details

  • Name: Alex and Seonaid Maclean-Bristol
  • Build Cost: £735,000
  • Build Time: 1 year(s) 6 month(s)
  • Region: Hebrides

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