Packed with history, Richard and Gill Harris’ Grade B listed home –which was originally the service/farm building for a grand rural Highlands estate – has now been sensitively restored and brought up to date with improved insulation and design.
The building had once been used as part coach house, part byre and stables, part hayloft and part dairy. Then, in the early 20th century it was subdivided with blockwork partitions and suspended ceilings to domesticate it. It was then sold by the Carnegie estate after World War II, went through various stages (including the byre being used as a toilet block for a nearby campsite), before becoming derelict.
Thankfully, in the late 1970s the building was saved from falling into disrepair by a builder and with his efforts it was made structurally sound. Entrepreneurial inventor Richard and his designer and artist wife Gill fell in love with the property while searching for a characterful rural retreat.
- Name: Richard and Gill Harris
- Build Cost: £240,000 (£782/m²)
- Build Time: 5 Year(s) 5 Month(s)
- Build Route: Self Managed
- Region: Perth and Kinross
When Richard and Gill took possession of the building, it was a family home, with self-contained holiday flat. The domestication process had led to many layout issues — the large spaces had not been taken advantage of and it felt like a poorly planned collection of small rooms, with poor flow.
The couple set about reworking the internal space. Richard and Gill have reduced the number of bedrooms in the 307m² property from six poky ones to four generous ones, and totally opened up the house. A long, dark corridor and the three bedrooms that lead off it have become an open plan living hall with a 4.5m ceiling, a walk-through library and an en suite study/bedroom.
It feels in many ways like a conversion rather than a renovation, such is the sense of the building’s original purpose. The suspended ceiling in this open plan space was removed to uncover the original hayloft, now reused as a mezzanine study and storage space enjoying views over the living hall.
Elsewhere upstairs, a kitchen dining space (featuring lovely rustic bespoke units and a mix of oak and elm surfaces) and the master bedroom take full advantage of those fabulous ceilings. Downstairs is given over to bedroom space and a more informal living/music room.
Insulating the Old House
As well as restoring the home in a way that was sympathetic to its history, the couple were keen to make it suit a low-impact lifestyle by improving its thermal efficiency. Richard worked with an architectural technologist to model the best compromises between insulation, ventilation and visual impact.
Richard and Gill chose to insulate between the rafters with solid insulation, leaving a ventilated air gap under the sarking. They then added multi-foil insulation above the rafters before sheeting the whole structure. With the installation of a new ventilated roof ridge and concealed ventilators for the air gap, this gave them a delivered U value of about 0.18 for the roof.
The floor of the east wing, above the stables and plant room, has been insulated with 300mm of blown Warmcel insulation.
The solid stone walls are around one metre thick. So as not to affect the external appearance of the building, Richard and Gill created an insulated shell inside these walls, providing an air gap, then solid insulation, with a breathable membrane, plasterboard and a skim. Overall U values for the walls as built are 0.21 to 0.23.
A ground source-heat pump replaced an old storage heater and now underfloor heating provides warmth in the now well-insulated living spaces.
Using a series of specialist subcontractors, the result is to the very highest standard. Curved arrises on the internally plastered walls are brilliantly executed and give a soft, characterful finish that ordinary owners would have never thought about. Likewise, the stone wall on the south-facing elevation has been left exposed – “thanks to its thickness, it’s a net contributor in terms of heat over the year,” explains Richard – plus, it’s a simple signifier of the building’s origins.
It would have been so easy to compromise on this project, but Richard and Gill’s secret was that early on they realised that greater renovation was actually not what this building needed. It was a reassessment of the domestication that had gone before, and a stripping back to the original farm use, and then a conversion. By opening it up, letting the spaces breathe and introducing a series of structural efficiency improvements that in many ways could be reversed if necessary, their light-touch project has resulted in the ultimate example of thoughtful renovation.