Nick Middleton and Kate Prentice loved their Skye holiday home so much that they moved there
WHEN a holiday home exerts an irresistible pull, then it’s time to make it permanent.
After The Hen House, in Skye’s wind-lashed Fiscavaig Bay, was completed in 2009, owners Nick Middleton and Kate Prentice upped sticks from Leamington Spa to make a new life on the island.
They haven’t regretted the move for a minute but now their need for a larger home means The Hen House will revert to its original purpose as they move to a larger property on the island.
“Initially it was going to be a holiday home, which is why it’s so small,” explains Nick, who commutes from the island to his job as a course director at Coventry University. “Our move was prompted when we asked ourselves: ‘should we stay where we are and continue what we’ve been doing for years, or do we try something new and exciting?’ The house in Leamington sold quickly so we just thought, let’s do it! We’re really glad we made the change. It’s stunning up here, very elemental. Coming from the English Midlands, it’s incredibly different.”
The “elemental” landscape with which the couple built such an affinity during the design and construction of the one-and-a-half storey, three bedroom Hen House, also informed the unusual shape of the house, which was designed and built in conjunction with architect Alan Dickson of Skye-based Rural Design. Initially, Nick, Kate and Alan spent hours on the plot - purchased with a small inheritance - working out the lay of the land and where the sun rose and set. It was then that the unique, wedge-shaped design - which takes much of its inspiration from the agricultural sheds, lean-tos and byres that are scattered across the island - began to emerge.
The overarching aim was to disturb the ground as little as possible, prompting the idea of building the house on stilts. “It’s a small, compact and beautifully formed building,” explains Nick. “The views have been carefully thought out and the glazed gable faces north over to the loch. The position of the building, nestling between two hillocks, almost feels like we’re in an amphitheatre looking down to the loch. There are slot windows to the west that look out over the McLeod Tables. And on the south side, the huge window heats up the house incredibly effectively. The light in the house is constantly changing depending on the time of day.”
The surrounding ‘garden’ has been left, quite deliberately, untouched. “We haven’t done much to the surrounding landscape, because that takes time to think about how you walk over it and use it. This is definitely not a three-bed semi garden,” explains artist and designer Kate.
‘Eco-minimalism’ is how Nick and Kate refer to their design and build approach to the house, which is heated primarily by passive solar gain harnessed in the building’s super insulated structure. “It wasn’t about eco technology. It was about building a house that required little energy to run,” explains Nick. “So we weren’t too preoccupied with ground source heat pumps and wind generation or photovoltaics. What we really wanted was to spend our money on high insulation and air tightness - on the fabric of the building - so that the energy required to run it would be very low.”
The simple, almost sparse, interior finishes reflect this minimalism, particularly in the OSB (oriented strand board) and plywood interior finishes which have been left ‘raw’ and unpainted. “OSB is often used as a facing board and then hidden, but because it became the finished interior, our joiner cut it beautifully,” says Nick. “It was really interesting to use a material that’s normally hidden, not just from a cost point of view, but it’s brilliant because you can screw anything into it and you don’t have to worry. It looks great too.”
The OSB and plywood provides a perfect backdrop for the couple’s simple furnishings, much of it brought from their previous home, and new elements such as the IKEA kitchen. The art throughout the house is Kate’s own work. The open plan living spaces also make this, according to Kate and Nick, “an incredibly sociable house.
Although it’s a small house, it can accommodate a lot of people comfortably as the volume inside is very generous. It has a bit of a medieval great hall feel to it, with the double height space. We think everyone that’s ever visited the house has been converted. It’s warm and the views are incredible.”
Nick and Kate also admit that The Hen House, which was shortlisted for the Building of the Year Scotland Award in 2010, as well as winning the highest accolade at the Saltire Housing Design Awards in the same year, is an ideal base from which to explore the island.
“The beach is a five-minute walk away and in good weather Nick goes out to sea,” explains Kate. “He has a 13ft ‘Orkney’ fishing boat that he shares with a neighbour. The boat gets moored in the bay in spring and we bring it in before the autumn equinox as it gets wild and windy up here (which is good for us as it keeps the midges at bay!).
“Nick has three creels so during the summer he catches lobster and crab,” says Kate, adding: “We’ve also discovered wild swimming. I watched a programme on wild swimming and we’ve been swimming in Skye’s Fairy Pools. It has made me brave. It’s been fantastic and has opened up a whole new experience for me of Scotland and its wildness so when I’m not too busy I try to work this into my day. We also do a bit of kayaking – we have a couple of old kayaks on the beach which we brought up from Leamington Spa.
“There is a real sense of community on the island. We’ve met so many different people,” concludes Kate. “I really feel like I’ve put my roots down now. It feels like home.”
• For more information, visit www.15fiscavaig.co.uk
There is also a blog of the new build. fiscavaigstudio.tumblr.com
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Tuesday 21 May 2013
Temperature: 7 C to 17 C
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