Tim and Adrienne Sowood have built their pretty Scandinavian-inspired house on a beautiful waterside location for less than £150,000.
“Our architect describes this house as Scandinavian with a kilt on,” laughs Tim Sowood, and its certainly easy to see why. From the pale Swedish wooden floors to the white-painted furniture, Tim and Adrienne’s new home has a distinctly Scandinavian feel, despite the fact that it is actually located on the north shore of Loch Alsh in the Scottish Highlands. Situated on this enviable coastal site, the Nordic-style property enjoys views of 13th century Eilean Donan Castle and has proved to be the ideal place for the Sowoods to enjoy their active retirement.
“We were living in a village on the outskirts of Manchester and our cottage had all of the usual problems associated with old properties,” Tim explains. “Realising that we couldn’t afford to retire and carry on paying our mortgage, we decided to try and find a new home which would leave us mortgage-free. We were rather tired of old houses and wanted to live by the water, but we knew that we would need to move away from the area to find exactly what we wanted for the right price.”
The couple travelled further and further north until they eventually discovered the overgrown piece of land in Ross-Shire where they would ultimately build their new house. “There were only a few properties dotted along the shoreline, and at first we thought that it was a bit too far from friends and family – although the constant stream of visitors has since disproved this,” says Tim. “We’d viewed so many dark and dismal houses that starting from scratch with a new build seemed like the perfect solution. We both enjoy orienteering, and had previously travelled to Scotland many times, so finding a plot right by the water with Outline Planning Permission and such incredible views was just too good to ignore.”
When it came to designing a new house, the Sowoods had very definite ideas about what they wanted. The Nordic way of life has influenced design throughout the world and Adrienne, a retired head teacher, was particularly inspired by the Swedish homes she had seen on holidays, including a school exchange visit to Stockholm.
“We explored various styles of houses and visited Skansen, the open-air museum in Stockholm, as well as Carl Larsson’s famous house in Sundborn,” she says. “We then contacted Frank Burstow – an architect who had previously designed some Swedish-style houses in Scotland – and showed him pictures of the kind of light and airy buildings we liked.”
These pictures included the beautifully crafted wooden houses dotted throughout the Swedish landscape, many of which are set in woods and beside lakes – often coming with their own private jetty. “I’ve always been a great believer in timber frame, so there was never any question about the type of construction we would use,” says Tim, a former civil engineer. “We looked at various kits, including imported timber frames, but in the end our frame was built locally in a workshop by a joiner who was also our builder’s brother.”
The finished structure combines all of the Swedish elements the Sowoods desired with the planners request for traditional dormer windows. “It’s described as a one-and-three-quarter storey house,” says Tim. “A one-and-a-half storey house is where the eaves start at first floor level, but here we have a one-metre-high vertical wall before the roof begins to slope, which means that you can sit up in bed without banging your head!”
The entrance facade of the property looks onto a quiet lane and incorporates small-paned windows, but the rear of the T-shaped house overlooks the loch and mountains beyond and is extensively glazed, with a covered balcony sheltering under the overhanging roof of the master bedroom. Below this, a conservatory opens through two sets of glazed doors from the living room, which is open plan to the dining area and kitchen beyond. The result is a light-filled interior, with three bedrooms nestling under the sloping eaves on the first floor and an additional fourth bedroom/study downstairs.
“We changed very little about the original design, although Tim did shave a metre off the width to make sure that the house would come in on budget,” says Adrienne. “We still have plenty of space, although the conservatory which we call the verandah – could perhaps have been a little larger as we use this room all the time because of the fantastic views.”
Living so far from their site meant that the Sowoods were unable to oversee the build themselves, and instead employed their architect to undertake the project management on their behalf. Tim admits that he would have loved to become more involved, but had to make do with frequent site visits, armed with long lists.
Throughout the build, Tim and Adrienne were conscious of their ultimate goal to ensure that they would move to Scotland without the need for a mortgage, and chose their materials carefully with this in mind – keeping extremely strict accounts records. With a budget of under £150,000, IKEA proved the perfect source for several pieces of furniture and the couple have also customised certain existing items by painting them to suit their predominantly white Scandinavian country-style interiors.
The stained softwood windows are a major feature of the house and the distinctive windows in the master bedroom have been designed to follow the slant of the balcony roof. Some of the glazing is shaded by plain and striped blinds and muslin swags, although many windows have been left completely bare – once more developing the essence of Swedish style. “We face south-east towards the loch, so the sun streams into our bedroom in the morning, but we don’t mind not having any curtains,” Tim remarks.
The Scottish and Nordic climates are not dissimilar, with long dark winters, and the white walls and furniture, offset with a smattering of traditional blue gingham check, help to maximise the natural light. Bleached pine flooring, imported from Sweden and laid over underfloor heating, sets the scene throughout the property – which has proved to be so warm that the Sowoods rarely feel the need to light their cast iron woodburning stove.
Once the house was completed, Tim was able to retire and the couple began their new life in the Scottish Highlands. They have been made to feel part of the local community and Adrienne has taken up gardening and landscaped the previously barren site. The waterside location has also enabled them to buy a small boat.
“Moving here has been a life-changing adventure, but constructing our house for such a low budget would simply not have been possible without our architect and the talented craftsmen who built it for us. They took a real interest in what we were trying to achieve and worked together to make it happen.”