As far as building on a budget goes, it would be a hefty feat to find a self built home as impressive as the one created by Nigel Rigden and his partner Elaine Mead on the Isle of Skye — not least because of its awe-inspiring views over a 650-acre croft. It’s hard to believe then that this Scandinavian-inspired home started out as such an unappealing site that Elaine wouldn’t even get out of the car.

“I’ve always wanted to build my own place,” begins Nigel, “and so after losing out on a renovation project I decided to start looking for a plot. When we first went to look at the site it was full of rubbish and you couldn’t really see the views. I thought it wasn’t as bad as it looked and to our surprise, when we put an offer in the estate agents had got the size of the plot wrong — the price actually included three times the size in hectares!”

Project Notes

  • Name: Nigel Rigden and Elaine Mead
  • Build cost: £125,000 (£1,315/m²)
  • Build time: 4 years 1 month
  • Location: Isle of Skye
  • Nigel and Elaine have self built a contemporary cabin-style home on the Isle of Skye for just £125,000
  • As the new build is being used as a holiday let for much of the year, Nigel and Elaine were unable to reclaim their VAT on the project
  • Despite its large plot, light, open interiors and vaulted ceilings, the property is modestly scaled at just 95m²

Scandinavian-Style Design

“I liked the idea of building a kit home and wanted it to resemble a contemporary Scandinavian-style cabin,” says Nigel, “but when I sat down with my architect Billy Reynolds he said that he could design and build this style of house for the same price. We were lucky that Skye is pretty forward-thinking architecturally — they’re so used to seeing contemporary things, and with this project we were really putting something back into the island.”

The project was put out to tender with different builders but when all of the prices came back over budget, the couple had to rethink. With this being a timber frame build, the joiner was to play a large role in the construction, and so the couple sat down with their joiner who went through the tender document to see what additional work he could take on to get the budget down.

Building the Timber Frame

Work started on site in June 2011 with the timber frame going up within a week in September 2011. Keen to reflect the charm of a rural cabin, the decision was made to clad the exterior in untreated seasoned Siberian larch which will weather to a silver grey, complete with a tin roof, while carefully positioned glazing breaks up the timber panels to capture the views over the glen at Glenmore, the river and the mountain range beyond.

Nigel and Elaine also aimed to keep the interiors fairly simple, and splashes of colour now draw interest against the predominantly white scheme. Privacy was another consideration and the layout has been carefully planned so that the two bedrooms are located at opposite ends of the living space with access to separate bathrooms (one is an en suite).

“For the main living room I wanted this area to feel reasonable in size, even though the home is a modest 95m², and so we opened this space up to the roof to make it double height,” continues Nigel. Picture windows and white oak flooring add to the contemporary feel of this space.

In order to keep the home warm – a priority considering its northerly location – extra insulation has been packed into the walls (far more than Building Regulations require) and provisions made so that solar panels can be added at a later date. A woodburning stove in the living space provides a heat source, however the home is mostly kept warm from receiving a lot of solar gain in the winter from the low sun. The bathrooms benefit from underfloor heating too. Between the bathrooms and bedrooms there is also a double layer of plasterboard — although this is mostly for soundproofing.

A Home for Holidays

“We had always built the home for ourselves, but we now let it out throughout the year to help run it,” explains Nigel. “Unfortunately we fell foul of a problem claiming back our VAT and it turned out that because we had mentioned about letting it out beforehand we were unable to claim anything back.”

While the couple envisioned that the property would be let out, they still designed it to their taste, but were strict on only buying sale items, spending no more than 50 per cent — except on the sofas and beds. “We trusted that if we put quality things into the home that people would look after it,” says Nigel. “There’s much more demand for high-quality self-catering accommodation nowadays and this is perhaps why the home has been so popular — we get bookings throughout the year! When we retire we will build another place on Skye and live here while we do it. We’ll then let it out again.”

The Rewards of Self building

Indeed, Nigel was not one to sit back and let others take on the work. “I was determined to roll my sleeves up and get involved,” he confesses. “I didn’t want to just buy the plot and throw some money at it for someone else to do it — although there was one stage of the decorating process where I spent an entire weekend in a wardrobe painting; that was a low point! I think that it having turned out better than we thought, and just having something you’ve imagined in your mind and wanted for so long to finally come through is just a great experience. You soon forget afterwards all of the trouble you went through when you’re enjoying it at the end.

“I still look at it and think I can’t believe we’ve got this, especially seeing as we bought it before we even realised we had these great views,” concludes Nigel. “It’s so peaceful and it’s a great place to unwind, which was the whole idea. If you do this sort of thing you either think at the end ‘I never want to do that again’ or you finish and can’t wait to start on the next. I want to do another one now!”

Reclaiming VAT on holiday self builds

Reclaiming the VAT on self builds isn’t as straightforward if you intend to let it out as a holiday home, as Nigel and Elaine discovered. Daisy Jeffery explains why

There are many draws to self building a second home, and the financial gain of turning this into a lucrative holiday let business when you’re not there makes it even more attractive. This certainly appealed to Nigel and Elaine who planned to self build on Skye and let the property with a view to eventually retiring to the island. But unlike traditional self build projects – where homeowners are able to reclaim VAT on building materials – there are different rules that come with dwellings used as holiday lets.

If you’re self building a holiday home for yourself, then it is possible to reclaim VAT on building materials at the end of the project. However, if you’re building with the intention of letting out the property most of the year, then this is likely to be considered a business and you’ll be unable to reclaim the VAT.

“Because we had mentioned about letting it out beforehand we were unable to claim anything back,” explains Nigel. “The irony is that if we had said from the outset it was a self build just for us, but then let it out after, we would have had no problems claiming the VAT back.”

One option available is to register the holiday let for VAT and recover some of the VAT paid out by this means, but this will mean having to charge VAT on any future lets, and depending on how much you estimate to save this may not be worthwhile. On the other hand, the benefit of a holiday home being viewed as a ‘qualifying business’ is that you could claim capital allowances for certain items should the property meet certain criteria.

In order to claim for capital allowances – which could include items such as heating systems, lighting, fitted bathrooms and kitchens, and furniture – the property needs to be let for 105 days of the year and available to let for 210 days. There are ways of ‘deferring’ if the property doesn’t let for 105 days, but in this instance it’s advisable to take financial advice. Note that you won’t be able to let the property for long-term occupation – 31 continuous days or more – for more than 155 days in a tax year (so longer winter lets are actually acceptable).

Should you decide to go down this route, it’s advisable to consult an accountant to help establish what qualifies as capital allowances, and be sure to invoice these separately.

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