There are many homeowners who would have been put off by a farm steading consisting of a collection of cow sheds next to a pile of potato boxes. However, Gavin and Angelique Robb rose to the challenge of a conversion project.
The result is an eco-friendly family home, Skye Steading, which combines one of the existing granite buildings on site with a dramatic new Cor-ten steel-clad, agri-industrial wedge.
The long and labyrinthine journey that the Robb family embarked upon nearly 10 years ago when they bought the farm steading was one Glasgow-based architect Andy McAvoy tried to steer them away from initially. “The site had many issues,” explains Andy.
“Topography, large amounts of tricky demolition, requirements for on-site recycling, 150 years of adaptations, and also drainage and infrastructure needed to be dealt with upfront to make the site accessible and workable. However, when I brought up all these issues, Gavin and Angelique seemed unfazed, and of the major works involved they said: ‘We can deal with that — in our industry we are dealing with logistics all the time, this is nothing’.”
- Name: Gavin and Angelique Robb
- Build cost: £400,000 (£1,951/m²)
- Location: Aberdeenshire
Indeed, with Gavin working as a construction consultant in the oil industry, and Angelique (who is originally from Lafayette, Louisiana, in the US) having previously relocated to Aberdeen to work as a drilling engineer in the oil industry, the couple did have something of a head start in terms of project managing nous.
Having purchased the collection of derelict and semi-derelict former agricultural buildings in rural Aberdeenshire – even though, at the time, the couple lived happily in a flat in Aberdeen city centre and had no plans to move or take on a project of this size and nature – Gavin and Angelique then had to work out exactly what they wanted in terms of accommodation. The final resolution was as surprising as it was challenging.
Maple flooring saved from a demolished school gym has been laid here and complements the neutral palette of the interiors
Choosing High-Quality Materials
The couple, who moved into caravans on site to project manage the build, were keen to use honest, good-quality materials — the spirit of which is evident throughout the home, with traditional green oak combined with steel to form the internal framework of the new home. Dismantled roof slates and granite stones were all numbered and reinstated, too. Gavin also took on the arduous task of cladding the new Cor-ten steel wedge alongside a local blacksmith, even during one −20°C winter.
“It was a lot of work trying to bend and shape each panel individually to give it a sculptural rather than a homemade sheet look,” he says. The new wedge now projects forward to face the main view via huge glazed elements, while the thin end of the wedge ‘disappears’ into the ground, sheltering the property from the harsh north-easterly winds. Since this form will be exactly mirrored in the adjoining house, the final result will create a dramatic visual effect like the outstretched wings of a bird.
A modern monochrome kitchen from IKEA, complete with island and contrasting stools from Bontempi, sits within the new extension, with the living area above
Forming a Project Plan
The feasibility report suggested converting the buildings into two houses instead of one and splitting the large infrastructure cost over the two properties — something the planning department would have to agree to. However, there were other conditions that the couple would have to abide by. “One planning snag on this build was that the extension shouldn’t override the existing granite building,” explains Gavin. “So we had to sink the triangle of the new build element.”
As well as two houses, plans also included a separate home-working environment and a landscaping arrangement with polytunnels and growing spaces to make room for Angelique’s landscaping and garden design business. The home is, in essence, the first part of the grand development to emerge, with a commercial space and workshop also completed recently.
The former granite farm building is now utilised as sleeping accommodation, housing the master bedroom complete with en suite, one of the children’s bedrooms, and a family bathroom
Designing a New Home
In design terms, the couple were keen to retain the agricultural aesthetic — indeed, the design was inspired by the neighbouring ‘tattie’ (potato) sheds and box stacks. Architect Andy also managed to unearth a mid-19th century map of the farm buildings and decided to follow the original U-shaped arrangement around a courtyard, with the design proposal for the two new energy-efficient houses (Skye Steading and the second home yet to be built) sharing the entrance courtyard but having private aspects and gardens.
Essentially, Skye Steading is a cleverly constructed combination of a converted granite farm building and contemporary extension, connected by a reinforced glass floor internally. The farm building now houses three family bedrooms (including master en suite), bathroom and an office (which is sized as an additional bedroom if needed).
“I think what’s really nice is that all the bedrooms are in this part, which doesn’t have as many windows, so they are darker and smaller rooms. That was intentional, and it’s worked out perfectly,” says Angelique.
The new open plan extension is the most audacious part of the home and features a kitchen, dining and living area with a large separate living space above that makes the most of the views through full-height glazing. Gavin and Angelique managed to save some materials from landfill when a handful of 19th and early-20th century schools were being torn down in Aberdeen, so the new upper level living area includes thick solid maple flooring, formerly a fixture in an old school’s gym.
The home, which Gavin describes as “one step away from Passivhaus standards,” has been insulated with sheep’s wool, which, along with the new sedum roof, allows the house to breathe while maintaining a cosy indoor climate. This clement environment is further enhanced via the thick polished concrete floors that store heat from the underfloor heating, powered by a ground-source heat pump.
Furthermore, the courtyard-facing trombe granite walls store sunlight filtered from the glazed exterior ‘walls’ and air space created in the main circulation corridor. Unsurprisingly, the couple’s energy bills are considerably less than they experienced in their previous flat, which was half the size of their current home.
“We wanted the challenge of a project like this when we bought the site. We were keen to build it ourselves, but now I wonder, ‘what were we thinking?’,” laughs Angelique. “It hasn’t deterred us, though, and the second house will get built, but it’s a great wee playground for the children at the moment.”
Natural light floods into the upper living space thanks to full-height glazing (bottom right) with doors opening out to a balcony
The family bathroom/wetroom, supplied by Victor Paris, features Altro flooring as well as Duravit, Vitro and Vado sanitaryware
To connect the new extension to the existing granite building, the couple introduced a glazed link, which also cleverly allows the exposed granite to become a trombe wall — a passive solar technique that allows sunlight in through an unvented glass exterior, built on a winter sun-facing elevation. The heat captured is stored by the wall and in turn warms the inside of the home
Polished concrete flooring and exposed green oak and steel framework give an industrial look
This new home combines a converted farm building with a contemporary triangle-shaped addition; the latter is clad in Cor-ten steel, which offers zero maintenance. The task of cladding the exterior was undertaken by homeowner Gavin Robb, along with a local blacksmith, who had to bend and shape each Cor-ten panel individually. A balcony with intricate detailing completes the look
A series of glazed panels from NorDan help to break up the steel exterior of the extension. Double-height glazing – including doors opening to the balcony – captures the main views to the front, while rows of linear picture windows to the side allow natural light to enter the home at eye level as well as from above