Heather Dean had a very specific request when she decided to leave her pretty thatched cottage in Cambridge and move to Scotland to be closer to her two daughters. She asked her son-in-law, Fife-based architect Alasdair Baird, if he would design a unique eco-friendly bungalow for her retirement — he was more than happy to oblige.

“I’ve known Heather for over 20 years, which really helped when it came to planning her new home,” Alasdair explains. “Her tastes are quite traditional, and I wanted to create intimate spaces reminiscent of her old house in Cambridge rather than square, minimalist boxes.”

The house has been designed to reflect Heather’s many interests, which include gardening, botany and weaving, and the result is an inspirational and sustainable home. “Estate agents had been sending me totally unsuitable property details for a couple of years, but I didn’t want an ordinary bungalow on an estate,” says Heather. “My only stipulation was that I wanted to live in something interesting.”

Formed by altering and extending two former semi-detached workers’ cottages in Freuchie, Fife, the new house integrates the bedrooms of the existing build with a large extension which contains a kitchen, utility room, open plan sitting room/sunroom, study and bathroom. Another cottage on site has been reconfigured to create a three bedroom house, and the sale of this (and another part of the plot with planning permission) helped to fund Heather’s build.

“I went house-hunting with my daughter Alison and we happened upon Bruce cottages, which came with around a third of an acre of land. The setting is so lovely – facing south, right beside a burn – and although the cottages were pretty grotty, they had huge potential,” says Heather, who sold her old house in just ten days and moved into the two bedroom cottage on site. “We decided to recycle part of the old buildings rather than save the VAT by rebuilding. It seemed like the sustainable way to develop the site.”

Heather has been interested in environmental issues since the 1970s – recycling her newspapers long before it became mainstream – so was keen to investigate eco-friendly options for her home. “We even toyed with the idea of building straw bale walls,” she says. “But in the end it just wasn’t practical for this site.”

Alasdair worked closely with Heather to design a home where she could continue living for the rest of her life. The modern extension to the single storey cottage features exposed oak framing, curved walls and a rolling roof, which enables the building to nestle comfortably into the surrounding landscape. “I’ve never had anything to do with designing or building houses before, so this was very exciting,” says Heather. “I wanted something different, and I certainly got it.”

Alasdair had assumed that the curving sedum roof – which sits above part of the extension – would have to be made from glulam beams. However, he preferred a more natural and environmentally conscious solution, and was delighted to discover that the structure could instead be made using green oak. Externally, the walls have been clad in a combination of home-grown larch boarding and reclaimed tiles.

The build itself was a real family affair. “The whole family got involved. The grandchildren often came to the site, which they enjoyed, and family members spent a weekend building the new patio,” says Heather.

Overall, the project went extremely smoothly and came in on budget. Following the sale of the cottage, Heather is now mortgage-free and happily ensconced in her new home. “Leaving Cambridge after 35 years was a terrible wrench,” she admits, “but moving to Scotland has turned out to be quite an adventure, and I’ve made many new friends. In fact, overall I think that I’ve transplanted quite well. The house suits me perfectly and I wouldn’t change a thing.”

That Oak Frame

The oak frame extensions were engineered and crafted by Carpenter Oak and Woodland. The kitchen has been constructed using traditional queen post roof trusses, while the living room – with its curving sedum roof – has been created with oak curves joined by a large dry oak spline. Split ring connectors – as opposed to wooden pegs – have been used here for added strength. Arched brace trusses also help support the structure, acting to resist the forces of the sedum roof and preventing the eaves from spreading.

“Seeing the oak frame going up was definitely one of the highlights of the build,” Heather recalls, “and it gives the house an almost church-like quality inside, with all the arches and flying buttresses.”

The oak frame also allows for non load-bearing timber frame external walls, which are highly insulated with Warmcel 500 cellulose (blown recycled newspaper) and clad in Panelvent sheathing to create a ‘breathing wall’ construction.

Eco-Friendly Features

In addition to the highly insulated walls, sheep’s wool insulation has been added within the roof. As a testament to this, a sheep’s horn handle, made by Alasdair’s father, adorns the front door. This was constructed using Douglas fir from trees removed from the site prior to construction work. “We tried to use local materials wherever possible, and you can’t get much more local than your own garden,” comments Heather.

A ground-source heat pump system – which uses two 60m-deep boreholes to create a temperature differential – provides hot water for the house’s underfloor heating and domestic hot water. “Digging the first borehole flooded the neighbours’ garden, but mercifully only with sand and clean water,” says Heather, who received grant assistance from the Scottish Community and Household Renewables Initiative for around 30 per cent of the system costs.

Internally, organic paint finishes were chosen and natural linoleum flooring has been laid over the underfloor heating throughout much of the house. Reclaimed whisky barrels have been used outside to collect rainwater for reuse in the garden.

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