When Simon Evans and his wife, Jill Stoner, first came to live in the conservation town of Cromarty five years ago, they instantly knew that it was a place they would like to put down roots. The town is situated on the north-eastern tip of Scotland’s Black Isle, at the mouth of the Cromarty Firth, and is said to be the Highlands’ best-preserved historic town — retaining a great deal of character with its red sandstone buildings and quaint traditional cottages.
“We came to the area because Simon was working as a hospital doctor in Inverness, and when we first saw Cromarty one beautiful September afternoon we absolutely fell in love with the place,” says Jill, a GP. “The architecture is striking and we also liked the fact that our teenage daughter, Miranda, would be able to ride her bike without worrying about the traffic — it’s such a peaceful place to live.”
For three years the family rented a spacious property backing onto the sea and soon decided that they would like to buy somewhere of their own in the town, but finding a suitable house in such a small place proved difficult. It was only when a friend of Jill’s suggested contacting the owner of a burnt-out property that she and Simon considered taking on a substantial building project.
Barkly House is a late 18th century merchant’s house which is B-listed but had stood derelict since the interior, roof and attic dormers were destroyed by fire in the 1980s. Over the years the remaining exposed stone walls had deteriorated badly and the property was included on the Buildings at Risk register.
“As Simon works such long hours, organising the build was largely down to me,” says Jill, “so it was important that I should get on well with the architect and builder. The first contractor we’d planned to use was very patronising so we decided to go with someone else because it’s vital to be able to work well as a team on such a large project. Fortunately we then found a really fantastic local builder, who proved to be the perfect choice and worked faithfully to the plans.”
A structural engineer surveyed the ruin and recommended stonemasons to stabilise what remained of the house, which was partially rebuilt with original details such as the half crow-stepped south gable. This stage took three months to complete, and the property was then resurrected using an old photograph as a guide.
One lone window shutter remained hanging inside the ruin, and this was used as a template for reproduction shutters throughout the older part of the house. Curved dormer windows were reinstated, with glass cheeks drawing in additional light, and the stone structure has been roofed in reclaimed slate and traditionally harled and limewashed.
“Over the years the roofless stonework had become saturated, and the whole building is still drying out,” says Jill. “At first we were horrified to see what looked like damp patches seeping through the new harling and limewash finish outside, but now we understand that the walls are simply breathing.”
The extension was built alongside the original house to almost double the living space and provide an open plan living/dining/kitchen, hallway and utility on the ground floor with a master bedroom, shower room and guest bedroom upstairs.
“The last thing we wanted was to regret not making the house large enough,” says Simon, “so we planned to build the largest possible extension for the site. Using sandstone to match the main house would have been prohibitively expensive, and the planners were also keen that the old and new parts of the property should be clearly defined, so although there are elements which link the two halves of the building, they are distinctly different.”
The timber framed extension was finished with untreated larch boarding which will mellow to a silver-grey colour. Items were sourced locally where possible, with strong emphasis placed on using natural, renewable and recycled materials, and large areas of south-east-facing glazing in the extension maximise passive solar gain from the sun.
“When we moved in we all gravitated to the new extension, because it’s light and airy,” says Jill, “but we soon realised the benefits of the cosy sitting room in the older part of the building. We never dreamed when we came to Cromarty that we would be involved in restoring one of its historic buildings, and we feel lucky to be living in an old listed property which has been redesigned for family life in the 21st century.