Lauchlan and Charlotte Maclean-Bristol were spared the usual self builder woe of plot hunting when they were given a farmer’s cottage in the Outer Hebrides.

However, the beautiful site on the Isle of Coll came with delivery issues due to its stunning, but remote, location.

The cottage was also in a pretty bad state and needed some hard work to transform it.

After nearly four years of hard work – and lots of trips between the site and the family home over 300 miles away in Lancashire – the Maclean-Bristols now have the perfect holiday home and the title of Best Conversion in our Daily Telegraph Homebuilding & Renovating Awards 2013.

The Project

  • Name: Lauchland and Charlotte Maclean-Bristol
  • Build cost: £285,000
  • Build time: 3 years 9 months
  • Location: Isle of Coll

The Site

The Maclean-Bristols had no trouble finding a site as they were gifted a tumbledown 19th century crofter’s cottage on Lauchlan’s father’s farmland. At the time, the ruin was being used as a holding area for sheep.

The couple were based in Lancashire, but in 2008 they decided to take on the conversion before they had children and became restricted by time and money.

The Brief

Lauchlan and Charlotte wanted:

  • a hi-spec holiday home
  • four bedrooms
  • to keep as much of the original structure as possible
  • to make the most of the sea views
  • bright, modern interiors

The Design

When first undertaking the project, an architect friend drew up some plans as a favour. Unfortunately, the friend had to step down as they had a busy day job and a baby on the way, but another architect friend, Joel Firth came to the rescue. He said that internally the existing drawings wouldn’t work and re-did them.

A Coll based labourer had already demolished the crumbling internal walls and the living space was kept open plan with double height ceilings. Dramatic structural ceiling trusses made from European softwood and steel flitch plates were used. The couple wanted exposed stone internally, but this had to be dry lined and plastered to avoid inevitable damp issues.

A section of the ground floor was extended which houses two ground floor en suite bedrooms, and there is a bathroom and utility room nearby. There are a further two bedrooms on the first floor.

The living area has large patio doors and sea-facing windows to make the most of the views — something which had been less important in the original building, as the occupants would have wanted to look out over their fields of livestock instead.

Externally, they kept the character of the building by maintaining the exposed stone. Additional stone was used which had been reclaimed from the demolished garden walls.


One of the biggest problems faced was transporting all of the required materials to the island — the freight bill alone was £20,000. They also had trouble getting HGVs on and off site as they did not put a hardstanding down until the end of the project and delivery men would often find themselves stuck in the mud.

On the upside, the Isle of Coll is very well covered when it comes to skilled labourers. Amongst the tiny population of 200, Lauchlan managed to source a stonemason, joiners and groundworkers. This saved the cost of providing transport and accommodation for craftsmen from the mainland.

Word of mouth worked well too, and Lauchlan heard about a plasterer from Devon who was spending a year out in his holiday home on Coll.

The Build

After the initial problems involved with designing the building, the project progressed smoothly. Stonemason, Patrick Rutherford, acted as site agent and the main builder, whilst Lauchlan project managed. He would make it to the site every four to six weeks and take photos to keep the architect and engineer updated.

The home was officially finished in December 2011 after three and a half years of work.


The couple had already spent £10,000 to have the house connected to the Grid so they used electricity for their heating needs. Underfloor heating was used on the ground floor so as not to clutter the living space with radiators.

On top of this they took advantage of the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme and installed an air-source heat pump. A 35 metre borehole provides water and an eco friendly reed bed assists in cleaning waste.

“Ultimately, I think we over-specified the house and I think we could probably do it again for about half of what it cost us,” concludes Lauchlan. “But, it was great fun.”

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